Cleaning the House Before Going Away for Passover
I am leaving for Israel a few days before Pesach and returning after the holiday. Do I still have to clean for Pesach?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
For the most part not, and I greatly envy you!
On Passover not only may we not eat chametz, but we may not own it as well. Thus, the fact that you will be away for Passover does not absolve you from cleaning your house.
However, there is a very simple solution for you. It is a universal custom today to have our rabbi sell any chametz we have in our possession to a non-Jew for Passover. (Even a person who does now know of any chametz products he has in his possession should do so as a precaution.) When you go to your rabbi to arrange this, simply have him sell your entire house. Then everything is sold and no longer belongs to you.
(Note that to sell chametz to a non-Jew, it must be put aside where no one will come in contact with it and possibly eat it during the holiday. This is not possible when we stay home for Passover – except in small areas of the house which we can close off (and preferably lock up). But since no one will be in your home for Passover, there is no reason why you cannot simply close off your entire house.)
You will have to leave a key with a neighbor, and in the sales contract, you will stipulate where the key is, so that the non-Jew will have access to the chametz he purchased from you in case he wants it.
Also, make sure your rabbi knows where you will be for Passover. Since Israel is 7 hours ahead of US time (EDT), your chametz will have to be sold before it becomes forbidden to you, not when it becomes forbidden to the people back home.
One important caveat is that many Jews have the custom not to sell “real” chametz on Passover – such as bread, crackers or pasta. It would therefore be proper for you to go through your fridge and pantry, throwing out or giving away any packages of chametz food you have. Also, if you have a house with small children who may have left old bags of pretzels everywhere, you will want to do a quick clean-up of the floors and play areas before you go. (You do not have to worry about an old, stale pretzel which might have fallen into a toy, and you certainly do not have to scrub kitchen surfaces clean.)
There is one more relevant issue. Normally, if a person leaves his home within 30 days of Passover, he is obligated to search for chametz the night before he leaves (in the same manner it is done the night before Passover). This will not apply to you since your home will not even belong to you when Passover comes. It will be a non-Jew’s house, which, of course, does not need to be checked. (Some contracts include a stringency to sell one’s house one day early – on the 13th of Nissan. This way the house will not belong to you even the night before Pesach – the time for searching for chametz.)
In such a situation, however, it’s a nice idea not to sell your entire house to the non-Jew, but to leave one room over (specifying this in the contract). By doing so, you will still be able to perform the mitzvah of searching for chametz on that room before you go away – rather than circumventing the mitzvah entirely. Alternatively, if you will be staying in a hotel on your vacation, you will be obligated to search your room for chametz the night before Passover. Or if you’re staying at your parents, you can give them a small amount of money to rent your room from them. Then it is considered as your own property and you can search for chametz there.
See this article for further details about searching for chametz.Happy Pesach and enjoy your trip!