Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 21
March 27, 2006
Mitzvah 22: Hametz on Passover
Mitzvah 22 – It is a positive commandment to clear away Hametz on the fourteenth of Nissan.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “only, on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses” (Exodus 12:15) and by the Oral tradition it was learned that this “first” means the fourteenth of Nissan, before the time that it becomes forbidden to eat Hametz. Now, clearing away means that one is to destroy the known Hametz in his possession; and what he does not know about he renders null and void in his heart, and considers it as nothing – that he has no use whatever for it.
By the law of the sages one is to search and examine his premises and clear away all Hametz at the beginning of the night before the fourteenth, by the light of a candle; because all people are to be found in their homes at night, and candlelight is good for searching. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for both men and women.
When the Sages wanted to make sure that all Hametz was removed before Passover, they set in motion three ways to get rid of it. The first responsibility was to use up as much Hametz before the holiday as possible. To clear our shelves of what the Hametz we own. There is a commandment that we are forbidden to waste that which can be used, so we first try and use up what we own. We are also allowed to give it away to a worthy (non-Jewish) cause so that the Hametz we can’t use can still be put to good use. It can be donated to a soup kitchen or food pantry for instance.
In some cases, it is impossible to use up all the Hametz in our homes before Passover. Sometimes there is just too much to use. Sometimes we forget we have it until it is too late to use it. Sometimes we are in the Hametz business and it would be a great financial loss if we were to give it all away before Passover. For this reason the Sages created the “sale” of Hametz. The Hametz is placed in a secure location and closed off from the rest of the house. We then, in writing, assign the Rabbi as our agent to make sure that the Hametz is sold for the holiday. (there is usually a small donation made to have the Rabbi do this for you) He will then sell all the Hametz that he is commissioned to sell to a reliable non-Jew. This is a binding sale. Usually there is a small down payment made at the time of the sale and the full price is to be paid after the holiday at fair market value for the Hametz. If the non-Jew decides not to complete the sale, it automatically reverts to its original owners, after the holiday. Since it did not belong to us during the holiday, we are able to use it after the holiday is over. This sale must take place before 10 am on the fourteenth of Nissan, so that we will not own the Hametz from the time it becomes forbidden to us.
Tradition has us keep a small amount of Hametz and to search for it on the night before the fourteenth of Nissan (on the thirteenth, after dark). This is called Bedikat Hametz, the search for Hametz, and we use a candle and a feather, to sweep away the last crumbs of Hametz in our homes. Those crumbs and whatever Hametz we no longer can use is burned at 10 am on the fourteenth of Nissan. From that time until the end of Passover, we can not own or have in our possession any Hametz at all. If we find any that was not sold or burned, we must throw it away. We cannot use it even after the holiday.
The big question is “Why?” Why must we remove leaven from our homes? The Torah, as stated above, only tells us that we must get rid of it all. G-d simply said so and we must obey. But what is Hametz that we cannot even possess it on Passover? The Sages comment on this mitzvah saying that Hametz is that grain that has fermented, it has mixed with water and the air and has become something else. It is no longer pure grain. When we remove the Hametz from our homes, we are removing from our lives all that has been fermented, the arguments, the fights, the anger and the feelings of vengeance that spoil our live and corrupt our thinking. Passover is the time we let go of such feelings, and decide that we have no use for them whatsoever. That we will go back to a simpler kind of bread, and a simpler kind of relationship, where we no longer allow that which is fermented to spoil the love and concern we have for each other. The removal of leaven from our household symbolizes the removal of the fermented feelings from our heart. For the week of Passover, we should not really miss either the bread or the bad feelings at all.
Next week: Mitzvah 23: Eating Matzah