Jewish Journal


March 16, 2011

Desperately seeking Chametz


When our ancestors fled slavery in Egypt thousands of years ago, they didn’t have an opportunity to plan for the trip: They gathered what they could, grabbed their unleavened bread and high-tailed it out into the desert.

Today, when we prepare for Passover, which commemorates their exodus, we have a little more time. In fact, the preparation for the holiday is nearly as significant as the holiday itself. Clearing one’s home of chametz is an ancient twist on the concept of spring cleaning.

“Chametz is defined as anything containing wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt or their derivatives that have leavened. The moment it rises, it becomes chametz,” says Rabbi Moshe Bryski of Chabad of the Conejo.

We are commanded to “search” for chametz prior to the Passover holiday. You might think that simply emptying your kitchen of leftover pasta and cereal is enough. But you would be wrong.

“The Torah tells us that we are supposed to search throughout our house to clean out all of the chametz,” Bryski says. “It takes more than the day before. It’s definitely best to start two weeks before Passover. ... There often are things in our kids’ pockets that we may have forgotten about.”

Getting the kids involved in the search for chametz is a fun way to get them excited about Passover.

“The night before the seder,” Bryski says, “we put 10 pieces of bread throughout the house. Everyone, including the children, searches for the 10 hidden pieces of bread, which we burn the morning before the seder. This is a way we all participate in the search for chametz together.”

So, what if you have a club-store size bag of pasta and you don’t want to throw it away? The sages realized that it could be cost prohibitive for many people to throw away large quantities of food. To help reconcile the need to rid one’s home of chametz while being mindful of not being wasteful, you can sell your chametz to a non-Jew and then buy it back at the end of the holiday.

Here’s how it works: You appoint a rabbi to act as your agent. The rabbi finds a non-Jew who would like to purchase your chametz for a nominal fee. You relocate said chametz to a secure area in your home (a box in the garage, cupboard, etc.). The area should be locked, and the buyer is given the key to the chametz.

“This is a legal, binding contract,” Bryski says. “Theoretically, if the [buyer] who purchases your chametz wants to come into your house and have a bowl of ‘Alpha-Bits,’ he can,” Bryski says.

Of course, there aren’t many, if any, documented cases of a chametz purchaser coming to collect his new purchase.

At the end of Passover, the rabbi will then purchase back the chametz for the owner. This process works, Bryski says, because if you don’t own the chametz, you are not violating the biblical commandment of not having chametz in your home during Passover.

What if you don’t have a rabbi to sell your chametz? No problem. Today, you can simply go online and use an Internet form. Rabbi Yosef Landa of Chabad can act as your agent to sell your chametz (and buy it back). Believe it or not, this transaction is legal and binding. Of course, you still are expected to categorize and lock away your chametz for the duration of the holiday.

Many families vacation during Passover. All-kosher resort programs and cruises are a pleasant way to celebrate the holiday — without all of the fuss.

So, if you leave your house, do you still have to clear it of chametz? The short answer is yes. Some people actually sell their entire house to a non-Jew. Of course, Bryski points out, “It’s not as simple as walking next door and selling your house to your neighbor for a dollar. You should still use a rabbi as your agent to set up the proper legal parameters.”

Even if you are going away during Passover, Bryski urges you at least to do some of the chametz searching. “There should be some element of the preparation for Passover in the house, otherwise the children are missing out on the experience. Teach your children what it means to prepare for Passover.”

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