Make Your Home ‘Chametz-less’
Submitted by Rabbi Zvi Zuravin
Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis
What is Chametz?
Chametz is "leaven" -- any food that's made of grain and water that has been allowed to ferment and "rise." Bread, cereal, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer are blatant examples of chametz; but any food that contains grain or grain derivatives can be, and often is, chametz. Practically speaking, any processed food that is not certified "Kosher for Passover" may potentially contain chametz ingredients.
Chametz is the antithesis of matzah, the unleavened bread we eat on Passover to recall the haste in which we left Egypt, and the humble faith by which we merited redemption. Matzah is the symbol of the Exodus, a central component of the Seder rituals, and the heart of the "Festival of Matzot" (as Passover is called in the Torah). The flip-side of eating matzah is getting rid of chametz -- and the egotism and spiritual coarseness it represents.
What to do--and Not Do--With Chametz:
Getting Your Home Ready
From the morning of Passover eve until the conclusion of the festival -- for approximately eight days and eight hours -- we avoid eating chametz or anything containing the slightest vestige of chametz. It is also forbidden to own chametz, to derive benefit from chametz in any way, or to have chametz physically present in our homes during this time.
Because chametz forms such a pervasive part of our lives during the rest of the year (try imagining a human habitat without a single cookie crumb!), getting rid of it for Passover is no easy task. Preparations to make the home "kosher for Passover" begin days, even weeks, before the festival. But for those who make the investment, the reward is an especially meaningful Festival of Freedom.
Attaining a chametz-free Passover includes six basic steps: cleaning the home, setting up the Passover kitchen, and selling, searching for, burning, and nullifying chametz.
Cleaning the House
Simply stated (though not so easily done) -- give your home a thorough, top-to-bottom, cleaning. Vacuum the carpets and floors, wipe clean the cupboards and bookshelves. Make sure you get into all those hard-to-reach places: under the sofa cushions, the spaces between the floorboards. Move aside furniture and kitchen appliances to get behind and underneath. Bottom line: if that proverbial cookie crumb could be hiding there, go after it!
As each area of the home gets cleaned, make sure that everyone knows that it's "kosher for Passover" and absolutely off-limits for any food to be brought in there.
Practical advice: start with the bedrooms, and then proceed with the living room and other common rooms, leaving the dining room and kitchen for last, so that you can use these spaces for eating chametz as close as possible to the "deadline."
Other places that need to be cleaned: office, car, pocketbook -- any space that is yours by ownership, lease, or right of use.
Places you don't have to clean: a) Rooms and areas where you're absolutely certain that no food was ever brought. b) Rooms and areas that will be sold (see step 5).
Preparing the Kitchen
Your kitchen is where you prepare chametz food all year round. So it's obviously the most difficult part of the house to make "kosher for Passover." It's also the most important part, since that's where you'll be preparing your kosher for Passover food.
Give the kitchen an extra careful cleaning. Line the cabinets and food storage units with cardboard, silver foil, or paper. Cover all countertops and tables.
It is preferable to have separate sets of pots, dishes, cutlery, etc., designated for Passover use only. Many also have special range tops, toaster ovens, microwaves, etc., designated for Passover use. If this is not possible, cooking utensils, cutlery and certain types of dishes can be "koshered" by immersing in boiling water. Ovens and cooking ranges can be koshered by heating. Consult with a Rabbi for the appropriate procedure for each item.
Selling Your Chametz
Let's say that you own a liquor store. Or that you just bought a three-month supply of breakfast cereal on special. Or you live in a 40-room mansion and don't want to clean the whole thing this year. Is there some way of avoiding the ownership of chametz on Passover without getting rid of your chametz forever?
There is. Since the commandment to rid one's domain of chametz is binding only on a Jew, you can sell your chametz to a non-Jew, and then buy it back from him after Passover. The area where the chametz is held is leased to the non-Jew for the duration of the festival. It is important to realize that the sale is not symbolic, but a 100% legally binding transaction.
Designate the areas where you'll be placing the chametz you're selling. These can be cupboards, closets, rooms, or an entire house. Remember that you will not be able to use or enter these areas for the duration of the festival. Your local rabbi can transact the sale for you, after obtaining power-of-attorney from you to sell your chametz.
On the night before Passover, we conduct a solemn candle-lit search for any remaining or forgotten chametz. You'll need: a candle (to illuminate the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies), a feather (to sweep up the small crumbs), a wooden spoon (to hold the chametz and facilitate its burning), and a paper bag (to hold all of the above).
By this time, the house should be completely cleaned for Passover; hopefully there's no chametz to be found. It is therefore customary to prepare10 carefully wrapped pieces of bread to be hidden throughout the house for the searcher to find (the kids love this part!), in order that we can fulfill the mitzvah of searching out and destroying our chametz before Passover.
Gather the family, light the candle, and recite the blessing:
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.
Carefully search the entire house for any chametz that may have been missed in the cleaning, and collect the 10 hidden pieces. Put the chametz, the feather, the wooden spoon, and the remains of the candle in the paper bag, tie securely, and store in a safe place for burning tomorrow morning. Now recite the "nullification statement," renouncing all ownership of any chametz you may have missed:
All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, which I have neither seen nor removed, and about which I am unaware, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.
The absolute deadline for eating chametz is the morning before Passover, two "seasonal hours" before midday (a "seasonal hour" is 1/12 of the time between daybreak and nightfall).
Past this time, is it forbidden to eat chametz until the close of the festival in eight days. You still have one more hour in which you can use chametz for non-eating purposes, and handle the chametz in order to sell it or destroy it.
Burning the Chametz
Take the bag with chametz from last night's search, plus any other leftover chametz that you're not going to sell, make a fire, and burn it.
The deadline for chametz removal is one "seasonal hour" before midday. By this time, the chametz should be burned; the final "Nullification of the Chametz" (see step 9) should have been said; the areas holding the sold chametz should be sealed; and there should be no chametz remaining in your possession.
Nullifying Your Chametz
After the chametz is burnt, recite the following "nullification statement," renouncing all ownership of any chametz that may still remain in your possession:
All leaven and anything leavened that is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.
(The nullification statement recited last night was only for chametz that was missed in the search, but did not include chametz set aside to be sold or eaten in the morning. Today's statement covers any and all chametz that may still be in your possession, and serves as a final "safety measure" for a chametz-less Passover.)
Remember that both the burning and the nullifying of the chametz must be concluded before the deadline for getting rid of chametz, which is one "seasonal hour" before midday.
You are now chametz-free and free to fully enjoy the liberating experience of the Seder rituals and the eight-day Festival of Freedom.