Preparations for Passover with Rabbi Elie Mischel

April 14, 2024

Join us for an exclusive interview with Rabbi Elie Mischel, the director of Education at Israel 365.

Passover, the Biblical holiday celebrating the Jewish Exodus from slavery in Egypt, is rapidly approaching. But believe it or not, it doesn’t start in the middle of the Hebrew month of Nissan, the 15th day, as it says in Leviticus.

Rather, it starts several weeks before, unofficially, of course, as households across the world begin cleaning and preparing for the major holiday. In anticipation of Passover, I sat down with Rabbi Elie Mischel to discuss the ins and outs of the Passover preparation process. His answers were insightful; frankly, as someone currently prepping for Passover, they inspired me to do my own spiritual spring cleaning.

Sara: Why is it important to clean for Pesach? 

Rabbi Elie: Traditional Jews clean their homes and cars before Passover for a simple reason: we take the Bible seriously. We read in Exodus:

The verse is very clear; not only is it forbidden for Jews to eat bread products on Passover, but it is also forbidden to have bread products in your home. And so we go to great lengths before Passover to clean our homes of bread and other products that contain leaven. 

Sara: How is Passover cleaning different from spring cleaning?

Rabbi Elie: Passover is also called the “Chag HaAviv,” the “Holiday of Spring,” and the sages ensure that the holiday always falls out during the spring. For many people who like to do spring cleaning, Passover cleaning is a happy coincidence! But the truth is, Passover cleaning is different from spring cleaning.

The goal of Passover cleaning is to find bread and products that contain leaven – like the granola-bar my wife forgot in her purse and the KitKat my 9-year-old son was hiding in his closet for a rainy day. Though we try to find even small crumbs of bread, we are primarily focused on finding edible bread products around the house. In other words, Passover cleaning is not really “cleaning” in the classic sense. We’re not looking to clean dust and dirt.

Sara: What are some of the steps involved in cleaning?

Rabbi Elie: First, I start by telling my children to clean their rooms. Then, after they ignore me, I get annoyed and clean their rooms myself 🙂. I’m kidding – my children are perfect and always do exactly what I tell them to!

The truth is, the only part of Passover cleaning that takes real effort is the kitchen. Refrigerators must be cleaned and wiped down, and the oven and microwave have to be cleaned and then made “kosher for Passover” through a kosherizing process in which we apply intense heat.

Outside of the kitchen, the cleaning process isn’t that difficult. As I said, the goal is to find edible bread. The hardest part is finding all of the little caches of candy my son has left around the house and forgotten about!

Though it’s ideal to clean every crumb, we are less concerned about doing so because the night before Passover, we declare all bread that we cannot find to be “nullified” and like the dust of the earth. We say: “Any bread or leaven that is in my possession, which I have seen and which I have not seen, which I have removed from possession and which I have not removed from my possession, should be annulled and become ownerless like dust of the earth.”

Sara: Do you have a favorite memory of cleaning for Passover as a kid?

Rabbi Elie: I was a pretty lazy child when it came to pitching in with housework, so I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have too many cleaning memories from growing up (which is probably why God has blessed me with wonderful children who share the same laziness when it comes to housework!).

Sara: This is all new information to me!

Rabbi Elie: That being said, I have very fond memories of Passover eve, when we traditionally search for bread in our homes one last time before the holiday. Together with my father, we turned out the lights and used a candle and a feather to search for bread and sweep it up when we found some. Obviously, using a flashlight would have been more convenient, but by using a candle, we remembered what it must have been like for our ancestors, all throughout Jewish history, to search for bread in their homes.

Sara: Is there a symbolic or spiritual connection to cleaning for Passover, and what does that mean to you?

The sages teach that when we physically search for bread in our homes, we also search for the “bread” inside ourselves. “Bread” represents our flaws, the sins that too often creep into our lives without us realizing it.

When we nullify the bread in our homes, we say “all the bread in my domain that I have seen and that I have not seen.” On a deeper level, this refers to two different kinds of sins – the sins “I have seen,” that I am aware of, and the sins “that I have not seen,” the flaws in ourselves that we cannot see (or choose not to see).

As we search our homes for bread, we also search our hearts. Before we enter the holy days of Passover, we aim for a moment of self-honesty. And when we are done, we pray to God to help us remove our sins and flaws from our hearts, since no human being can do so alone, without God’s help. 

Sara: And finally, what can we take from the Pesach cleaning process into our own lives today?

Rabbi Elie: Passover cleaning reminds us that we are human – that we all have “bread” in our lives that must be addressed and fixed. Our flaws and sins shouldn’t depress us; it’s part of being human.At the same time, Passover cleaning teaches us that we have an obligation to fix what we can. Though we will never be perfect (except for my wife—she is definitely perfect!), part of our task in this life is to find and destroy the “bread” in our lives, to always work on bettering ourselves—to be more patient, more loving, and less angry when things don’t go our way.


Sara: Rabbi Elie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat. As we like to say, Have a Chag Kasher VeSameakch! A Happy, and Kosher Holiday.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

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