Preparing For Passover

A Guide to Meaning and Method

As we anticipate our Passover holiday we are what some people have called, “Eve of Pesah” Jews and people. We are poised like at no other time before this unique festival to consider the meanings of freedom and human dignity.

When we come to our Seder tables we know that there will be no hametz, no leavened foods or products. We will eat only matzah. Yet as food, matzah can only be made of any grain that is able to become hametz.

For the Seder and the full eight days of Passover, matzah symbolizes every good intention or simple truth. Hametz represents every good intention exploited, every simple truth disguised. For this religious reason, and to connect our own homes and lives to the master story of our people’s history and sacred identity, we clean and prepare our houses and ourselves in order to celebrate Passover. (As your Seder begins ask this question: What “matzah” have we brought with us tonight? What “hametz” have we cleaned and removed from our own hearts or minds in getting ready to celebrate Pesah?)

Since matzah is made from five of the same grains that produce bread—wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt—matzah is anything that has the potential to become hametz. For fifty-one weeks each year we don’t attach value judgments to our daily bread. On Passover we live the cliché—we are what we eat! As Israel Zangwill taught, “On Passover Jews eat history and drink theology!”

In an attempt to re-enact the experience out of which our Jewish people and heritage emerged, we look to the simple and lowly fare of the slave. Slaves ate matzah. The slave’s is the most humble of lives. In contrast, the taskmaster exalted himself and believed that others must do his bidding. His was a lavish style of food and life.

For Judaism the freedom and equality that we seek for all people requires that humility, not arrogance, remain our ideal way. We cannot live as people who serve our own wills alone. Fermented grain implies personal and social excess. Unleavened bread suggests modesty. Passover teaches us that human arrogance is held in check by awareness of existence beyond ourselves. The change we make from hametz to matzah symbolizes that our efforts in life are in service of God and the values of God’s presence in our world.

On Passover we turn our basic need for food and nourishment into the symbolic agent through which we express our faith and personal values. Just as all matzah is potentially hametz, so are we, descendents of unpretentious slaves, potentially the hardened and conceited of heart and mind. One week each year we return to the core ideals and basic visions of the goodness, honesty, and dignity our lives should reflect and toward which we work to guide our society.

The physical process of cleaning, preparing, and changing our homes and kitchens is intended to inform our spiritual identities. Ritual and tradition without ethics is also ritual and tradition without deeper meaning.

Guidelines to Preparing for Pesah

Here are guidelines to help you kasher (make proper for Pesah) your home for Passover. Please call on Rabbis Shulman and Wechsler for any questions you may have and about how to best grow in celebrating the beautiful meanings and joys of the Passover holiday.

First, before you begin cooking for the holiday, remove from your kitchen foods that contain hametz — grains and their derivatives that you won’t be eating during the holiday. These include: breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, cereals, pasta, and the like. All liquids containing grain alcohol should also be removed. Rice, corn, beans, and peas are also considered hametz and taken out from the kitchen.

You may store unopened packages and dry goods that you will want to use after Passover in another place, perhaps in the garage or a closet, or even in a kitchen cabinet that will remain closed throughout Pesah. These items should be “sold” before Passover to symbolically cancel your ownership of them. (You may do this by filling out the form below.) It is customary to make a modest contribution to feed others as part of this “sale.” Many people also donate some of these foods to shelters and soup kitchens for the benefit of others. Please consider participating in Chizuk Amuno’s Food Drive at this season.

Second, thoroughly clean your kitchen—paying close attention to cupboards and drawers, the refrigerator and freezer, countertops and sink. Some people are careful to clean the grout between kitchen tiles, as well. Your stovetop should also be scrubbed clean. Afterward, turn the burners on to full flame or heat for just a moment. After you clean your microwave oven, place a glass of water into it and turn the oven on until the water boils. A self-cleaning oven can be made ready for Passover by its normal cleaning method. Other ovens should be completely scoured and then run on high for a brief period after they are clean. Run your empty dishwasher through a complete wash cycle to prepare it for use. When your kitchen is clean, pour boiling water over any exposed metal surfaces and then you’ll be ready to bring in your Passover foods and utensils.

Dishes, pots, and utensils especially reserved for Passover should be used. Many people use paper, plastic, and other disposable items to help keep costs down. Any utensils or pots made entirely of metal that you use during the rest of the year may be placed in boiling water after they have been scoured and then used during Passover. All table glassware can be used after complete cleaning. Earthenware, enamel, wood, porcelain, and plastic items cannot be made kosher for Passover. Towels and linens can be used after they have been thoroughly washed. Purchase new sponges for Passover. Close away or store those things in your kitchen that you will not be using during the holiday.

Third, bring your kosher for Passover foods into your prepared and very clean kitchen! The only foods that require a “Kosher for Passover” label are: all matzah products and baked goods, processed foods, (canned, bottled, or frozen) wine, vinegar, liquor, oils, dried fruits, candy, chocolate flavored milk, ice cream, yogurt, and soda. Many other products are labeled “Kosher for Passover” and it is always preferable to use them during the holiday.

Consumer warning: Watch out for the vast variety of foods marketed and sold for Passover that strive to imitate hametz and that you probably won’t use or need anyway! Keep focused on the values of the holiday we are celebrating while remembering that it is a festive and special time. A good rule of thumb is, if I wouldn’t buy this during the other 51 weeks of the year, why do I need it now?

Fourth, do what you can to help others during your Passover preparations. In your family preparing the house and kitchen should be a joint effort—there is plenty for parents and children to do together.

On the Sunday night before the first Seder, carefully hide a few breadcrumbs around the house and send your children on a hunt to find them. This is known as Bedikat Hametz, a final search to rid the house of hametz. The old custom is to take a feather and wooden spoon, scoop the breadcrumbs into a paper bag, and then burn it all. The B’rakhot—blessings that are recited for this ritual—can be found in most Haggadot.

In addition to delivering your hametz for the use of others, consider making a contribution to the Passover Fund at Chizuk Amuno Congregation as well as Mazon: A Jewish Response To Hunger to provide food for those in need. This tzedakah is known in Jewish tradition as Ma’ot Hittim (Grain Money).

Finally, prepare your Seder celebration in advance of your family and friend’s arrival. Preparing a meaningful Seder is one of the most important needs we have as Passover approaches. Think about who will be present with you, how long they can sit, what ideas and activities will best interest and engage them, and how you can join together in retelling the story of our people’s Exodus from Egypt. A “talking Seder” of discussion, games, or activities and conversation that uses the Haggadah for the Seder’s order, prayers, and explanation of symbols works well!

Additional Information

Click here for additional information for Pesah from the Rabbinical Assembly.


Hametz may be sold by completing this form until 10 a.m. Monday morning, April 3. Hametz that is sold reverts to your ownership when Pesah is concluded on Tuesday evening, April 11, 2015.