Different people have different reactions when they hear about Pesach. The children get excited since they get an extra long break from school. Vacationers look forward to their trip. But those who make Pesach at home start to get nervous about the preparations. What is it about Pesach that makes us so anxious?
A hint can be found in Parshat Bo (Shmot 12:17-20)
You must be vigilant regarding the matzot for on this very day I brought out your hosts from the land of Egypt. You must preserve this day for your generations it is an eternal statute. In the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening you shall eat matzot, continuing until the twenty-first day of the month in the evening. For seven days no leaven may be found in your homes, for whoever eats chametz, that soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel, whether a convert or a native born in the land. You must not eat anything that is chametz. In all your dwellings you shall eat matzot.
There are a few words and concepts in these verses that can make us apprehensive:
You must be vigilant
You must preserve this day
No leaven may be found in your homes
Whoever eats chametz, that soul shall be cut off from the community of Israel (karet)
You must not eat anything that is chametz.
Those are big sandals to fill!
The laws of Pesach are much stricter than the laws of keeping kosher during the rest of the year as chametz on Pesach, even in the smallest amounts, cannot be nullified in the largest of mixtures.
Rashi (Shmot 12:20) explains that the words “Anything that is chametz” includes its mixture as well.
Rashi comments on the Talmud, Psachim 29b that the rabbis added extra stringencies to chametz that were not added to other prohibited substances such as cheilev (prohibited fats) and dam (blood) which are also punishable by karet. Their reasoning was that we are accustomed to separating ourselves from the other prohibited substances all year long while we are used to eating chametz throughout the year.
In our day and age, the removal of cheilev (fats on the internal organs of commonly domesticated animals) is done by a skilled expert at the slaughtering house. Dam (the blood of a kosher animal) is also usually removed by salting after it is slaughtered so in most cases there is no longer a need for us to remove it at home.
In contrast, the prohibition against eating chametz is in our homes and it is the responsibility of the heads of the household to make sure that there is no chametz in the home and that nothing turns into chametz during the holiday.
For those of us who are not going on vacation, how can we get excited about Pesach despite the serious prohibitions?
Enjoy the Torah readings at the beginning of Sefer Shmot which are being read over the next few weeks. We can focus on the story of the Exodus from Egypt without the pressure of the holiday.
Savor the holidays of Tu B’Shvat (lots of healthy fruits and nuts) and Purim (plenty of junk food) and only start to think of Pesach once those holidays are over.
Try to kasher your kitchen as close to Pesach as you can (leaving enough time to cook) so that you don’t end up with an extra week (or more!) where chametz is off limits.
And finally, remember that the holiday commemorates the Exodus so don’t forget to celebrate.