Celebrating Passover – Part 2 – Searching for Chametz

Posted on 03. Apr, 2012 by in Celebrations and Holidays, Cultural Awareness, Learning Hebrew

פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover) is a holiday that demands complete involvement, not just during its eight days but for weeks before. Aside from the regular holiday obligations, שְׁמוֹת (she-mot – Exodus) 13:3–7 says “…So nothing leavened may be eaten…. Seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, … unleavened bread is to be eaten for the seven days; and nothing leavened is to be seen with you, and no sourdough is to be seen with you within all your boundaries.”

This is accomplished by a thorough cleaning and inspecting of the home well before פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover), gradually eliminating חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast) from every room and crevice. This intensive cleaning takes place in Jewish homes throughout the world.

What is חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast)?

חָמֵץ (kha-mets) in English is translated leaven, or yeast. It is any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives, which has leavened or risen (for example: bread, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer, etc.). As commanded by the תּוֹרָה (to-rah – Torah), if a food contains even a trace of חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast), it is not to be eaten, no benefit is to be derived from it, and there should be none in anyone’s possession for all the days of פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover).

חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast) is the opposite of מַצָּה (ma-tsa – Matza bread), the unleavened bread eaten on פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover) to recall the haste in which the ancient Israelites left Egypt. מַצָּה (ma-tsa) is the symbol of the Exodus, a central component of the סֵדֶר (se-der – Seder) rituals, and the heart of the “Festival of Matzot” (as פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover) is called in the תּוֹרָה (to-ra)).

Please note: Not all מַצָּה (ma-tsa) is כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher) for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover). מַצָּה (ma-tsa) used all year round may contain חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast), and thus not כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher) for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover) use. Only מַצָּה (ma-tsa) baked especially for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover) and approved by a רַב (rab – Rabbi) may it be used on פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover).

The Days (or Weeks) Before פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover)

Eating חָמֵץ (kha-mets) or anything containing the slightest crumb of חָמֵץ (kha-mets) is avoided throughout the entire eight days and eight hours of the פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) celebration. It is also forbidden to own חָמֵץ (kha-mets), to derive benefit from חָמֵץ (kha-mets) in any way, or to have חָמֵץ (kha-mets) physically present in a Jewish home during this time.

Because bread, cakes and cookies and other products made with חָמֵץ (kha-mets) is present throughout the rest of the year, getting rid of it for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) is no easy task. To begin making the home kosher for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) begins days, even weeks, before the festival. Attaining a חָמֵץ (kha-mets)-free פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) includes six basic steps: cleaning the home, setting up the פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) kitchen, and selling, searching for, burning, and nullifying חָמֵץ (kha-mets).

Cleaning the House

This sounds easy – but it isn’t. Give the home a thorough, top-to-bottom, cleaning. Vacuum the carpets and floors, wipe clean the cupboards and bookshelves. Make sure to 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 bread crumb could be hiding there, go after it!

Traditionally, at sundown, the lights are turned off, and using a candle, check every crevice and sweep out the corners, nooks and crannies with a feather, and use a wooden spoon to gather any חָמֵץ found. This is usually done by the head of the household, but children may also participate in the search under the supervision of the parents.

As each area of the home gets cleaned, make sure that everyone knows that it’s kosher for פֶּסַח (pe-sakh) and absolutely off-limits for any food to be brought in there. The best way to do this is to start with the bedrooms, then proceed with the living room and other common rooms, leaving the dining room and kitchen for last, so that these spaces can be used for eating חָמֵץ as close as possible to the “deadline.” Don’t forget to clean out the home office, car, pocketbook, any space where food may have been eaten, or touched. If there’s any rooms or areas where it’s absolutely certain that no food was ever brought, or any rooms and areas that will be sold, then they shouldn’t need to be cleaned.

Preparing the Kitchen

The kitchen is obviously the most difficult part of the house to make כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher) for פֶּסַח, as it’s the place where food with חָמֵץ is made and preparation of kosher פֶּסַח food is done. So this room is cleaned at the very last. I’ve seen families go through every corner and crevice not only with a feather and wooden spoon, but also using a toothpick and Q-tip to be sure to get all the חָמֵץ that may be hiding. Line the cabinets and food storage units with cardboard, silver foil, or paper. Cover all countertops and tables.

Jewish households have separate sets of pots, dishes, cutlery, etc., designated for פֶּסַח use only. Many also have special range tops, toaster ovens, microwaves, etc., designated for פֶּסַח use. If this is not possible, cooking utensils, cutlery and certain types of dishes can be immersed in boiling water to make them כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher). Ovens and cooking ranges can be made כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher) by heating them on a high heat.

Selling Your חָמֵץ

What if you live in a 20 room home, but don’t want to clean the whole thing this year? How can פֶּסַח be observed when חָמֵץ may be present in the rooms that haven’t been cleaned? The commandment to rid one’s domain of חָמֵץ is binding only on a Jew, so the provision of selling חָמֵץ to a non-Jew, and then buy it back from him after פֶּסַח is the thing to do. The area where the חָמֵץ is held is leased to the non-Jew for the duration of the festival. Many non-Jews and non-observant Jews mock this practice of selling חָמֵץ as an artificial technicality. I assure you that this sale is very real and a 100% legally binding transaction conducted by a competent rabbi after obtaining power-of-attorney to sell your חָמֵץ. From the gentile’s perspective, the purchase functions much like the buying and selling of futures on the stock market: even though he does not take physical possession of the goods, his temporary legal ownership of those goods is very real and potentially profitable. חָמֵץ can also be sold online by clicking here.

Remember that you will not be able to use or enter these areas for the duration of the festival.

חָמֵץ-Eating Deadline

The absolute deadline for eating חָמֵץ is the morning before פֶּסַח, 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 חָמֵץ until the close of the festival in eight days. You still have one more hour in which you can use חָמֵץ for non-eating purposes, and handle the חָמֵץ in order to sell it or destroy it.

בְּדִיקַת חָמֵץ (be-di-kat kha-mets) – The Search for Chametz

On the night before פֶּסַח, a final solemn candle-lit search for any remaining or forgotten חָמֵץ is conducted by the entire family. 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 חָמֵץ and facilitate its burning), and a paper bag (to hold all of the above). This search is called (be-di-kat kha-mets) (בְּדִיקַת חָמֵץ) and there is a tradition that ten pieces of חָמֵץ are to be “hidden” in the rooms before the search begins. If ten are hidden and only nine are found, just keep searching! Why are ten pieces used? They are reminders of the ten plagues used to get Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. A feather and a spoon are often used to sweep up the last crumbs of bread, which will then be burned with the other חָמֵץ the following morning.

Before the search is started, the following Hebrew blessing is recited in the room that you begin the search:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֶינוּ מֶ֫לֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִרְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָ֫נוּ עַל בִּעוּר חָמֵץ.

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al bi’ur chametz.
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who sanctifies us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the removal of chametz.

After this blessing is recited, there is no talking so as not to interrupt the search. Carefully search the entire house for any חָמֵץ that may have been missed in the cleaning, and collect the ten hidden pieces. By this time, the house should be completely cleaned for פֶּסַח; hopefully there’s no חָמֵץ to be found. Put the חָמֵץ, 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.

Burning the חָמֵץ

The deadline for חָמֵץ removal is one “seasonal hour” before midday. Take the bag with חָמֵץ from last night’s search, plus any other leftover חָמֵץ that you’re not going to sell, make a fire, and burn it. After the חָמֵץ is burnt, recite the following “nullification statement,” renouncing all ownership of any חָמֵץ that may still remain in your possession:

כָּל־חֲמִירָא חֲמִירָא וַחֲמִיעָה דְּאִבָּא בִרְשׁוּתִי, דְּלָא חֲמִתֵּהּ וּדְלא בִעַרְתֵּהּ וּדְלָא יְדַעְנָא לֵהּ לִבָּטֵל וְלֶהֱוֵי הֶפְקֵר בְּעַפְרָא דְאַרְעְא.

All חָמֵץ 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 a couple of paragrapghs above was only for חָמֵץ that was missed in the search, but did not include חָמֵץ set aside to be sold or eaten in the morning. The statement given here covers any and all חָמֵץ that may unknowingly still be in your possession, and serves as a final safety measure. There should be no חָמֵץ remaining in your possession.

You are now חָמֵץ-free and free to fully enjoy the סֶדֶר (se-der) rituals and the eight-day Festival of Freedom.

Next Post: the order of סֶדֶר (se-der).


Vocabulary

פֶּסַח (pe-sakh – Passover)
שְׁמוֹת (she-mot – Exodus)
חָמֵץ (kha-mets – leaven, yeast)
תּוֹרָה (to-rah – Torah)
מַצָּה (ma-tsa – Matza bread)
כָּשֵׁר (ko-sher)
רַב (rab – Rabbi)
The Search for Chametz – בְּדִיקַת חָמֵץ (be-di-kat kha-mets)
סֶדֶר (se-der)

Blessings:

Before searching for חָמֵץ

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלֹהֶינוּ מֶ֫לֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִרְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָ֫נוּ עַל בִּעוּר חָמֵץ.

Barukh attah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al bi’ur chametz.
Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who sanctifies us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the removal of chametz.

Renouncing all ownership of any חָמֵץ:

כָּל־חֲמִירָא חֲמִירָא וַחֲמִיעָה דְּאִבָּא בִרְשׁוּתִי, דְּלָא חֲמִתֵּהּ וּדְלא בִעַרְתֵּהּ וּדְלָא יְדַעְנָא לֵהּ לִבָּטֵל וְלֶהֱוֵי הֶפְקֵר בְּעַפְרָא דְאַרְעְא.

“All חָמֵץ 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.”

About Sean Young

Learning languages since 1978 and studying over 50 (achieving fluency in 10). Sean L. Young loves giving tips, advice and the secrets you need to learn a language successfully no matter what language you're learning. Currently studying Hindi and blogging his progress right here at Transparent Language - http://blogs.transparent.com/language-news.

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