Chametz Abatement Time!

Image: Person in Hazmat gear by MetsikGarden from Pixabay.com.

Passover is SOON, coming at sundown on April 15, 2022. If you haven’t started preparations, it’s time. If you are not sure what that means, or if it makes your hair stand on end, read this: We Begin in Egypt.

It’s a little different at Beit Adar/Burnett this year: we are preparing for Passover by getting rid of a different kind of chametz. Where usually the definition of chametz is “grain + water = chametz,” one can also look at anything in life that really, really needs to go as a kind of chametz.

This year we tried to replace the kitchen floor by laying a new floor on top of the old. It failed, partly because I use a chair in the kitchen and the wheels on the chair tore up the new nylon tile. The only fix was to remove all the old flooring, then install a sheet vinyl. But: this house was built in 1961. It was highly likely there was asbestos in at least one layer of old flooring. When we got it tested, the verdict was clear: we needed to have asbestos abatement, meaning a three-day sealing of the kitchen and people with hazmat suits cleaning out all the old flooring, plus cleaning the air. Otherwise, somebody might get cancer.

Going deeper: asbestos is like slavery in that it may seem to make life safe and predictable (“fire safety!”) but in fact it does the exact opposite. It’s a horrible poison that takes life in horrible ways. It is hidden in my kitchen floor, and if we want to do something about it, we’re going to have to make a mess.

So we are going to drag all the appliances out, eat, toss, or give away the food, empty the kitchen of dishes and pans, and seal it in plastic for the people to work. We won’t be moving back into the kitchen until the floor can be installed. Let’s hope that doesn’t actually take 40 years, but it still sounds like wilderness (and camping!) to me.

In some ways, this simplifies Passover prep — the actual grain chametz will certainly go — so it’s a good time to do this. At the same time, it’s a nuisance.

Passover is a nuisance. People won’t usually say that so plainly, but the nuisancy part of it is key to the Passover experience. The goal of Passover is for each of us to feel like we’ve personally experienced the Exodus. Leaving Egypt was a lot of trouble, and some of the people who left never stopped complaining that they hated the freedom of the wilderness.

The lesson of Passover is that freedom is hard work, and boring, and icky, and dangerous. Like asbestos abatement, acquiring freedom is a major mess, a major inconvenience, and it is expensive, too.

I wish you a good preparation for Passover, whatever that will mean in your heart and your house.

Holy moly! It’s Adar Bet.

Image: A woman lifts her hands and grimaces in surprise. By Engin Akyurt / Pixabay

It’s March 1, and Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet. If the latter term is unfamiliar, read Why Two Months of Adar?

In leap years, when we have an Adar Aleph, I tend to zone out for that month. There are no holidays, and not much happening. I reassure myself that it is a l-o-n-g way to Passover. Then come, Rosh Chodesh, I panic: what have I done about Purim preparations? Do I know where my grogger is? Have I decided to whom to send mishloach manot? When will I start the dreaded Passover preparation?

March is my birthday month, as is Adar. Now it is also the anniversary of the original Covid lockdown here in California. That means that those feelings get mixed in with everything else on Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet.

מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה

“When Adar enters, joy increases” – BT Ta’anit 29a

It seems cruel to dangle that tradition before our eyes, when Adar contains anniversaries of death and destruction. However, as with many things in the Talmud, context helps:

מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה וְכוּ׳. אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר שִׁילַת מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּרַב: כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אָב מְמַעֲטִין בְּשִׂמְחָה — כָּךְ מִשֶּׁנִּכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה.

§ The mishnah teaches that from when the month of Av begins, one decreases acts of rejoicing. Rav Yehuda, son of Rav Shmuel bar Sheilat, said in the name of Rav: Just as when Av begins one decreases rejoicing, so too when the month of Adar begins, one increases rejoicing.

First, Adar’s rejoicing comes up as a contrast in a much longer discussion of the month of Av, the traditional month for sadness and sad anniversaries. When Av begins, we curtail our acts of rejoicing because we are preparing ourselves to remember the destruction of the Temple and other disasters. In contrast, when Adar begins, we prepare ourselves to celebrate Purim.

In both cases, we are the actors. It is not, as some translations suggest, that joy gets sucked out of the world in Av, or that joy is pumped into the world in Adar. We have the power to choose how we will react to events.

Mitzvot — commandments — are given to sanctify us, to make us holy. We fulfill mitzvot in order to transform ourselves slowly over time. I cannot choose events, but I can choose how I respond to events. I cannot choose emotions, but I can choose how I will express those emotions.

This Adar Aleph, Russia invaded Ukraine. In Adar 5780, coronavirus shut down the world, and it has been sickening and killing people ever since. In other Adars, other terrible things happened. Still the Jewish People chose to do acts of rejoicing: we’ve had Purim over Zoom twice. This year I will send some of my mishloach manot budget to HIAS and the WUPJ, to feed and comfort those in the war zone.

I do not kid myself that my little donations will make for a happy Purim in Kyiv. I am not so grandiose as to think that it will make a big difference. The little difference I make in the situation will be multiplied by all the other people sending money to help. The big difference will be in me: I will not succumb to despair. I will teach myself, again, that what matters is how I react. What matters is that I will bring a tiny bit of joy into this world by an act of will.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who blesses us with mitzvot, to transform our hearts.

FREE Passover classes at HaMaqom | The Place!

HaMaqom | The Place in Berkeley, CA is offering free online Passover classes and events over the coming month. Are you ready to learn? Ready to get ready? Worried about how you’re going to get into the mood for Passover this year? Interested in learning some new and interesting possibilities for enjoying the holiday? Help is one the way!

All events are free of charge, but you need to register in order to attend. To register for each event, use this link.

Passover 101 (Tuesday, March 9, 2021, 7-7:30 pm Pacific Time.

Passover, also known as Pesach or Chag HaAviv, celebrates the Israelites Exodus from Egypt and includes themes of liberation, redemption, and renewal. Join us to learn more about this holiday and its traditions in this interactive session with Rabbi Ruth Adar.

Bsisa 101: Celebrating the New Jewish month of Nissan with Libyan and Tunisian Jews (Tuesday March 16 7-7:30pm Pacific Time

The new Jewish month of Nissan brings with it themes of renewal and hope for prosperity and health, as Passover is just around the corner. Join Asher Grinner and Tamar Zaken as they share the home-based tradition of Bsisa, where family members gather to bless and be blessed, celebrating the season of renewal marked by Rosh Hodesh Nissan.

Come to the Seder Table (Thursday, March 18 7-8pm Pacific Time

At HaMaqom, we celebrate and lift up the diversity of our Jewish community and practice. Passover is the perfect time of year to showcase the ways different families celebrate this holiday of liberation and new beginnings. This event will feature 6 family seder traditions from HaMaqom and One Table community members and staff. Get ready for Passover with us!

Community Cafe: Stories of Liberation, Deliverance, Revelation, and Rebellion (Tuesday, March 23 5:30-6:45pm Pacific Time)

Stories connect us and add meaning and depth to our lives. Come to HaMaqom’s community cafe event, where you will hear inspiring, Passover-themed storytelling this Spring. This semester, HaMaqom’s Community Cafe participants workshopped true stories from their lives about liberation, resilience and other Passover themes.  Join us to hear these moving stories as our participants perform them for a live zoom audience.  

Mimouna 101: Moroccan Post Passover Celebration (Sunday April 4, 7-7:30pm Pacific Time)

Mimouna, a celebration that marks the end of Passover, is celebrated in Moroccan and North African Jewish communities. Mimouna includes themes of renewal, joy, coexistence, and inviting in neighbors. Join Ziva Trau as she shares her family Mimouna traditions, featuring special foods, music, and other rituals.

Passover @ The Place is generously sponsored by The Douglass-Pearlmutter Family, the Kabat Family, and Fred Isaac & Robin Reiner.

HaMaqom’s commitment to keeping our learning opportunities affordable and inclusive is a part of who we are and is only possible because of the generous support we receive from our wonderful community.

Pesach 2020: My Wish for You

Image: A desk and a laptop.

It’s going to be a very odd Passover. All around the world, Jews are gathering, but not at seder tables. We are gathering around laptops and smartphones to hold a “socially distanced seder” — to do our best to observe the commandments of Passover without encouraging the spread of a terrible disease.

If your house is like ours, there is also a makeshift theme to this seder. We didn’t have horseradish, so our maror will be a little bottle of hot sauce. No shankbone is obtainable, so we’ll have a drumstick on the plate instead. No nuts for proper charoset, so I’m putting an apple on the seder plate and using apple butter from the pantry for the Hillel sandwiches. This year, the role of parsley will be played by celery tops. We use what we have.

We are not the first Jews to improvise a seder plate under adverse conditions!

This Passover, we are surrounded by lachatz — stress. Instead of, or addition to Passover cleaning, we learned how to decontaminate our groceries. Invisible viruses are the new chametz, and they seem to lurk everywhere.

So don’t stress over the details of Passover. Improvise. Do the best you can. Do what you can and let the rest go. If you read the Haggadah alone over chicken soup, know that you aren’t really alone – there are many Jews doing the same thing. If you can do only part of the seder, if you settle for watching The Prince of Egypt, it is still ok. Do what you can. Remember all the Jews who have celebrated this holiday under adverse conditions, and let Dayeinu (It would have been enough!) be the theme this year.

Wherever you celebrate, however you celebrate, my wish for you, dear reader, is that some of the sweetness of Pesach come through to you this year. This year we celebrate separately; may next year we all come together again.

Song for a Plagued Passover

Image: Meir Ariel’s portrait on the jacket of his “Best Of” collection

I have discovered an Israeli song that really speaks to me – my modern Hebrew is rough, so I hope that the translation below isn’t too far off. Avarnu et Paro – Na’avor Gam et Zeh is a song about things that wear at our humanity, and the impulse in Jewish tradition to persevere anyway.

There is an expression in Hebrew: gam zeh ya’avor — “this too will pass.” In this song, the singer, Meir Ariel (1942 – 1999) sings about all the things that annoy and discourage him, and finishes each verse with “We passed over Pharaoh, and we shall pass this too.”

Passover this week calls up our communal memory of slavery in Egypt, and of our deliverance from that terrible situation. We are now in the midst of what I can only describe as a plague, a miasma of disease and in some places, mismanagement as well. It is one of those terrible times in history in which many individuals do not survive, and it is a struggle to retain our humanity. Still we can survive it as a people, if we persist.

This is my mantra for Passover of 2020 / 5780: “We passed over Pharaoh, this will pass over too.”

Income tax, they made me pay extra
Value Added Tax, they got me with that too,
The electric company has cut me off,
The Water Administration shut me off -
I saw that I was deteriorating into a crisis, I started hallucinating ...
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

A computer error cost me a million, ATM swallowed my account balance, 
An electronic secretary denied me an interview, 
The DMV denied me a license 
To a mechanical lawyer, I dropped a token in the mouth slot ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

I learned a useful and necessary profession 
So I don't get pushed and pressed, I persevered, 
I was diligent although the system was failing, 
I found myself with the work getting sparse ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

Sometimes I am trapped on a crowded bus 
Or coming out of an exit, I am tense and urgent, 
Sometimes in the street jostling and rubbing, 
In demand for some relief, 
In the back, in the ribs, sometimes in the face, that elbow ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

I turned aimlessly for a while, Without definition and without compromise, 
I lost height and consciousness, I thought maybe that defined it, 
To give an sharp and clear answer - I was torn about it. 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.
 
And now I'm stuck in the cutting edge, 
And to be honest I'm pretty indifferent. 
The situation is bad but I don't feel, 
I have no heart for all the stuff the screen presents. 
And the people's government goes down the road again - to my disgust ... 
But we passed over Pharaoh, we'll pass over this too.

Passover’s End: Rest, Reflection and Prayer

Image: Girl hiding her face behind two pieces of matzah. (Reznik/Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

After a few days, the newness wears off. Matzah is pretty boring stuff when it’s the only choice. Sure, we have spent thousands of years figuring ways to make it interesting – but by the end of the week, almost everyone is longing for pasta or pizza or just a nice piece of toast.

Passover runs for a week, and unlike Sukkot, it is a week with limitations. It lasts long enough for us to tap into the feelings of the ancestors new to freedom, for whom freedom was delicious, but matzah got pretty old. (The manna didn’t start coming until they complained.)

Part of the wisdom of our tradition is that Passover doesn’t just fade out in a whisper of matzah crumbs. At the end of the week the Torah prescribes another chag [day of solemn celebration] and then, for those who observe a second day of chag, it repeats. We slow down again, to really feel the holiday. If we are observant, we rest, we reflect, we consider the miracles and the journey ahead.

For a great and readable explanation of why some Jews (Orthodox and Conservative Jews in the diaspora) observe two days of chag, see this article in Judaism 101. Reform Jews in the United States do not observe the second day of chagim. If you are wondering what you should do, check with your local Jewish community, and do whatever will keep you connected with them.

I like the fact that Passover ends with rest, reflection, and prayer. The days leading up to the first night are rushed. There’s a lot to get ready, cooking and guest lists and preparing the house. Just as with the Biblical Passover, there’s no time to think: we have to act. Once launched into the wilderness, there’s very little other than matzah crumbs and time to reflect: that’s good too.

I wish you a holy conclusion to this challenging holiday. May the final days be as meaningful as the first ones.

Passover Blues?

Image: Handmade matzah. Sometimes “bread of affliction” is the right description. Photo by Yoninah.

The seder table is a roll call for some families and groups of friends. We gather every year, sit around the table together, and from Passover to Passover things change. Couples seem eternal, sitting in their accustomed spots. The kids grow up, go to college, come home again, bring their beloveds. Elders go from being a source of lore and recipes to being a frail treasured presence, and then it happens. Someone dies, and that place at the table is empty this year.

That’s one kind of Passover blues.

Then there’s the year that you’re in a strange town, all alone, and you intended to find a synagogue, but you didn’t, and you intended to find a seder, but you couldn’t, and now the calendar says it’s Passover and the matzah box stares accusingly. Nothing tastes right, and you’re lonely.

That’s another kind of Passover blues.

There’s the year that the baby is teething and the table didn’t get set on time and WHAT is wrong with the matzah balls? Where is the roasted shankbone? And what’s the burning smell? To top it off, Cousin You-Know-Who decided to tell you what she really thinks of your cooking, and all you want to do is run off and drink wine and cry.

That’s another kind of Passover blues.

Maybe you’ve had one of those years this year, or maybe you have a different sort of Passover blues. Be gentle with yourself, please.

So what can we do? How to fight back against the Passover blues?

  1. Let reality be real. If there is a specific grief ruining your holiday this year, it may be that all you can do is accept it. Feel the emotions, don’t fight them. Be honest with anyone who asks. Stay away from people who demand cheer from you and hold close those who understand your particular pain.
  2. Count your blessings. Especially if the issue is more diffuse, notice the good things in your life. Instead of holiday cards, write thank you cards. Tell the people who have been good to you specifically why you are grateful for them. Choose to notice what’s right, instead of focusing on what’s wrong.
  3. Look outside yourself. Focus on what you can do for other people. Soup kitchens and shelters need extra volunteers on holidays, so that those who celebrate those days can do so with their families. Call around, and see who needs volunteers. (Remember, the Christians are celebrating Easter about the same time we celebrate Passover.) Say kind words to people who need kindness. If you have money, share it. If you have food, share that. Looking outside ourselves can break cycles of destructive thoughts.
  4. Take care of yourself. If you have health issues, do what you can to take care of yourself. Be sure to eat and sleep – but don’t live to eat or sleep. If you need to see a doctor, and that’s possible, then see a doctor. If you can’t afford to see a therapist, remember that the Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call 1-800-799-4889. It’s OK to call: You are the person they are waiting to help. And yes, if you take medications of any sort, take your meds!
  5. Take a chance. If there’s something you are sort of looking forward to and sort of not, take a chance and go. Reframe “it could be awful” as “it could be ok.” Then give yourself an out: it’s OK to leave quietly if it makes you miserable.
  6. Get some exercise. Move more than you have been moving. For some that might be a walk around the house. For others, that might be a six-mile run. Choose something do-able that will push you a bit. You will sleep better and feel better.
  7. Put on some happy music. Put on some music that YOU like. Maybe dance to it (see #6 above.)
  8. Meditate. When did you last try meditation? The website gaiam.com offers a nice primer for beginners which lists several ways to meditate. Meditation is good for body and soul; for some people, it’s like a “reset button” in their day. Even if it hasn’t worked for you in the past, what do you have to lose?
  9. Pray. One of the great resources for Jews, and for Christians as well, is the Book of Psalms. There are 150 of them, and they address every emotion of which a human being is capable, from quiet happiness to rage. Dig around in there and see if you can find words that express your feelings. Naming a feeling is powerful. Praying that feeling is even more powerful.
  10. Go to services. Unlike the High Holy Days, you don’t need a ticket for Jewish services in springtimes. See what the prayers have to say to you. Listen to the Torah portion (if it’s a daytime service) or the psalms in the evening service. Sing any songs you recognize, even if you are not a singer. Breathe with the congregation.
  11. Keep Shabbat. And keep on keeping it. Part of what happens to us with holidays is that we build up those expectations and load them onto one day, or one week a year. Then, as I pointed out above, they are doomed to fail. However, Shabbat comes to us every week with its warmth and light. Figure out what “keeping Shabbat” means to you, and practice it faithfully. Some weeks will be wonderful and others will be “meh.” Some may be a bust – but there’s another Shabbat right around the corner, there to give you rest.
  12. Seek good advice. If you have suffered a terrible loss and would like some advice on walking that path, I recommend a blog called On Grief & Recovery by Teresa Bruce. She is a wise woman who knows grief from the inside out.

I hope that you find some relief, and that you are able to receive it. May you find your way out of this particular Egypt soon, or if the journey is a long one, companions along the way.

My Favorite Seder

Image: The Temple Sinai Seder, 2014. Photo by R. Ruth Adar.

There are a number of favorite seders in my memory, but the one I look forward to every year is the community seder put on by the synagogue where I’m a member. It’s held on the second night of Passover, and led by one or two clergy in the congregation, this year by the cantor. I’ve led it a couple of times – that’s fun, too.

There are lots of old people, and lots of young families. There are regulars: the people who’ve been around for years, who are stalwarts on committees. There is a healthy sprinkling of people who found us through some directory, just looking for an open spot at a seder.

The seder is a journey, and we are a mixed multitude, just like the ragtag crowd in Exodus. A few minutes in, and I grow impatient: this is going to take forever, why do we hand that microphone around for the readings, augh! the haggadah is not a funeral! — and then I settle down for the ride, and enjoy myself thoroughly, listening to the familiar voices as the microphone circles the room from reader to reader.

It’s a fairly raucous crowd, never quite quiet, but we sing along enthusiastically with each song whether we know it or not. Some people are table-bangers, and others are clappers, and some people try to harmonize with mixed results. We sing the four questions, and the Great Jewish Earworm “Dayeinu,” and all the other familiar tunes.

Miracles happen. The matzah starts as the bread of affliction and turns into the bread of freedom. The horseradish looks innocent and tastes incendiary. There are enough vegetarian entrees for all the vegetarians. We talk about the well of Miriam and the cup of Elijah and the little kids keep starting up a chorus of Dayeinu at odd entervals. An old lady falls asleep for a while, and then wakes just as we reach the point (Shulcan Orech) when it’s time to eat and the caterer is miraculously ready. The flourless chocolate cake is always flawless.

Somewhere along the evening, I am overcome with mushiness, and reach over to pat my wife’s hand. “I love you,” I say, “And I love this place.”

What is the Point of the Seder?

Image: A family seder in Israel, 2013. (Photo by Ofir.1970)

A seder is like an apple. For Jews, it is not exotic. It is officially required, implying that it’s “good for you.” Like a Red Delicious apple, many seders are routine and flavorless, generic. At its saddest, someone reads Hebrew aloud, everyone sits around and endures the flow of words until “Shulchan Orech” is announced: “Time to eat!”

In some families they just give up and skip the haggadah entirely.

In other seders, there are family activities that are both beloved (“we’ve been doing this for years!”) and frankly, ossified: the same stories and activities done so many years in a row that the juice is gone.

The seder is the primary educational event in a Jewish lifetime, repeated at annual intervals because as we go through our lives we change and grow. The world changes around us.

At a really great seder, we remember the Exodus, or some aspects of the story, and we look for insight on our current situation, whatever that might be.

As my colleague Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin writes in his Martini Judaism column this week, it’s all about questions. Mind you, it is not about the answers: if the questions are good enough, the answers will not be simple or obvious. Sometimes there will be no answers, but by covering the terrain together, we can understand our moment in history (personal or public) a little better.

Rabbi Salkin offers a great set of questions: click the link above and check them out. I’ll offer some others:

  • In what part of your life do you feel enslaved? What does Exodus from that look like?
  • Everyone name a present-day plague. See if you can get to consensus on one plague you all hate the most.
  • The Haggadah doesn’t mention Moses. The Book of Exodus is practically ALL Moses. How important is leadership and what does leadership look like?
  • Is there someone who was a regular at our seder who has died since last Pesach? What are your best memories of them?
  • For each person: Tell a story about the time you personally escaped from an Egypt. Extra points if it is a story you haven’t told this group before. Let people ask questions about the stories.
  • Regarding the afikomen: Many of us, if not most of us, have “broken pieces” in our lives that we usually keep hidden. Anyone want to bring their “afikomen” to light and tell the story?
  • Who do you identify with in the Exodus story? Is there anyone you feel sorry for? Angry at?

If you ask many questions, your seder will be better.

If you use the haggadah as a set of suggestions for an improvised bit of performance art, your seder will be better.

If you share stories around the table your seder will be better.

If you make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk, and everyone listens to them talk, your seder will be better.

And remember, when someone spills a glass of wine, it’s an opportunity to re-enact the crossing of the Red Sea. Or the plague of blood, your choice.

Then your seder will be a Honeycrisp apple, a Macintosh, a Gala, a Braeburn – let us know how it went in the comments!

Passover Prep: We Begin in Egypt

Several years ago I wrote a piece about Passover preparation titled “Begin in Egypt.” It addressed the situation of beginners when preparing for Passover. I repost it today, because it is my best shot on a subject that rolls around every year.

Rabbi Tarfon taught: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.  


Pirkei Avot 2:16

It is very tempting to take an “all or nothing” approach to mitzvot.   Some of us are overachievers, and we want an “A” in everything we do.  Some of us are worried about the opinions of others.  Some worry that if a commandment is not fulfilled properly, there was no point in bothering.  But to any beginner in Jewish observance, my first word of advice about almost everything is: Start Small.

The journey of the Exodus began in Egypt.  The Hebrews could not keep the commandments; they had not yet received the commandments.  Anyway, they were slaves:  they were not free to keep the commandments.

So if this is your first time cleaning for Passover, do not think, “I must do all of this perfectly,” because you are in Egypt.  You are only beginning the journey! If this is your first time cleaning for Passover, think:  What can I reasonably do this year to observe Passover in my home?  Here are some ideas for beginning your journey to Passover, one step at a time.  Even if you do only the first step, or the first two this year you will have made a good beginning.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for official standards on how to prepare a proper kosher-for-Passover home, and you are already an old hand at this, you will be much better served by the Pesach Guide published by the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Movement.)  This post is for those who are new to the mitzvah of preparing for Passover.

1.  LEARN ABOUT CHOMETZ.  Chometz / Chametz / Hametz (all spellings are transliterations, all are the same thing) is a product that is made from one of five types of grain (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, or barley) that have been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than eighteen minutes.  Chometz is sometimes defined as “leavened products” which is confusing, since that makes modern people think of leavening agents like baking powder and yeast.  But no, chometz is basically wet grain,  or grain that may have been wet at one time.

In short, anything in your home that contains one of those grains (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, barley) and may have had any moisture get to it (on purpose or by accident, no matter) is chometz.  Ideally, a Jew will find and get rid of all the chometz in the places under his or her control before Passover begins.

You can learn more about chometz and Passover observance in an article at My Jewish Learning.  There you will also learn that Ashkenazic Jews also dispose of rice, millet, corn and legumes like beans and soy [kitniyot] because those things often behave like the forbidden grains. Sephardic Jews do not get rid of those things; Ashkenazim do.

If you are not sure which standard you follow, ask your community (the Jews with whom you spend the most time) what they do, and do that. The point is that you want to be able to eat in each other’s homes.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK.   

2.  CHECK YOUR CHOMETZ.  The Hebrew name of the process of looking for chometz is bedikat chometz, literally “checking for chometz.”  The first step is to figure out where the chometz is.  You can’t get rid of it if you don’t take stock of it, right?

Go into the kitchen, open the cabinets, and make note of all the chometz products you normally own and use.  There may be bread, and flour, and mixes, and cereals.  There may also be processed foods that contain grain products.  Notice what they are, how many they are, how basic to your cooking and consumption these products are.  Notice, also, all the beer and spirits and other grain-based fermented products you may have: those, too, are chometz.  Then close the cabinets, and move on.

Go into the rest of your home, and think about all the places that crumbs can hide:  sofa cushions, carpets, pockets, shoes.

Contemplate the ubiquity of chometz:   It’s really everywhere.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK. 

3.  GET RID OF BIG CHOMETZ.  I said “start small” but at this stage of the journey, we’ll just get rid of what I call “big chometz.”  Set aside all the chometz in your kitchen and say, “what can my household consume before Passover?”  All the rest of the chometz has to go.  Eat it up, give it away, or throw it out:  those are the chometz choices between Purim and Passover.  Locate a donation drop-off for your local food bank, and use it.

If you have gotten to this stage, you will also need to think about “What will my household eat during Passover?”  This does not mean that you must buy many specialized products for Passover.  Maybe you will choose to buy matzah, and otherwise stick to unprocessed non-grain foods for the week of Passover:  salads, fruit, meat, fish, etc. If you live with other people, you need to include them in the menu-planning for Passover week.  The average child (or adult, for that matter) will not feel loved if you simply announce that we are out of Cheerios and will be out of Cheerios until next week, tough luck!  If you have animals, you will need to plan for them as well.  However, keep in mind that an animal that eats grain needs proper nourishment:  consult your rabbi if you have questions about how to meet the needs of pets during the holiday. Kindness to animals (not starving them) is a Jewish value, too.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK.   

4.  DISHES AND UTENSILS  If you are even more serious about keeping a kosher for Passover home, you will want to seal up or pack up all your usual utensils and dishes, and use either “Passover dishes” that you keep boxed up the rest of the year or use disposables.  This is more or less expensive depending on how you go about it.  My everyday Passover dishes are not particularly nice (they were on sale at Target)  and I have only a few of them, since other than the seder, I don’t entertain during Pesach.  However, I look at them for one week a year, so I wasn’t picky.

Another possibility is to buy a package of paper plates. This is less wasteful if you compost them instead of putting them in the landfill after use. During Passover, I use more disposable products than at other times of the year, but I try to use them responsibly, and seek out those which are already made of recycled products if possible.

If this is all you do this year, it is more than OK. 

5.  FIND AND DESTROY HIDDEN CHOMETZ.  This brings us to something that looks suspiciously like “spring cleaning.”  Remember the chometz you thought about back at #1:  the crumbs in the carpet, your pockets, the car, the back of cabinets?  At this level of cleaning for Passover, you will get rid of as many of those as you can.  Take a moment to think a grateful thought for the clever inventors of the vacuum cleaner.  Most observant Jews will get their carpets cleaned in the week before Passover. Wipe surfaces down. Dust everywhere. Vacuum out the shoes and pockets in the closets.

If this is all you do this year, it is more than OK. 

6.  RECONSIDER “CHOMETZ There are Jews who observe Passover by refraining from eating chometz, and who may or may not be meticulous about cleaning out their houses, but who take other understandings of chometz very seriously.  To learn more, consider these articles on the web:

7.  REMEMBER, LIFE, LIKE EXODUS,  IS A JOURNEY.  In the beginning, start small.  Don’t tear your home up and then collapse in despair.  Pay attention to the mitzvah that you are doing, to whatever degree you can perform it.  Remember that at different stages of life, our abilities are different:  a beginner, starting out, will not approach Passover in the same way that a person who has grown up in a kosher observant household will approach it.  In a year with illness, or money troubles, or other challenges, our ability to observe the mitzvah will change. Instead of judging ourselves for what we cannot do, and comparing to others who “do more,” we accomplish the most when we approach the task with kavanah [intention] and do what we can to the best of our ability.   Remember the words of Rabbi Tarfon that opened this post:  

It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.

Pirkei Avot 2:16