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Home » Passover

Passover: Removing the Chametz

Submitted by on April 17, 2011 – 2:49 amNo Comment | 2,078 views


Before Pesach we have a flurry of rituals aimed at ridding our homes of Chametz. One ritual layers over the next creating a labyrinth of overlapping traditions that leaves one dizzy. The following article is intended to make sense of the seeming chaos.

The Torah prohibits not only eating but also harbouring Chametz in our home during Pesach. We are also forbidden to own Chametz in other people’s homes. In theory we could provide for this prohibition by abandoning ownership of our Chametz and declaring it null and void.

However, our sages were rightly concerned on two counts. Firstly there is no way to gauge the sincerity of an annulment because it depends directly on intention and affairs of the heart cannot be objectively assessed. Secondly they worried that if the now owner-less Chametz remains in the house, we might encounter a bagel or Danish in the midst of Pesach and consume it out of habit. Non kosher foods may remain in a Jewish home since Jews never eat it and there is no concern that one might forget, but Chametz is different because it is kosher all year long and one might easily forget it is Pesach and eat it.

Our sages therefore ruled that annulment and abandonment is insufficient and that all Chametz must be removed from the home. The only Chametz that may be in a Jewish home is one that belongs to a non Jew. And even in that case it is necessary to form a forty inch barrier to prevent access to the Chametz during the course of Pesach. This condition can be met by placing the Chametz in a designated room or cupboard and sealing the door.

All other Chametz must be removed, which is why our first effort before Pesach is to clean our home of Chametz. Every nook and cranny is inspected and even crumbs are discarded.

This business of removing all crumbs also requires explanation. The Torah prohibition extends only to Chametz the volume of an olive; however, our sages extended the prohibition to include all Chametz, even the most miniscule crumb. The primary reason for this extension is the concern that we are likely to err in our assessment and gauge a piece larger than the minimum to be smaller. For this reason we are careful to remove all edible crumbs.

It is true that old and hardened crumbs that are no longer edible (and in some cases even fresh crumbs that are edible) are no longer included in this injunction, however, the tradition has always been to scrub every surface irrespective of the condition of the Chametz.

This is why we search for Chametz with candle, feather and wooden spoon on the night before Pesach. Our sages declared that the night time is best suited for Chametz searching because the light of the candle is best utilized in the dark. Before searching for Chametz we chant the blessing for burning Chametz. We do not chant a blessing for cleaning the house or for searching it because those acts are not complete until the Chametz is actually burned. One should preferably refrain from talking until one has completed the entire search. However, if one has interrupted the search the blessing need not be repeated
unless the interruption occurred between the blessing and the beginning of the search.

All Chametz found during the course of this search is tied up and placed in a secure environment.chametz - innerstream After the Chametz has been secured we chant the formula for annulment and abandonment. Though we do not rely on this annulment and go to great lengths to actually find the Chametz and burn it as explained above, we are concerned that we might not have found all the Chametz in the house. In case a significant piece of Chametz has been overlooked it is necessary to annul it now, before the holiday actually begins. Of course if such Chametz is in fact found during Passover it must be burned. (If Chametz is found during Chag it must be covered until Chol Hamoed and burned immediately after Havdalah.)

The next morning we kindle a fire and burn the Chametz. We do not chant a blessing to burn the Chametz because we already chanted this blessing when we began the effort the night before at the beginning of the search. After the Chametz is burned we recite the formula of annulment and abandonment a second time. The reason for the second recitation is that the annulment of
the night before did not cover Chamtz that was deliberately left to eat at breakfast or the Chametz we intended to burn. We are concerned that some Chametz from that which was left over to eat or burn slipped away and is tucked away somewhere in the house. Since that piece was not covered by the annulment the night before we annul our Chametz again.

Still we recite the annulment twice and don’t rely on the second annulment alone because this annulment is recited after the Chametz is burned (otherwise the Chametz we burn would not belong to us and we would lose out on a mitzvah) and since the deadline for this burning extends until midday we are concerned that one might burn the Chametz just before midday and run out of time to annul the Chametz. This is because, as we will soon learn, Chametz can no longer be annulled or abandoned after midday.

In addition we sell all Chametz that we don’t want to discard or give away. As mentioned earlier, it is permissible to have Chametz in the house that does not belong to us so long as we erect some form of barrier between ourselves and the Chametz. Chametz that we sell to a non Jew for Pesach must be placed behind one such barrier. For example it can be placed in a cupboard or room with the door sealed shut. Those who will not be home or in the office all Pesach long may sell the entire building without bothering to gather up the Chametz in one particular place. (They must however consult a competent rabbi to determine how to fulfill the Mitzvah of searching for Chametz.)

The sale of Chametz is a legitimate form of sale. The non Jew is offered the Chametz of the entire community at a fixed price. He makes a nominal down payment and is given eight days (the duration of the holiday) to come up with the balance. If he comes up with the balance the Chametz will truly and really belong to him. If he does not come up with the balance the Chametz returns to the seller. They key to this sale is understanding that the Chametz belongs to the non Jew for the duration of Pesach and that the option of completing the sale belongs to him alone; we cannot stop it. Should the non Jew meet his deadline the Chametz will remain in his possession. If he fails to meet his deadline the Chametz will return to us.

Since the dynamics of this sale are complicated a competent Rabbi is entrusted with making the sale. The Chametz is not sold to the rabbi. The rabbi is appointed agent to sell the Chametz on behalf of its owner. We utilize many forms of transaction to effect this appointment. We complete a certificate of sale that identifies the location of the Chametz and authorizes the Rabbi to sell it on the owner’s behalf. If possible we also perform of a transaction of exchange whereby the owner takes possession of an item that belongs to the rabbi and in exchange grants the rabbi authority to represent him in the sale. Thirdly, the owner gives the rabbi a fee (of the owner’s choosing) to hire the rabbi to perform the sale.

This transaction must take place before midday of Erev Pesach. After this time the Chametz is no longer ours to sell; it is only ours with which to transgress. If one discovers Chametz in the morning of Erev Pesach and it is too late to add it to the sale, one can simply throw it into a public trash can. However, after midday on Erev Pesach such discarding does not suffice and it becomes necessary to burn it.

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