How to get rid of chametz, prepare your home and celebrate the holiday of freedom!
Passover. Pesach. Zman Cheiruteinu –The Time Of Our Freedom. Is there any other holiday for which we spend more time, effort and energy preparing? This guide provides a clear, easy-to-read overview of the mitzvot and customs related to Pesach, as well as the terms associated with the holiday. Throughout this guide, the terms Pesach and Passover are used interchangeably. If you are unsure about any aspect of Pesach observance, just reach out to an Orthodox rabbi.
When is Passover?
We observe Passover from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Pesach 2023 begins on Wednesday night, April 5, and lasts through Thursday, April 13. It is forbidden to eat chametz beginning Wednesday morning, April 5.
Is my home kosher-for Passover?
Keeping a year-round kosher home is not the same as a “kosher for Passover” home. On Passover, eating chametz, or having chametz in your possession, is forbidden. (See “What is Chametz?” below) The following are some of the special preparations that must be made for Pesach.
This mitzvah takes up the bulk of our Pesach preparations, as we search, clean and even scrub our homes to remove all remnants of edible chametz.
What does this look like in practice?
The entire home must be cleaned of all edible chametz. Check and clean out any place where chametz may have entered during the year. (If you have kids at home, this might mean under the beds, in the closets, and of course, in your car!) Either clean all toys or set aside designated clean toys.
There is a custom to sell chametz to a non-Jew, if (for certain reasons) it would be impractical to dispose of the chametz. Place chametz in a specially marked and sealed place, e.g. a room or closet. That storage space can then be leased to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. Ask your Orthodox rabbi to help you arrange this. For guidelines on what can and should be sold, see When to Peddle When to Purge.
Year-round cooking and eating utensils should not be used, and separate utensils should be purchased exclusively for Pesach use. (In some cases, year-round utensils may be kashered for Pesach use, in consultation with a rabbi.) Check out our Kashering Primer for more details.
What exactly is chametz?
Chametz is any food created by allowing grain (specifically wheat, oat, spelt, rye or barley) and water to ferment and rise. This is often referred to as “leaven.” Some common examples of chametz are bread, crackers, cookies, pretzels and pasta. Even foods with minute amounts of chametz ingredients, or foods processed on utensils or machinery that are used for chametz, are not permissible for Pesach use. Practically speaking, any processed food that is not certified as kosher for Passover may potentially include chametz ingredients and should not be eaten on Pesach.
The busy days before Pesach — special mitzvot and customs
Have you combed every inch of your home for wayward chametz, turned over your kitchen into an aluminum-foil-covered spaceship, and searched all corners?
You’re ready for the next step:
Bedikat Chametz means the “search for chametz.” We comb our homes for any chametz that we might have overlooked. This year, Bedikat Chametz will take place on Tuesday evening, April 4. Any chametz found is set aside to be burned the next morning.
Burning the Chametz
On the morning of Erev Pesach, we burn the chametz. Click here for the latest time to burn your chametz.
The Fast of the Firstborns
Erev Pesach–Wednesday, April 5–is a fast day for firstborn males (Ta’anit Bechorim). During the tenth plague, all the firstborns in Egypt died. G-d passed over the homes of the Jews and spared their firstborns. To commemorate this, firstborns fast on Erev Pesach.
Many congregations conduct a siyum. (The conclusion of a portion of Torah learning is a celebratory occasion that allows for a seudat mitzvah, a ritual feast). A siyum exempts firstborn males from fasting altogether.
Maot Chitim — money for the poor
Before Pesach, there is a custom to give Maot Chitim (literally, money for wheat). We donate money to the needy to help them buy matzot and other food for Pesach. Visit ou.org/hunger to support the OU’s Maot Chitim campaign efforts, where money is given to poverty-stricken families to help them celebrate the holiday with happiness and dignity.
Passover Is Here — What You Need to Know
Not all the days of Passover are the same or have the same laws.
The first three days and the last two days
The first three days (sundown Wednesday night, April 5, through sundown Motzei Shabbat, April 8) and the last two days (sundown Tuesday night, April 11, through Thursday, April 13) are observed with Shabbat restrictions on work and creative activity. The exceptions (for the first and last two days only) are carrying and the use of fire, which are both permitted (in certain ways) if needed for cooking and food preparation.
The Intermediate Days — Chol Ha’moed
The intermediate days of Pesach (Motzei Shabbat, April 8 – Tuesday, April 11) are considered “semi-festive.” Although they are the “weekday” of the holiday, not all work, activities and crafts are permitted. The laws of Chol Ha’moed are pretty nuanced. An Orthodox rabbi will be able to give you detailed guidance. Though technically Chol Ha’moed begins this year on Friday night, April 7, the “semi-festive” nature of the days does not begin until the end of Shabbat.
An eruv tavshilin should be made on erev yom tov, Wednesday, April 5, to allow for the preparation of food on yom tov that will be consumed on Shabbat. For more on eruv tavshilin, click here.
You’ve made it to the Seder! Now what?
The Seven Mitzvot of the Seder
Here’s your overview of the mitzvot of the seder. There are two Torah obligations and five rabbinical obligations to perform during the Seder.
1. Relating the story of the Exodus (Maggid—reading from the Haggadah).
2. Eating matzah.
1. Arbah Kosot: Drinking four cups of wine.
2. Maror: Eating bitter herbs.
3. Hallel: Reciting psalms of praise.
4. Afikoman: Eating an extra piece of matzah for dessert as a reminder of the Pesach offering.
5. Demonstrating acts of freedom like sitting with a pillow and leaning to the left when eating matzah and drinking wine.
The Seder Plate
The Seder plate is arranged with symbolic foods that follow the order of the Haggadah. The prepared plate is placed in front of the leader of the Seder, who gives out the various foods to each participant at the relevant times.
What do we put on the Seder plate?
1. Charoset: a mixture of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt
2. Karpas: a vegetable (preferably parsley, radish, potato, or celery)
3. Maror: bitter herbs (may consist of romaine lettuce, endives, or pure horseradish)
4. Beitzah: a roasted or boiled egg
5. Zeroa: a piece of roasted or boiled meat or poultry
6. Salt water: Place a bowl of salt water for dipping the karpas near the Seder plate.
Three whole matzot are placed next to the Seder plate. We are commanded to eat matzah three times during the Seder:
1. At the start of the Seder meal (with a special bracha)
2. For korech (Hillel sandwich) together with the maror
3. For the afikomen (at the end of the meal) For details on the specific amounts and requirements see Sizing Up the Seder.
Four cups of wine
Red wine is preferred for the Seder. Each Jew is obligated to drink a cup of wine at four specific times during the Seder:
1. Start of the Seder, following Kiddush
2. Before the meal (after reciting the Haggadah story)
3. Following Birkat Hamazon (Grace after the meal)
4. After the completion of Hallel
For details on the specific amounts and requirements see Sizing Up the Seder.
Bitter herbs (maror)
Everyone is obligated to eat bitter herbs twice at each Seder:
1. A kezayit of maror, dipped in charoset
2. A second, smaller amount, inside the matzah sandwich (korech) Maror must be raw and unpreserved. Therefore, commercially prepared grated horseradish, which is packed in vinegar, may not be used for the mitzvah.
For details on the specific amounts and requirements see Sizing Up the Seder.
Telling the story of the Exodus and singing Hallel
We encourage young children to participate in the Seder to the best of their ability. It is customary for the youngest person at the Seder to ask the Four Questions.
We close the Seder with Hallel, which praises G-d and His special relationship with the people of Israel. The Seder traditionally concludes with singing (and dancing to) several lively songs that celebrate our treasured relationship with G-d.
When Passover ends
All dietary laws and restrictions remain in effect until nightfall of the eighth day of Pesach. Chametz that was properly sold may only be eaten once the resale is confirmed by your rabbi (agent). Chametz that was in the possession of a Jew during Pesach is forbidden for consumption by any Jew, even after Pesach.