Cleaning for Pesach (Passover) always causes a great deal of stress. What are the absolute minimum requirements for ridding the house of chametz (leavened items)? Is it really so terrible if there is a crumb here or there? [Administrators note: A very similar question appears on the JVO website at http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=378]
Most food prohibitions are forbidden is quanities more than 1 in 60. Meaning, if a person is stirring a pot of meat stew while drinking a glass of milk and a few drops of milk accidentally get stirred into the stew - it's no big deal as the ration is less than 1/60 milk to meat.
Chometz on Pesach, however is prohibited by the slightest amount. A ton of Matzah would become unfit and require burning if it were to come in contact with a crumb of bread on Pesach. It is for this reason that we are super careful to clean before Pesach.
It is important to remember that dirt is not chomez - so don't drive yourself crazy.
I appreciate the genuine honesty in this question. Many Jews struggle with this strict prohibition and the painstaking cleaning involved in adhering to it. Therefore, it is critical for us to clarify the spirit that forms the foundation of the practice – after all, the practice of cleaning out hametz is a manifestation of a deep and abiding spiritual commitment.
According to Jewish law, we must not only refrain from consuming hametz, but also remove it from our homes, as spelled out in the phrase from Exodus, “and no leaven shall be found in your houses” (12:19). It is also forbidden to own hametz or, as Maimonides and others say, to “derive benefit” from it. We can interpret this prohibition to include, for example, taking money in a hametz-related business venture or enjoying hametz in a social activity with non-Jews.
I would be dishonest if I claimed that upholding these stringencies is easy, especially in our modern society. Yet, I return to Maimonides to understand, as he writes, that not only are we nullifying hametz from our homes but also from our minds and hearts (M.T. Laws of Hametz and Matzah 2:2). He says that we need to mentally be able to declare that we have no hametz (at least none that we know of).
Why would Maimonides say that we need to mentally nullify our hametz? – because this practice is not merely about bread and grains. In fact, if it is so meticulously about bread and grains alone (as I have seen with some individuals), the purpose and spirituality of the practice is undermined and lost.
Hametz is not bread, but a symbol upon which we place great spiritual significance. It is the ritual object upon which we place the burden of our own egos, our own arrogance, our own evil inclinations that represent our internal “Egypt” and “slavery.” There are many wonderful reasons our sages offer as to why bread and grains are appropriate symbols for this (e.g., the “puffing up” for one). Moreover, it is usually those small things, crumbs in our lives that cause us the most problems.
This stringency is about our own process of eliminating the spiritual and psychological weight of our own self-enslavement. To truly be free and to be able to share in the communal vision of freedom and love, we have to each individually let go of those personal “chains” which alienate us and fragment us. Passover is about becoming a nation, one people with and enduring vision of Shalom and goodness. But in order to be able to sincerely and authentically participate in this vision, we each must see ourselves as if we were personally brought out of Egypt.
Most things worth doing, as you know, require some exertion, care, effort, or trouble—in other words, stress. All the more so cleaning for Passover: the whole point of the observance is to remind us what it was like to pass from slavery to freedom; as the Haggadah suggests, to see ourselves as if we, personally, had come out of Egypt. In this regard, the arduous requirements for preparing for Pesach are just right. How can we hope to imagine what it was like to prepare to leave home forever with only a single night’s notice? To prepare to face a monumental change in status and identity, overnight? We, by contrast, can see on the calendar each year when Passover is coming! We have the luxury of time, if only we can discipline ourselves in advance of the holiday to avail ourselves of it. The least we can do is put ourselves through some trouble to re-enact that epic journey from degradation to redemption.
Assuming you are not looking for a halakhically correct answer to this question (if you are, please refer to the responses of my Orthodox and Conservative colleagues), one way to answer it as an observant Reform Jew would be to consider what are the absolute minimum requirements for you to taste that stress, the inconvenience, the fresh start and transformation that Passover is supposed to represent for us. The material task in this case helps to effect the spiritual transformation.
At the same time, Passover does not bring the final redemption. Each year we invite Elijah to our Seder, (so far) to no avail. Each year we end with the cry, “Next year in Jerusalem!” even if we are in Jerusalem. We are still striving for a more perfect world. You may forever strive toward a more perfect pre-Passover housecleaning and bedikat chametz (the ritual search for chametz after the cleaning is done). Is it really so terrible if there is a crumb here or there? As a spiritual matter, each one of us can only answer your question for ourselves.
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