Bedikat Chametz and Erev Pesach
Pesach starts on the night of the 15th of Nissan. However, the night before (or two nights before if Pesach begins on a Saturday night), Bedikat Chametz (literally, “the search for Chametz”) takes place, with people undertaking a final search before the festival to check that there is no more Chametz ( any food that's made of grain and water that have been allowed to ferment and "rise”) in their home.
Bedikat Chametz – the search for Chametz
Prior to the start of the search, the following blessing is made: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to remove the Chametz.
Some people merely search around the house for any Chametz which may have been overlooked. However, a widespread custom when there is more than one person searching is for someone to hide a number of pieces of Chametz around the house (traditionally, ten) which the rest of the family searches for. This is to ensure that the blessing of “removing the Chametz” should not be a Bracha Levatala (a blessing made in vain).
Helpful tip – It can be useful for the pieces of Chametz in question to be small, and wrapped in something – ideally, small pieces of paper – for identification purposes. Similarly, it would help if the person doing the hiding made a list of where they hide each piece of Chametz, and how many have been hidden. This avoids a situation where the family member who has done the hiding is sure that there’s one piece that hasn’t been found, but increasingly frantic efforts to find it prove fruitless.
The search is traditionally done with a candle, for the simple reason that in the old days, there were no electric lights. However, there is no problem using something like a torch. A bag is also used to collect the pieces of Chametz.
Some people also have the tradition to do the search with a feather (in place of a brush) and a wooden spoon. When the Chametz is found, the feather is used to sweep it onto the wooden spoon. Wooden spoons can not be kashered, and those who use such spoons tend to burn them together with the Chametz, as will be discussed below.
At the end of the search, the following words are said:
“Any Chametz of leaven[ed bread] which is in my possession which I have not seen, have not removed and do not know about, should be annulled and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth,”
This is said because there is always a possibility that some Chametz which was present was not found, either during general pre-Pesach cleaning or the Bedikat Chametz ceremony. Therefore, by annulling one’s ownership of the any such Chametz, it no longer belongs to you and therefore is no longer your responsibility.
Biur Chametz – Removal of the Chametz
On the morning before Pesach (or two mornings beforehand if the day before Pesach is a Shabbat), one is supposed to get rid of the Chametz which one found last night during the search, as well as any other remaining Chametz which has been found.
While it can be got rid of in any number of ways, many people choose to burn it. If you are getting rid of your chametz in this way, always make sure that you are lighting the fire in a safe spot. It’s usually best to burnt the chametz together with some newspaper, as this will help it to catch fire more easily.
There is no blessing recited before the burning. The blessing which was made prior to the search covers the act of removing the Chametz the following morning.
Mechirat Chametz – selling of Chametz
There are sometimes bits of Chametz which are not so easy to get rid of (expensive bottles of whisky, for example). Anything Chametz which is due to remain in the house should be shut away from all the food and utensils used for Pesach.
In order not to break the prohibition of having kept Chametz on Pesach, it is possible to sell the remaining Chametz in your possession to someone non-Jewish. The easiest way to do this is to contact your local Rabbi, who is likely to have arranged such sales many times before. You do not need to actually give the items in question to the Rabbi, but you will likely need to sign a document agreeing to the sale. At the end of Pesach, the Rabbi will buy back the items sold, and you will be able to use them again.
If Erev Pesach is on a Shabbat, there is still a requirement to have bread for the Shabbat meals. In this case, all other Chametz besides the bread needed is removed in the Biur ceremony on Friday morning, while the Shabbat bread in question must be consumed in its entirety before the beginning of Pesach.