Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mordechai,

Why are there no special mitzvos for Shavuos?




Dear I.,

You’d think there would be, right? This is the Yom Tov on which we got the Torah. If there’s any Yom Tov that would have mitzvos, you’d think this would be it. Yet there are really no unique mitzvos to speak of, besides for eating cheesecake.

Maybe the point is that we should concentrate on the basic mitzvos before we move onto the fancy ones, like koshering our kids’ braces. The mitzvos of Shavuos are more like “Don’t have any other gods before me,” “Don’t kill,” and “Honor your father and mother and let them sleep.”

Maybe Hashem’s trying to give us a break after all that Pesach prep. Or maybe he wants us to have time for a nap. No one gets a nap before Sukkos or Pesach. Erev Pesach we have to burn our chometz and prepare very specific Seder plate foods, and on Erev Sukkos we have to hang decorations so they at least won’t blow away before Sukkos and figure out how we’re going to preserve our aravos for seven days so the leaves don’t fall off when we shake it. Before Shavuos, we do have to buy flowers (that’s one chiyuv), but once we buy them, it’s our wife’s problem to figure out how to preserve them. We’re taking a nap.


Dear Mordechai,

How do I keep my flowers fresh for a whole three-day Yom Tov?



Dear D.,

This is a pretty common question, because flowers are one of the few things we don’t buy to consume; we just buy them so we can set them out indefinitely and watch them slowly die, like goldfish. We can buy food, we can change the water, but eventually we’re going to end up flushing them down the toilet.

But there are definitely some ideas experts recommend that may or may not work in real life:

  1. Pour in about ¼ cup of sugary soda. Soda might be bad for you, but apparently it’s good for plants. The sugar keeps the flowers alive and bouncing off the walls. Maybe something with caffeine would be great. If you have a clear vase, though, I would advise that you use clear sodas, such as Sprite, as opposed to brown sodas, such as Coke; red sodas, such as Mountain Dew Code Red; and orange sodas, such as Orange Soda. Pouring ginger ale into a clear vase would also look pretty bad.
  1. A little bit of hairspray keeps the flowers standing up, probably even if they’re dead. Kind of like rigor mortis. They won’t be able to flop over even if they want to.
  1. There are people who say that you should add vodka to the water, but these might be people who’ve already drank vodka. The vodka serves to kill bacteria in the water. A few drops of vodka is best, though.
  1. Add ¼ tsp of bleach per quart of water. You’d think this would kill the flowers, but apparently it just kills the bacteria. It doesn’t even turn the flowers white. Just your pants, when the vase tips over.
  1. Throw in a copper penny. This is the only reason they still keep making pennies. I have hundreds of pennies at home, most of them buried in the couch, so I can probably fill the vase with nothing but pennies.
  1. Add mouthwash. This sounds ridiculous, but it’s antibacterial. How bad can it be? The mint might overpower the flower smell, though.
  1. Put the flowers in the fridge. Good luck clearing space in there. You might have to take out a shelf. But putting plants in the fridge is what we do for our aravos, and those are generally good at least until the first day of Yom Tov. Of course, the downside is that no one will see your flowers, except when they go into the fridge to get stuff and they knock the whole thing over. Bleach and all. So maybe if you want to increase visibility, you should leave them in front of the air conditioner and let it blow the flower smell (or mint smell) and later, the petals, all over the house.


NOTE: All these recommendations are for flowers. Do not try any of them on goldfish. Especially the vodka. Or the caffeinated soda. Or the bleach. You know what? Don’t try any of them.



Dear Mordechai,

What’s the halachic minimum for eating cheesecake?



Dear C.,

You can probably get one of those size charts like they have for Pesach. I think it’s ⅔ of a round cheesecake or an entire square one. And you can’t talk the entire time you’re eating it, and you have to eat it in the time it takes to eat three eggs (minus peeling time).

Sefardim, meanwhile, have to go by weight. Or they can just eat it and then weigh themselves. So they probably eat a lot less.

Basically, the goal here is to gain as much weight over two days of Shavuos as you normally would over eight days of Pesach or nine days of Sukkos. With Sukkos, you get an extra day because of the walking for hoshanos and the dancing the last day. Whereas Shavuos you mostly spend 2-3 days in bed, sleeping off the one night of learning.

If you can’t tolerate that amount of dairy (and no one can), know that this may be why there’s a minhag on Shavuos for married couples to sleep in shifts.



Dear Mordechai,

My kids, ages 8 and 10, have been begging me to let them stay up this year. Should I? They have no idea what they’re getting into.



Dear M.,

Absolutely. Let it be your revenge for all the nights that they refused to go to bed when you told them to and all the nights they woke you up for a drink of water. In fact, keep bringing them drinks of water.

On the other hand, there are certain responsibilities you have once you start taking kids. Like you can no longer fall asleep across a table. Or spend a half hour downstairs schmoozing over coffee. Or be the guy who falls asleep in the women’s section so you can make brachos for everyone before Shacharis. (“You guys are definitely going to wake me up, right? Or am I going to be woken up by women pouring in for the late minyan, asking me to put my shoes on and stop using their tablecloth as a blanket?”)

Taking kids can be great, though, because it gives you something to learn. Because as a regular working father, it’s not easy to figure out what to learn on Shavuos night. You never learn for a 4-5 hour stretch like that anymore, and you would have to be seriously behind on any regular limudim or sedarim you have for you to fill up a Shavuos night. What are you supposed to do – not learn for 30 days before Shavuos, in the same way we don’t eat matzah for 30 days before Pesach? This is why you chose to be the brachos guy.

But now that you have kids, you can do what they do, and attempt to learn everything they learned in school all year. Let them repeat what they learned, and you sit slightly behind them so they don’t see if you drift off. Or you can probably keep yourself upright with a huge amount of hairspray.


Have a question for “You’re Asking Me?” I can’t breathe.


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