Friday, April 4, 2014

PESAH, psychological Hamets

השאור שבעיסה
We have explained that during Pesah it is strictly forbidden to eat any food that is or contains Hamets.  Why?  Beyond the well known historical reasons (Ex.12:39) our Rabbis saw in Hamets a very meaningful representation.   The Rabbis compared Hamets with arrogance and vanity; the inflated dough with the individual who allows his ego to expand. Arrogance and Hamets are both mere air, an illusionary inflation of the self.
But why should we be thinking about arrogance/humbleness specifically in Pesah? Not every person is exposed to the risk of becoming arrogant.  A Jewish slave in Egypt, for example, did not have the luxury to be exposed to vanity.  Self-pride is only relevant if you are a free man.  In Pesah, we commemorate our freedom from physical slavery, bearing in mind that as free individuals we might easily fall pray to a different kind of slavery, a mental self-enslavement, a sort of addiction to the inflatable aspects of our self.  In Pesah, while celebrating freedom, we also become conscious of the risks to become arrogant by this sort of psychological Hamets. 

Modern society, in its relentless efforts to turn us into loyal consumers, contributes a great deal to the feeding of our pride.  Training us into being more egocentric and more hedonistic, into thinking that we are entitled to have everything we need, we wish and we want as long as we are able to afford it.  This power might easily deteriorate into arrogance. 

The Matza, a flat, thin and unpretentious bread, represents humbleness. Humility does not mean to allow ourselves to be degraded; it means that we realize the true dimension of human life, becoming aware of our inescapable mortality and recognizing that while alive we are totally dependent on God. 

Humility is also the essence of a healthy dose of self-esteem,  a prerequisite for being in peace with oneself.  The arrogant individual is insecure and yearns for public praise and the applause of others, sometimes desperately, in order to compensate for his low self-esteem.    Only the humble one, the person who  does not need to seek people's praise to feel better, is truly free.  He is able to change and constantly improve himself.  The arrogant person, on the other hand, is psychologically unable to admit mistakes and therefore, incapable of change. He ends up adapting himself, enslaving himself, to his own shortcomings.  Arrogance is a Pharaoh that condemns our personality to stagnation.   

Moreover, while the humble person knows that every human being deserves dignity and respect and has the right to be listened and understood, the arrogant individual becomes an exclusive servant of his own inflated reflection.   Arrogance is a layer of silver behind a glass which only mirrors our own reflection. Arrogance, this type of mental Hamets, is the main barrier between a man and his fellowman, and between man and God. 

Pesah is an intense lesson on humility.  In the same way we eliminate every crumb of Hamets from our homes, we should erase every trace of vanity from our hearts.


Candle lighting in NYC      7:04

Shabbat ends in NYC          8:05

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PESAH, declaring our Hamets ownerless

ביטול וביעור חמץ

Yesterday, we explained the Biblical prohibition of keeping any edible Hamets product in our premises and the obligation to get rid of all Hamets food before Pesah eve. 
On Sunday April 13th, at the end of Bediqat Hamets (see this) and once we left some Hamets to be eaten tomorrow morning, we pronounce the first Bitul Hamets:

"kal hamira de-ika birshuti dela haziteh vedela bi'arteh libtil veleheve (hefqer) ke'afra dear'a"

The translation is:

"All kind of Hamets or fermenting agent that belongs to me, that I haven't seen or that I haven't dispose of, should be considered ownerless, as the dust of the earth."

The reason for the bitul is the following: as we've already said, during Pesah the ownership or possession of Hamets is forbidden, even if our Hamets is hidden in a closed place or even if it is not in our house. During Pesah there cannot be any Hamets that belong to us. Therefore, through this declaration (bitul) we renounce to our ownership of any Hamets that belong to us and that involuntarily we might not have found or removed. This obviously excludes the Hamets that we left for tomorrow's breakfast. Technically speaking, once we renounce to its possession, the undetected Hamets will become ownerless, and if it is still found in our premises, is not ours anymore.  

 For this declaration to be valid, it is necessary to understand the words we are uttering. Thus, one should say it in a language he or she understands. To become absolutely conscious of this declaration, our Sages recommended repeating it three times.
Bi'ur Hamets (Disposing of Hamets)
The following day, Monday April 14th, after we finish eating the Hamets that we left from last night for breakfast (no later than 9.56 a.m.) we take the Hamets found last night in the last search together with  the leftover of the Hamets that remained from breakfast and we proceed to its physical disposal (bi'ur). This can be done by burning the Hamets (in a safe place!) or, if we have a piece of bread, for example, by throwing it in a river to the fish or feeding it to the birds. After we disposed of our Hamets  we pronounce once again the bitul. This time the declaration is more comprehensive:
"kal hamira de-ika birshuti dehaziteh vedela haziteh debi'arteh vedela biarteh libtil veleheve (hefqer) ke'afra dear'a"
The translation is:
"All kind of Hamets or fermenting agent that belongs to me, that I have or have not seen and that I have or have not eliminated, should be considered ownerless, as the dust of the earth."
This last bitul must be done Monday April 14th, no later than 11.12 a.m. Once this bitul is done no more dealings with Hamets are allowed until Pesah is over. If we find a Hamets food during Pesah or after Pesah, that Hamets should be dispose of

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

PESAH, searching for Hamets before Pesah eve

Yesterday, we explained the Biblical prohibition of keeping any eatable Hamets product in our premises (see this). To comply with these Mitsvot, first we clean our houses removing any Hamets food that we find. Then, the night before the Seder night, on Sunday April 13th 2014 after nightfall, we proceed to do the bediqat Hamets, the final inspection, to search for any Hamets-food that might have remained in our property after cleaning.

With the aid of a candle or a flashlight, we search all spots in our house where we might have brought, eaten or stored food. We search every room where we may have eaten any Hamets food or snacks. And we particularly search the kitchen and every food-storage space like the pantry, the refrigerator, the freezer and all other places in which we usually keep food.  In the bediqa we are looking especially for Hamets "food", which we might have have not removed during the cleaning process (cookies, pasta, frozen Hamets food, pastries, cereals, a can of beer, a bottle of whiskey, fiber drinks, candies, etc.) and not so much for Hamets residues on the floor, which will be rendered hefqer, ownerless, by the bitul, when we renounce to the ownership of any undetected Hamets.  
We should also search our cars, since it is not uncommon to eat or keep snacks in a car. Cars should be washed and cleaned before Sunday night, in preparation for the bediqa.   We should also inspect our office or place of work, because we often bring food or snacks there. If it is impossible to search these locations Sunday night right after we do the bediqa at home, we should search our cars and workplace before Sunday night, or early Monday morning, April 14th.

When a family spends Pesah out of town, the last Hamets inspection (bediqa) of the family-home should be done the night before leaving home. If that is before Sunday night April 13th, they would not say any berakha before the bediqa. The Hametz found should be disposed, giving to a gentile, etc.  The night of the bediqa, Sunday April 13th, the family should search for Hamets in the house or in the Hotel room where they will stay for Pesah. This time they should recite the berakha before the inspection.

Dedicated to the memory of my father Ya'aqob ben Yehuda z"l

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

PESAH Understanding the prohibition of owning Hamets during Pesah

What makes the prohibition of Hamets so unique is that, unlike other forbidden foods, it also includes the ban of its possession.  There are two Mitsvot in the Tora related to the prohibition of possessing Hamets: 1. bal year-e (lit. your Hamets shall not be seen in your premises); 2. bal-yimatse (Hamets shall not be found in your premises). Our Rabbis explained that these two Mitsvot actually point out to one single prohibition: owningHamets during Pesah.  Ownership or possession is a legal, abstract concept. If I posses Hamets during Pesah, even if that Hamets is stored outside my premises, I would be violating these two Biblical Mitsvot.  In addition,  we also have a third Mitsva called 3. tashbitu (you shall end the possession of your Hamets), which commands us to actively disown our Hamets before Pesah begins. In sum, owning Hamets during Pesah would imply the violation of these three commandments. 

Strictly speaking, (and following Maimonides opinion) these three Mitsvot are fulfilled at once by the bitul , i.e., a formal verbal declaration by which we renounce to the ownership of any eatable Hamets (non-eatable Hamets is not under the prohibition of benefit or ownership), which knowingly or unknowingly, belong to us, regardless of where that Hamets is located.

But the Rabbis explained that if we would only perform this verbal renunciation to our Hamets while keeping it in our possession we might face some practical problems. First, we might be declaring that we do not own anymore our Hamets, while at the same time, if we posses any valuable Hamets (imagine an expensive whiskey bottle), would we really and wholeheartedly mean that we renounce for good to its possession?  Probably not. So, the bitul would become an insincere declaration of renunciation to our valuable Hamets.  Second problem: Hamets (bread, crackers, cookies, etc.) is one of the most  common foods. Therefore, if we renounce to our Hamets but we still keep it at home, we might eat it accidentally during Pesah...

This is why our rabbis instructed that before we do the bitul, we should physically get rid of any eatable Hamets we own, before Pesah begins. 

Accordingly, and following Talmudic tradition, there are four steps that should be taken to properly cover these three Biblical commandments.  

(1) We should clean our houses, cars, offices, etc. before Pesah begins, to remove all Hamets from our premises. 

(2) We have to run a final search of all our properties to make sure that we have removed everything Hamets from them (בדיקת חמץ). 

(3) We have to physically remove and get rid of any Hamets found in our properties before and during the Bediqa (ביעור חמץ). 

(4) Then, we declare that whatever Hamets we may still own, which was not detected or removed by us, does not belong to us anymore, and from now on that Hamets is considered ownerless (הפקר) as the dust of the earth ( ביטול חמץ). 
B'H, in the coming days, we will explain each one of these steps in more detail. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

PESAH, Getting your kitchen ready for Pesah (2 of 2)

continuing from Friday (see this )

Sink and countertops: The sink, countertops and kitchen-tables should be thoroughly cleaned before Pesah from any possible Hamets residue.  Since in our days we usually don't place hot food on these surfaces, and these surfaces are not porous, cleaning them thoroughly would be sufficient.  Still, following Rabbi Obadia Yosef z"l opinion, it is recommended to pour boiling water on them as an extra precaution.  A regular dinning table should be just thoroughly cleaned. It is customary to cover it with a new tablecloth for Pesah.
Dishwasher: Before Pesah, the dishwasher should be thoroughly clean of any visible food's residue. Then it has to run on an empty cycle with detergent and without dishes.  Thus, the dishwasher becomes ready for Pesah use.  Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Hayim recommends to replace the dishwasher's racks or to use some added base to cover the racks.
Oven:  The oven should not be used for 24 hours.  Then we must thoroughly clean it before Pesah to remove any possible Hamets residue.  Then,  1. if it is a self-cleaning oven, one self-clean cycle will be enough to have it ready for Pesah.  2. if it is not a self-cleaning oven, after we thoroughly clean it, we should run the oven on the highest temperature-setting for about an hour, including the racks. Then the oven is Kosher for Pesah.

Microwave:  We should thoroughly clean the microwave before Pesah to remove any possible Hamets residue. Then, we take a bowl of water with some detergent or soap in it and we let it boil inside the microwave for a few minutes, until the microwave walls are filled with its steam. If the microwave walls are porous this vapor would expel all absorbed Hamets residues, rendering the microwave Kosher for Pesah (If they are not, then the walls will not reabsorb any Hamets anyways). If you can't do this and you need to use a year-round microwave during Pesah, you should cover the food in a container, Ziploc or any other airtight microwavable (and safe!) cover.  

Dedicated to the memory of my father Ya'aqob ben Yehuda z"l