Cleaning for Pesach

Multicoloured spray bottles and the title "Cleaning for Pesach"

While cleaning for Pesach, the most fundamental aspect of knowledge we need is a clear definition of what we are looking for. Although it is true that for many, Pesach cleaning is just an excuse to do a thorough “spring cleaning”, we will see that the Torah has very specific definitions of what we are supposed to be looking for and what we should be focusing on cleaning.

Defining Terms

There are a few verses that are important to be familiar with in order to have a greater level of clarity in this issue:

For seven days you shall eat matzos, but on the first day you shall put to rest (tashbisu) sourdough (se’or) from your homes, because anyone who eats leaven (chametz) will be punished with kares…[ref]Exodus 12:15[/ref]

For seven days no sourdough (se’or) shall be found in your homes, because anyone who eats a leavening agent is liable to the punishment of kares…[ref]Exodus 12:19[/ref]

For seven days matzos shall be eaten, and there shall not be seen any leavened grain (chametz) and there shall not be seen any leavening agents (se’or) in all of your boundaries.[ref]Exodus 13:7[/ref]

Chametz – Leavened Items of the Five Grains

The Talmud[ref]Beitzah 7b[/ref] defines the two terms we find in the verses above. chametz has two unique features:

  1. It is edible
  2. It is not fermented enough that it can facilitate fermentation in other products

The Torah says that someone who eats chametz on Pesach is liable for kares. This penalty only applies to eating a kezayis (about 30 grams) within 4 minutes. However, the Torah still prohibits eating less than that amount even though there is no official penalty. We will see below that this prohibition of eating even the tiniest amount applies to all edible chametz, even if it is in a mixture.

Se’or – Sourdough Starter Derived From the Five Grains

The same piece of Talmud says that se’or (sourdough starter) has two unique features:

  1. It is not edible
  2. It is so fermented itself that it can actually be a leavening agent for other products

The same amounts we mentioned above by eating chametz apply to se’or as well.

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Bitul – the Nullification of Chametz

What is Bitul (Nullification)?

We saw above in Exodus 12:15 that the verse enjoins us with the word ‘tashbisu’ – “put to rest” all chametz. The Talmud[ref]Pesachim 6b[/ref] implies that this verse means to declare in one’s heart that his chametz is ownerless and like the dust of the earth.

When do we Need to do this Nullification?

We saw above that the verse wrote “but on the first day you shall nullify”. In chumash, the word “but” (“ach” in Hebrew) usually comes to exclude something, but it’s difficult to understand that exclusion in the context of our verse. We know from verse 12:19 that you clearly may not have any chametz around for the entire seven days of Pesach. Therefore, the word “but” in 12:15 couldn’t have meant what we would have thought, that part of the first day of Pesach is excluded from the prohibition of having chametz around.

The Talmud[ref]Pesachim 4b[/ref] explains as follows: the word “but” perforce means that there is a significant day, previous to the first official day of Pesach which, inasmuch as it is just previous to the first day can be seen similar in a certain sense to the first day” of Pesach, which is previous to the rest of the days of Pesach. The word “but” is coming to exclude part of that first day, Erev Pesach on the 14th of Nissan in the Jewish Calendar, from the general permission to have chametz around during the year. The verse is therefore understood as follows “but already on Erev Pesach you shall nullify all chametz from your homes…

This teaches us the first and possibly the most fundamental of all of the laws of Pesach. We have a Torah obligation to nullify our chametz. The same piece of Talmud addresses this issue further, saying that the verse also indicates a certain time on Erev Pesach by which you need to have made this declaration, that being by the time of the arrival of the 6th halachic hour of the day.

The Mishnah[ref]Pesachim 11b, 21a[/ref] follows the opinion of Rebbe Yehudah that the sages enacted this g’zeirah out of concern that on a cloudy day people may become confused about the time and come to miss the zman bitul. Therefore they instituted that we must make the bitul declaration by the end of the 4th halachic hour on the morning of Erev Pesach.

What Type of Chametz Must be Nullified? (Chametz and Se’or)

Rashi to Exodus 12:19 quotes a Mechiltah[ref]Ch. 12, Parshah 10, Sif 69[/ref] (a very early source of midrash halacha – talmudic legal exegesis) which teaches that the reason why the Torah needed to mention the prohibition of eating chametz (in 12:15) and se’or (in 12:19) is because we could not have derived the one prohibition even if we had known the other. This is because of how we defined the two materials in Beitzah above: chametz is edible and can’t ferment other products, whereas se’or is inedible and is able to ferment other products. Therefore, if I had only known the prohibition of eating se’or I would have thought that it is prohibited specifically because it has the ability to facilitate the leavening process; and since chametz does not facilitate leavening, it might not need to be forbidden. Alternatively, if I had only known the prohibition of eating chametz I would have thought that it is prohibited specifically because it is edible; but se’or, which is inedible, not. Therefore, the Torah needed to write both verses. once we have both, we know that it is prohibited to eat both chametz and se’or on Pesach.

This brings us to our next major building block. In Exodus 12:15 and 12:19, the Torah actually tells us the reason that we need to nullify se’or already from Erev Pesach: because eating se’or on Pesach is so severe that it leads to the penalty of kares. From this point, we now work backwards to understand the din. Even though the verse which mentions nullifying (Exodus 12:15) only mentions se’or explicitly, nevertheless the obligation to nullify applies equally to both chametz and se’or, since one who eats either on Pesach is liable for kares.

Therefore, we need to nullify by the end of the 4th halachic hour on Erev Pesach minimally all chametz and all se’or in our possession that could produce a chiyuv kares if eaten.

A Mixture with a Full Kezayis of Chametz in it

The Gemara[ref]Pesachim 43a[/ref] brings a braysah discussing two opinions of how to expound the verse:

Any form of leavening agent you shall not eat on Pesach, in all of your encampments you shall eat matzos[ref]Exodus 12:20[/ref]”

Rebbe Eliezer holds that this verse comes to teach that there is a prohibition from the Torah to eat chametz bta’aroves (a mixture of chametz and non-chametz) and also chametz numksheh (chametz that was once edible but became hardened and unfit for human consumption). The Chachamim say that the verse is only coming to forbid eating chametz nuksheh, but that chametz bta’aroves is not forbidden by the Torah to eat.

The halachah is that it is not prohibited by the Torah with punishment of kares to eat a mixture with chametz, as long as the mixture contains within it less than a kezayis (about 30 grams). When the mixture does contain a kezayis of chametz, the Rishonim differ as to how to understand the halacha:

  • The Rambam[ref]Hilchos chametz Umatzah 1:6[/ref] and the Rif[ref]Beginning of Perek Elu Ovrin[/ref] say that it is prohibited by the Torah to eat but one who does is not liable for kares.
  • The Ramban[ref]Sefer Milchamas Hashem, beginning of Perek Elu Ovrin[/ref] and most other Rishonim understand that one who eats this type of mixture is liable the penalty of kares.

The halachah follows the opinion of the Ramban. Therefore, it follows that there would even be an obligation from the Torah to nullify such a mixture[ref]Mishnah Brurah 442:1[/ref].

Small Crumbs that are Less than a Kezayis

Based on all of the above, is there an obligation to nullify small crumbs of chametz? The Gemara[ref]Pesachim 6b[/ref] deals with this question by stating the following unexpected rule: small crumbs of chametz that are less than a kezayis are in-and-of-themselves insignificant and thus do not require nullification. This follows from the rule that any chametz which couldn’t produce a chiuv kares does not require nullification. We will discuss more about crumbs of chametz in the next section.

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Bal Yeira’eh U’val Yeimatzeh – The Prohibition of Keeping Chametz in My Possession

We saw above that the Torah[ref]Exodus 12:15[/ref] requires us to nullify any chametz we have by the 6th hour on Erev Pesach. This nullification of chametz is a mental act of dissolving all importance from and all connection to our chametz. In a manner of speaking one could say that by nullifying our chametz, we are removing it from our world completely, even though that process is only taking place on a mental level.

In addition we saw two other verses, Exodus 12:19 and 13:7, which instruct us in the prohibition of leaving chametz around during Pesach. We will now look deeper into this prohibition.

Which Chametz Does the Torah Prohibit Keeping Around?

Before proceeding, we need to ask a fundamental question: if the Torah demands that we nullify all of our chametz on Erev Pesach, and that nullification is a valid form of “getting rid of” our chametz, then what is the verse talking about when it says there is a prohibition to “keep chametz around during Pesach?” What chametz would be left around?

There are two possible ways to understand the Torah’s intention here. The first way fits together with everything we have learned until now: the only time that you transgress the prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh is when you didn’t perform the nullification on your chametz, either because you forgot or you somehow acquired chametz on Erev Pesach after you had already nullified the rest. The second involves redefining the type of chametz which these particular prohibitions address.

Case 1: Someone who Forgot to Do the Nullification or Acquired New Chametz on Pesach

What is a person supposed to do in a situation where he didn’t properly nullify his chametz? At this point he is in a predicament, since after the sixth hour of Erev Pesach sets in, it becomes forbidden to derive any benefit from chametz. Interestingly enough, inasmuch as that is true, the “nullification in one’s heart” can’t work. When you do the nullification before the sixth hour, you do it to a substance that is permissible to you and that you have ownership of, so your statement of nullification has “teeth”. After the sixth hour and through the rest of Pesach however, remaining or additional chametz sits in your possession, but it is in a state where you can’t make a declaration about it.

Our sages teach in [ref]Pesachim 6a[/ref and also in [ref]Pesachim6b[/ref] that in such a situation, one’s only recourse is to burn the chametz completely. This “puts it to rest” in the actual physical sense, as opposed to on a merely legal level. This is certainly included in the understanding of what the Torah wants from us by saying make sure that chametz and se’or are neither seen or found in your possession on Pesach. See more in [ref]Shulchan Aruch 446:1[/ref]

Case 2: A Mixture of Chametz

There is a second way to answer to the dilemma we raised above.  We saw a clear indication in the Torah that the reason you have to nullify your chametz is so that you don’t come to transgress the prohibition of eating it and be liable or the penalty of kares. The question we now face is whether the same logic applies to the prohibitions of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh.

One more verse in the Torah teaches us an important extension to the laws of chametz.

Any form of leavening agent you shall not eat on Pesach, in all of your encampments you shall eat matzos[ref]Exodus 12:20[/ref]”

The Talmud[ref]Tractate Pesachim 43a[/ref] brings a two-way Tannaic discussion as to what this verse means.

  • Rebbe Eliezer explains that the words “any form” (of leavening agent), come to add and include the case of chametz bta’aroves in the prohibition of eating chametz even though there is no punishment of kares.

Chametz Nuksheh

The Gemara [ref]Pesachim 43a[/ref], while discussing Rebbe Eliezer’s approach, points out that once we know that the above verse includes the prohibition to eat a ta’aroves chametz, all the more so we can extend that obligation to chametz nuksheh. According to Rebbe Eliezer this is more severe than a ta’aroves of edible chametz since nuksheh was once full-fledged chametz.

The Chachamim take a more lenient approach in explaining the above verse, saying that ta’aroves containing edible chametz is not at all forbidden to eat as far as the Torah is concerned. The phrase “any form” of leavening agent in the verse is only talking about chametz nuksheh.

Se’or vs. Chametz Nuksheh

What exactly is this “chametz nuksheh” that we are talking about, here? Isn’t that the se’or that we were learning about earlier? Aren’t they both examples of inedible chametz?

The answer is no. There is a fundamental distinction between se’or and chametz nuksheh. Namely, se’or has the quality of facilitating the fermentation of other items, causing them to become chametz. It is true that se’or is inedible yet it is still forbidden and is punishable by kares because it can cause other items to firment and become chametz, however, here by chametz nuksheh we are talking about something that is both inedible and unable to cause fermentation in other substances. Technically, the only thing that makes “chametz nuksheh” prohibited at all is that it was derived from chametz or was itself once chametz. This is why we refer to this stuff as chametz nuksheh or hardened chametz.

The halacha regarding bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh follows the opinion of Rebbe Eliezer[ref]Be’er Hagolah 442:1[/ref]. Therefore, a person must not keep around in his possession during Pesach any mixture which contains chametz. What is interesting is that since the halacha follows Rebbe Eliezer regarding bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh it should follow that a person should not be allowed to keep chametz nuksheh in his possession during Pesach either. The Magen Avraham[ref]Orach Chaim 447:46[/ref] proves from the Shulchan Aruch that this is not the case. In fact there is no prohibition to keep chametz nuksheh around as far as teh law of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh.

What is the rationale for this distinction? We see the answer in the Shulchan Aruch[ref] Orach Chaim 442:1[/ref]. He teaches us that there is a distinction between a mixture of chametz that is edible and a mixture of chametz that is inedible. The prohibition to keep chametz in a mixture around during Pesach only applies to a mixture of fully-edible chametz.

Small Crumbs with Less than a Kezayis of Chametz

The Chazon Ish[ref]Orach Chaim 116:13 “V’Hagra”[/ref] explains that even though the Gemara in Pesachim 6b (see above) says that small crumbs of chametz are automatically nullified, nevertheless with regards to Bal Yeira’eh and Bal Yeimatzeh, you must get rid of the small crumbs, since part of the rationale for the Torah’s law is to prevent you from even coming to transgress the issur of eating chametz even in a case where you couldn’t get kares.

It follows from here that part of the obligation to clean our homes requires looking for and getting rid of small crumbs of chametz as well even though they are already nullified according to the law of nullification of chametz. This obligation is stated clearly in the Chayeh Adam[ref]Klal 119:10[/ref] and in the Shulchan Aruch Harav[ref]442:28[/ref] as well as in the Mishnah Brurah[ref]442:33[/ref]. However, as we will see ahead once the crumbs are less than a kezayis and they are rendered inedible for people due to their becoming attached to floors, walls, etc. at that point we don’t even have an obligation to get rid of them. Such crumbs that are found in places like tables, chairs, counters, cupboards and the like still retain their status as food and would thus need to be destroyed[ref]See Mishneh Brurah 442:33 as well as look ahead for more clarification[/ref].

Absorptions of Taste in Eating and Cooking Vessels

The law of absorptions is “ta’am k’ikar” —the taste absorptions of a food are like the actual food as regards the halacha. We therefore face a problem of Bal Yeira’eh and Bal Yeimatzeh with all of our year-round pots, pans, and other eating and cooking vessels. These vessels still have chametz taste absorptions in them, therefore even if we just to leave these vessels around the house during the chag, we should have to kasher them all before Pesach to get rid of all of those absorptions.

There is another rule, mentioned in Gemara and Rishonim that we should be aware of. The Gemara[ref]Pesachim 30a[/ref] says that vessels which we aren’t planning to on Pesach can be cleaned and put away before the festival, without transgressing the laws of Bal Yeira’eh and Bal Yeimatzeh. The Ravan explains that the issur of Bal Yeira’eh and Bal Yeimatzeh don’t apply to chametz that is absorbed inside something else. It is still chametz but it is not “seen” or “found” when it is in its absorbed state. As a result we now see that regarding both the law of nullification and the law of Bal Yira’eh and Bal Yimatzeh chametz absorbed inside vessles poses no problem and no need to do anything special for Pesach. We need to clean them and put them away only as a precautionary measure lest we come to use them on Pesach unwittingly.

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Kashering Vessels for Pesach

All of the above is true only regarding chametz vessels which we don’t plan to use during the chag. For vessels which you do wish to use, absorptions of chametz in it which can bring a person to the transgression of the issur chametz that requires a special process of “kashering” the vessel in order to eradicate the absorptions in order that we may use the vessel on Pesach. We will not discuss all of the laws of kashering vessels right now but in general the rule for kashering is that “k’bolo kach polto” meaning the method of how the pot is normally used i.e. cooking with water, roasting, etc is the method in which it needs to be koshered. See our article on kashering vessels for more details.

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Bedikah and Biyur Chametz” Search and Destroy all Chametz

The first Mishnah in Tractate Pesachim teaches us about a special rabbinic obligation on the night of the 14th of Nissan. We must go through any place under our ownership that may have chametz in it and check by candlelight. This is called bedikah, or checking. In the ensuing discussions in the Gemara, it becomes clear that whatever chametz we find during this search should be taken and burned on the following morning. The problem is that this practice don’t seem to be derived from any of the Torah injunctions we read above.

  • We learned from that on Erev Pesach a person has to nullify all of his chametz. (Exodus 12:15)
  • We spent quite a while defining what fits into that prohibition.
  • We also saw that if a person didn’t do that nullification he is transgressing the prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh. (Exodus 12:19 and 13:7)
  • In addition we learned that bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh require me to get rid of any fully edible chametz even if it is in a mixture.

But none of these sources describe the need to go around the house and “check” for chametz.

The Reason for this Rabbinic Injunction

What then is the idea behind this “seek and destroy mission” we find discussed in the Gemara? Rabbeinu Nissim in his [ref]gloss to Tractate Pesachim 1a in Dapei Harif “elah”[/ref] asks this famous question, and he and he gives the following answer. It is clear that the Torah requires you to get rid of your chametz before the 6th hour of Erev Pesach. There are two ways to do that.

  1. One way is to search through your house and find anything that fits the description of chametz and destroy it.
  2. The other way is to nullify your chametz by the 6th hour.

As far as the Torah is concerned, either of these methods will suffice to prevent you from transgressing the prohibitions of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh. However, the Rabbis felt that given the nature of people and the severity of eating chametz on Pesach (the penalty of kares) it was necessary to make a g’zeirah or fence. The concern was that since the nullification process is founded on the sincerity of a person’s declaration, then depending on who he is and what he has in his possession, his declaration (and thus his nullification) might not be valid.

Alternatively, they were worried that since chametz is permitted throughout the year and people are so used to putting it in their mouths without thinking, that just such an occurrence might happen on Pesach with a nice piece of chametz that he will be excited about, thus undermining the nullification. Therefore, the Rabbis instituted these additional laws on top of the Torah that force us to search and destroy all chametz before Pesach.

This Obligation Applies to all Forms of Chametz

Based on what we have learned, one would think that this rabbinic law would apply to the same type of chametz as the nullification we learned about before. However, when we look deeper into this topic we find an interesting idea. Remember that we are only obligated to nullify chametz that could bring to the penalty of kares. On the other hand the prohibitions of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh apply to any chametz that is edible. The question is: when the Rabbis enacted this g’zeirah, did they pattern it after the obligation to nullify or after the prohibition to keep chametz lying around?

The Tur[ref]Siman 442[/ref]understands that the Rabbis patterned the laws of bedikah and biyur on the foundations of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh. Therefore, a person would have an obligation to physically search though his house and destroy all chametz, se’or, and ta’aroves. However, inedible chametz would still be permissible to leave around on Pesach according to him. Rabbeinu Tam[ref]Pesachim 42a “V’elu”[/ref]as well as the Shulchan Aruch[ref]Orach Chaim 447:12[/ref] hold that while Tur’s logic is well founded, the Rabbis nevertheless took an additional step here in order to streamline the law and thus avoid confusion. Thus according to them, one has an obligation to search for and destroy all chametz, even chametz nuksheh since it is still somewhat edible

The Difference Between a Mixture of Inedible Chametz and Chametz Nuksheh

In the final accounting of the halacha there is a distinction between an inedible mixture of chametz which one need not bother getting rid of or even checking for and between chametz nuksheh which a person must actually go around the house and check for [ref]Mishneh Brurah 442:2[/ref]. The Mishneh Brurah explains this distinction by saying that the definition of chametz nuksheh is that although a person wouldn’t eat it in general it is still seen as food and under duress a person might eat it. The type of mixture we were talking about above that one is exempt from worrying about altogether is one that one would eat under any circumstances – see below.

In essence than the obligation to do “bedikas chametz” checking the house and destroying all chametz comes to add on and streamline the law of bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh  so that we must now get rid of any chametz that is even somewhat edible regardless of whether it is b’ein (whole and separate) or bta’aroves.

The Two Types of Items not Included in the Law of Bedikas Chametz

Based on the above, there are specific types of items that are not technically called chametz and are therefore not included in the rabbinic obligation to search out and destroy all chametz.

  1. The first, as mentioned above, is chametz that has become so inedible that not even a dog would eat it (nifsal l’achilas kelev)[ref]Pesachim 15b, Beraisa. See “Afra b’Alma”[/ref].
  2. The second is chametz that, because of its situation is seen as having a status of non-food, regardless of its technical edibility[ref]Mishnah in Pesachim 45a “Batzek Shbesidkei Areiva…”[/ref].

Small Crumbs of Chametz Around the House

The second category gives us a very practical idea of how to deal with small crumbs of chametz. We saw above that one must get rid of small, somewhat edible crumbs, so as not to transgress bal yira’eh and bal yimatzeh. We now qualify that statement, adding that once the tiny crumbs have become attached to a surface that we wouldn’t eat off of, they lose food status altogether.

The picture of how to relate to those small crumbs of chametz in our cleaning is now clear. Any small crumbs that are in places or on surfaces where we might still be tempted to eat them must be cleaned and gotten rid of before Pesach; however, crumbs that are on the floor, or are laying on or stuck to any surface that we would not eat off of are rendered tafel to that surface and take on the status of non-food.

Furthermore, even if small crumbs are on a surface that we would eat off of, we can fulfill our obligation to get rid of them by spraying some sort of heavy cleaning agent on them, causing them to become fully inedible, and thus fulfilling our obligation to destroy them.

How and When do we Fulfill this Mitzvah?

The Talmud[ref]Pesachim 6a[/ref] teaches that the basic obligation to search for and destroy chametz starts from 30 days before Pesach. It is from that point that we should start to develop the consciousness of getting prepared for the festival. The mitzvah breaks up into two parts:

  1. The first is the “mental and legal” part.
  2. The second is the “ceremonial part”.

The more well known part of the obligation is the ceremonial part, referring to the night of the 14th of Nissan when we make a blessing with a candle and a feather and go around the house checking all of the cracks and crevices to make sure there is no chametz of any kind left in our possession. This physical searching out and destroying of the chametz is our main fulfilment of the injunction.

In cases where for whatever reason a person will not be able to fulfill all that is incumbent upon him during the ceremonial search, the mental and legal obligation (which anyways applies to everyone equally) takes up the slack. One example is a person who is travelling before Pesach and won’t be home in time to search. Another example is someone who has such a large amount of cleaning to do that he has to start cleaning in advance. Both of these scenarios can frequently apply to our modern lives. It’s assumed though that most of us today are able fulfill the bulk of our obligation to search out and destroy our chametz during the 30 days leading up to the festival.

The Rabbis distinguished between two different times of day with regards to the search for chametz: the daylight hours and the nighttime. Bedikah done during the daylight hours is valid for cleaning parts of the house or items that can be viewed in their full detail in plain sunlight. Areas and items in the home whose detail can only be seen well under candle or incandescent light must be checked at nighttime. This principle, along with what we have learned above, helps us focus on cleaning each place in the home and each item in the correct way and at the correct time.

The night of the 14th of Nissan is used to clean any remaining areas we haven’t reached. But even if a person has already cleaned everything in the home, there is a custom to lay 10 pieces of bread around the house so that the ceremonial search will still be meaningful.

Which Places did the Rabbis Require me to Search and Where can we Simply rely on Nullification?

One of the fundamental principles of Pesach cleaning, taught in Talmud[ref]Mishnah in Pesachim 2a “Makom Shemachnisim bo Chametz…“[/ref], is that a person is only obligated to search for chametz in a place where he is likely to find it. Thus, one must clean all areas in the home that one normally takes chametz into. It also applies to any area where it is reasonable to assume that chametz might be found. For those who have toddlers or small children, the scope of this mitzvah is obviously much greater, since the nature of small children is to distribute chametz randomly into any and all spaces of a house. We collect any chametz we find in these places and either dispose of well before Erev Pesach or save it to be burned that morning.

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Declarations and Burning Chametz

We say two different declarations during the process of searching for and destroying chametz. The first declaration is made just after the completion of the ceremonial part of the mitzvah on the night of the 14th. In this declaration, we render nullified any chametz that we may not have found and destroyed. The reason we say so is because we have by now officially completed the searching process, so any chametz that is still in our possession that we may not have found and destroyed for whatever reason must be nullified.

Since it is not yet forbidden to eat chametz, and we still plan to keep a small amount of chametz on the side to be eaten up before the end of the 4th hour of the following morning. We also have chametz set aside to burn the following morning, as the Rabbis instructed. We want our declaration to be meaningful in light of all that, so after burning our last remaining chametz, we make a much broader declaration rendering null and void any chametz of any kind.

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In Summary

We have reviewed the major principles of cleaning for Pesach:

  1. The Torah forbids us from consuming either chametz or se’or, in any amount from the 6th hour of Erev Pesach until after Pesach is over. This is true whether the chametz is by itself (b’ein) or it is in a mixture (ta’aroves). It doesn’t matter how much chametz is in the mixture, all ta’arovos are prohibited.
  2. The Torah obligates us to put our chametz “to rest” before the 6th halachic hour on Erev Pesach, either by destroying it or through mental nullification. The Rabbis enacted as a fence that we must make this declaration by the end of the 4th halachic hour.
  3. This Torah-prescribed formula for nullification applies to “chametz” (i.e. edible leavened grain products) and “se’or” (inedible leavening agent that is derived from the five grains), as they are the two forms of chametz that can cause a person to be liable for the penalty of kares.
  4. The Torah obligates us to nullify a mixture (ta’aroves) that has more than a kezayis (30 grams) of edible chametz in it.
  5. The reason the Torah demands this “nullification process” of us is in order to prevent us from coming to eat either chametz or se’or on Pesach and thereby incurring the penalty of kares.
  6. In addition, the Torah obligates us to not have in our possession any type of chametz that is fully edible during Pesach. Practically, this adds a ta’aroves of chametz, regardless of how little chametz there is in the mixture. This also requires us to get rid of small edible crumbs of chametz. It is for this reason that many products require special kashrus supervision for Pesach and also why we must facilitate a sale of many items in our kitchen as well as certain other products.
  7. Pots, pans, and other utensils that we don’t plan to use for Pesach can be cleaned off and put away since any absorbed chametz doesn’t pose a problem of bal yeira’eh and bal yeimatzeh. If we want to use a certain vessel for Peach it needs to be kashered so that the absorptions of chametz in it are eradicated and don’t come out into the food we consume from that vessel on Pesach.
  8. The Rabbis made a fence around the above laws by instituting the obligation to search out and destroy by fire any form of even slightly edible chametz. Practically this comes to include the obligation to search and get rid of chametz nuksheh. It is for this reason that certain art supplies and other various household items might need to be put away and sold for Pesach.
  9. The chiyuv bedikah requires getting rid of all even somewhat edible chametz, but any chametz that is rendered totally inedible even for a dog is not included, nor is any chametz that has become tafel to a surface that we wouldn’t eat off of. This will help to explain why certain cosmetics and products are okay to keep around and in our possession during Pesach even though they may have contained some additive of chametz in them.
  10. In cases where a person has an overwhelming amount of cleaning to do, they may start their cleaning from 30 days before the festival.
  11. In such a case, the person should clean those places and items whose every detail is visible in plain sunlight during the day. Places and items whose detail is only visible by candle or incandescent light must be cleaned at night.
  12. The only chametz-like object we may leave around the house during Pesach is chametz that has been rendered so inedible that not even a dog would eat it or chametz that has for other reasons lost the status of food altogether.

May Hashem recognize our efforts to clarify and understand our obligation to clean for Pesach and grant us the strength to succeed and excel in performing this great mitzvah. May we merit to clean our homes of all chametz and truly come to experience the freedom of a life uncontrolled by our yetzer hara.

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