How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Pesach

Vayikra, March 30

This week, we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the New Moon of the month of Nisan, which means that Pesach is less than two weeks away! Many of you, I know, have already started cleaning and kashering in preparation for the holiday. Myself, I got a very early head start on worrying about cleaning and kashering for Pesach, but somehow haven’t quite gotten around to the actual cleaning or kashering themselves.

Many of us go all out when it comes to kashering for Pesach—we clean our entire houses, we deep clean rooms and closets and drawers that haven’t been cleaned in months. We use cleaning for Pesach as an opportunity to do all the deep cleaning we haven’t done over the course of the year. We spend hours and hours vacuuming and sweeping and mopping and scrubbing, and then we cover entire rooms with aluminum foil when we’re done. For some people, this is a meaningful way to prepare for Pesach, an embodiment of our spiritual quest to remove pride, the yetzer hara, or complacency from our lives. For others, it’s a somewhat tiresome chore that we just muddle through. For many of us however, this process becomes overwhelming and a source of stress and anxiety that can cast a pall over our experience of the holiday. Even those of us who don’t find the cleaning overwhelming may still find that between the cleaning and the kashering and the cooking, by the time the Seder itself arrives, we are too exhausted to participate fully or enjoy themselves.

For those who experience Pesach cleaning in this way, it is more than unfortunate: it is a desecration of Pesach. If our approach to Pesach cleaning brings us to say, “Oy vey! Pesach is almost here, I can’t wait for it to be over,” or if we so wear ourselves out cleaning that we fall asleep in the middle of the Seder, then we are doing something wrong.

For those who experience Pesach cleaning this way, there is good news. Much of what we do in the name of cleaning for Pesach has nothing to do with the mitzvot or the requirements of Halakhah—Jewish law.

The obligation of searching for and removing chametz from our house applies only to chametz of significance—something like a piece of bread or a cookie, a bottle of liquor, something that is substantial enough that all things being equal, one might be inclined to eat it. There is no halakhic obligation to search for and remove crumbs or shmutz from the house—they are not significant. The exception to this is on surfaces and areas where food will be prepared and consumed during Pesach.  Those areas do need to be thoroughly cleaned and koshered, lest any residual piece of chametz or chametz flavor come into contact with food and render that food chametz. In short—a breadcrumb left on your kitchen counter, where you set down food and utensils would be a problem on Pesach. However, a breadcrumb left on the floor behind your refrigerator, or in your desk drawer, is really of little concern. Rooms like the bathroom or a garage, where you don’t eat or bring food, don’t require any special cleaning for Pesach.

For those who tend to get overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning and kashering for Pesach, it may be helpful to remember that the cleaning required is very minimal—we simply need to remove significant items of chametz, larger than the size of an olive, from our homes. Once we’ve started cleaning out closets, vacuuming curtains, or washing walls, we’re gone well beyond what is actually required. To be sure, there is a certain amount of cleaning involved in kashering a kitchen, but even there, while scrubbing the pots you want to kasher is necessary and cleaning the inside of an oven is necessary (for ovens without self-cleaning functions)—scrubbing the outside of your refrigerator (a surface on which food is neither prepared nor stored nor served) is completely unnecessary.

If you have any questions about what is required and what is not in terms of cleaning and kashering for Pesach, I encourage you to reach out to me.

I pray that all of you will have a kosher and joyous Pesach and that the process for cleaning and kashering will add to and not detract from your experience of the holiday.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein