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Home » Passover

Passover: A Basic Overview

Submitted by on November 4, 2005 – 9:32 pmNo Comment | 2,927 views

Chametz and Matzah

On Passover we celebrate our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt. When our ancestors left Egypt they left in great haste. They didn’t have time to properly bake bread before they left and consequently ate unleavened bread for their first days of travel.

In commemoration of this fact, the Torah commands us to eat Matzah (unleavened bread) throughout the eight (seven in Israel) days of the Passover holiday. We are also forbidden to eat or derive benefit from Chametz (leavened bread or dough) or its derivatives for the duration of the holiday.

Cleaning for Passover

The Torah tells us that one may not posses, or harbor in one’s home, food articles that fall under the category of Chametz, leavened bread. Our sages have instituted the obligation of Bedikas Chametz, search for Chametz, on the evening of the thirteenth of Nissan, the evening before Erev Pesach.

In order to lighten the load that is sure to fall upon the shoulders of the searchers on the day before Passover it has become customary to thoroughly clean the house of Chametz several weeks before Passover. Though this is not an obligation it has nevertheless become a custom so as to avoid facing an impossible task.

Many people like to clean the entire home and all of its nooks and crannies in preparation for Passover. There are two reasons for this (a) one can never know where a piece of Chametz may lie hidden and (b) it is an opportunity to beautify the home in honor of the holiday.

Nevertheless, from a purely obligatory point of view, one is only required to clean the area of the home that is usually used in association with Chametz. For example the kitchen and dining room area, kitchen cabinets, the pantry, the children’s play room, bedrooms etc. Note that even if one has a no food rule in certain areas of the home you can not be certain that food was not brought into those rooms throughout the year if young children are living with you at home.

Unfurnished basements and attics that are used for storage purposes only and are not used on a regular basis may be considered Chametz free.  Nevertheless, it is a good idea to generally clean these areas as well just in case.

It is important to clean the pockets of children’s clothes as well as one’s own. Books should also be cleaned if they are left on the table together with food.

When cleaning the Kitchen and dining room chairs, care should be taken to clean under the cushion since Chametz crumbs naturally fall into these cracks. When cleaning the car make sure to clean under the seats and in all the places into which Chametz may drop unnoticed.

Kashering the kitchen

Many families have a separate set of pots and cutlery for Passover. However, year round utensils including kitchen sinks, ovens, stoves and microwaves can be made kosher for Passover. This is a complicated procedure and a competent Rabbi must be consulted.

Sale of Chametz

Items that one does not wish to clean or dispose of may be sold a non-Jew for the duration of holiday.

These items should be stored in separate closets or rooms that are locked or at least taped shut for the duration of the holiday. These closets or rooms are later “leased” to the non-Jew at the time of sale.

It is also possible to sell the Chametz of an entire building such as an office building that will not be used for Passover or a home if the family will be away for the holiday.

Since there are many legal intricacies regarding the laws of this sale, one should entrust a competent rabbi with the execution of the sale. The rabbi acts as our agent both to sell the Chametz to the non-Jew before Passover begins and also to buy it back on the evening after Passover ends.

Once sold, one may not make use of these articles since they have technically been sold to someone else. However, an assumption can be made that the rabbi did not sell the Chametz more then an hour before the deadline and that he has repurchased the Chametz about thirty minutes after the holiday.

 Kosher for Passover foods

Al items used in the home during the holiday must be Kosher for Passover. There are many items that we do not usually associate with Chametz but that contain starch or other manner of Chametz. It is important to look for the Kosher for Passover sign on the products that you purchase during this time.

There are also many products that are not listed as Kosher for Passover but that have particular brands that are kosher. The list includes hand soap, dish and laundry detergent, plastic plates and cutlery, paper towel etc. Most pulpit rabbis maintain lists of these items and can be consulted.

Bedikas Chametz

The mitzvah of searching for Chametz begins on the evening of the Thirteenth of the Nissan. However, when that evening falls on Friday night. The search is performed one night earlier than usual, on Thursday evening, the Twelfth of Nissan.

The search begins with the recitation of the appropriate blessing, which can be found in the Siddur. It is important to begin the search immediately upon the conclusion of the blessing and to avoid unnecessary interruptions throughout the course of the search.

It important to search for Chametz in all the places described above in the section for cleaning Chametz, especially the corners and the carpet lines where Chametz often is left unnoticed.

At the conclusion of the search we place all the Chametz that has been found into a bag and place the bag out of reach of small children and pets. The prayer of “Kol Chamira”, which can be found in the Siddur, is recited immediately following the search for the Chametz.

The obligation to search for Chametz begins at nightfall, in It is important to refrain from engaging in pre-occupying activities for the concern that one may forget to perform the Mitzvah.

Disposal of Chametz

The prohibition against harboring and eating Chametz begins at noon of Erev Pesach. For precautionary purposes our sages ordained that we dispose of Chametz roughly one hour before noon and refrain from eating Chametz roughly two hours before noon.

These hours are determined in the following manner. The total number of daylight minutes of a given day are divided into twelve equal segments with the resulting number comprising the length of each hour. In this way every day of the year is divided into twelve daylight hours.

Disposal of Chametz is traditionally done by fire. The second prayer of “Kol Chamira is recited during the disposal of the Chametz. One, who intends to gift his Chametz to a Non Jewish neighbor and friend should do so before the dead line.
Disposal of Chametz on Erev Pesach that falls on Shabbos.
The laws that relate to refraining from eating and the disposal of Chametz are a different when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos.

Though the prohibition of harboring Chametz dos not begin until Shabbos morning roughly one hour before noon we, nevertheless, dispose of our Chametz by that time on Friday in order to ensure that the house is as “Passover proof” as possible under the circumstances.

For one, who has not disposed of the Chametz by the appropriate time PM an extension can be made until the onset of Shabbos.

Eating Chametz on Shabbos / Erev Pesach

When Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos we preserve a small quantity of Chametz in the house (two small Challah rolls for each meal) in order to perform “Lechem Mishnah” (blessing on two loaves of bread) on Friday evening and Shabbos morning. It is important to eat very carefully to ensure that all breadcrumbs have been consumed and that no Chametz is left in the house during Passover. Plastic cutlery should be used since the regular cutlery and dishes have been sold as Chametz. However the bread must be eaten or put away before the Passover cutlery and dishes are brought out.

The eating of bread must be concluded by roughly two hours before noon on Shabbos morning. Any breadcrumbs that are left uneaten must be flushed down the toilet by one hour before noon. Cutlery that has come in contact with Chametz should be rinsed in cold water before this time and be disposed of.

In order to facilitate the early meal on Shabbos morning, Erev Pesach, services at Synagogue usually commence early in the morning.

After Minchah on Erev Pesach  a portion of the Haggadah is recited.

It is forbidden to perform any type of preparatory work for the Seder during Shabbos. It is therefore important to schedule the Seder well after the conclusion of Shabbos.

Disposal of Chametz on Erev Pesach that falls on Shabbos.

The laws that relate to refraining from eating and the disposal of Chametz are  different when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos.

Though the prohibition of harboring Chametz dos not begin until Shabbos morning roughly one hour before noon we, nevertheless, dispose of our Chametz by that time on Friday in order to ensure that the house is as “Passover proof” as possible under the circumstances.

For one, who has not disposed of the Chametz by the appropriate time PM an extension can be made until the onset of Shabbos.

Fast of the First Born

It is a tradition for all first born, beyond the age of bar Mitzvah, to fast on the day before Passover to commemorate the miracle of being passed over during the plague of the first born. (Fathers fast for first-born children who are still under the age of Bar mitzvah) Since Erev Pesach is a festive day, it is customary to avoid fasting on this day through participating in a meal connected to a Mitzvah such as a Bris or a Siyum (conclusion of study) of a tractate of Talmud. Having broken the fast for the purpose of this meal we may now continue the day without fasting.

When Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos this fast takes place on Friday morning and a Siyum breakfast should be arranged that morning.

The Sacrificial Lamb

In the days of the Temple, a special sacrificial lamb was brought to the Altar in honor of Passover. Part of the lamb was placed upon the Altar as an offering to G-d; the rest was roasted over an open fire and served at the Seder table on the first night of Passover.

Today the Pascal lamb is represented on our Seder plate through a small piece of roasted meat. This meat does not constitute a modern day sacrifice, it is only a representation of the ancient Pascal lamb. The meat is therefore not eaten on the Seder night but left untouched on the Seder plate.

The Seder

Traditionally, family and friends will gather for a Seder (Hebrew name for the festive Passover feast) on the first day of Passover.

It is customary to involve children in the Seder as much as possible. Most children train for several weeks before the holiday to recite the “Four Questions.”

The Seder plate contains an assortment of the classic Passover foods, In addition to the Matzah we place a handful of Moror (bitter herbs), Romaine lettuce, a roasted piece of meat, onions, eggs and Charoses (a special concoction of apple, nuts and wine.)

The egg is symbolic of the cooked foods that our ancestors ate along with their holiday meal in the days of the Temple. The onion is symbolic of the bitter tears that our ancestors shed in Egypt. The Charoses, for a variety of reasons, is symbolic of their harsh enslavement in Egypt.

During the Seder we read the Haggadah (recording of the Passover story) and tell our children of our ancestors’ miraculous exodus. We also read selected passages from Psalms, praising G-d for his miraculous wonders and the love that he shows the Jewish people.

The Holiday of Passover lasts for eight days. The first and last two days of the holiday are sanctified. The middle four days are called Chol Hamoed (intermediate days).

In Israel, the holiday lasts for only seven days and only the first and last days are sanctified. (For more information, see Extended Holidays in the Jewish calendar).

Order of the Seder service

The service begins with the customary benediction recited over a glass of wine. This is the first of four glasses that we drink at the Seder table.

We wash our hands in the prescribed manner but without the blessing that we customarily recite before eating bread.

A small piece of onion or potato is dipped into salt water and eaten.  Before eating, the blessing over vegetables is recited.

The middle of the three matzos, placed on the Seder plate, in broken into two pieces. The larger piece is put away for later use and the smaller piece is returned to the Seder plate.

The – story of Passover is recited. At this point in the service, we fill the second cup of wine and the children are asked to recite the classic four questions. After the conclusion of the reading we recite a special blessing over the wine (found in the Haggadah) and drink the second cup of wine.

Once again we wash our hands in the prescribed manner, however this time the customary blessing is recited (found in the Haggadah).

We raise all three matzos and recite the usual blessing over the bread (found in the Haggadah).

We return the lower matzah to the Seder plate and recite the special blessing made over the matzah (found in the Haggadah). We eat at least one ounce of each of the two matzos.

Marror – The bitter herbs
In commemoration of the difficult times that our ancestors experienced in the land of Egypt we eat marror – bitter herbs (in many houses horseradish is used.) We fold the Maror into Romaine Lettuce, dip the mixture into charoses (a mixture of apple, nuts and wine) and recite the special blessing for the Marror (found in the Haggadah) before eating.

We take two pieces of the last matzah (that was left on the Seder plate) and use a combination of marror and Romaine lettuce to form a sandwich. We recite the special prayer (found in the Haggadah) before eating.

Shulchan Oruch
The festive holiday meal is served.

We eat an additional piece of matzah in commemoration of the Pascal lamb, which our ancestors brought during this holiday in the ancient days of the temple. This matzah is taken from the piece that we broke off of the middle Matzah in the beginning of the service.

The third cup of wine is filled and Birkat Hamazon (grace after meal) is recited. After the conclusion of grace we recite an additional blessing over the wine and drink the third cup of the evening.

The traditional  – songs of praise culled from the book of Psalms is recited. The Hallel service begins with the traditional greeting of Elijah the prophet and concludes with the blessing over and the drinking of the fourth cup of wine.

Having carried out the Seder service properly we are sure that is has been well received by the Almighty. We declare “L'shanah Haba'ah Bi'yerushalayim” – Next year in Jerusalem.