Bedikat Chametz, or Search for Leaven is a quick, hands-on, kid-friendly and extremely memorable activity right before Passover starts. Basically, we hide bits of bread/leaven/chametz, let the kids find them at nightfall, and then destroy the bits the next day (the morning before the first seder). In short: hide + seek + darkness + flames = awesome.
Kosher police, arrest me now. I’m about to advise people who don’t keep totally kosher for Passover to go ahead and do Bedikat Chametz anyway. I don’t care if you’ve got a bag of Gold Medal All Purpose in plain view, you can still plant pieces of “leaven” and conduct a marvelously spooky chametz hunt in the kitchen.
Why? Because it is fun, slightly creepy—what with one lit candle and all the lights out— and not a little bit weird. Passover is all about things being so different, so discrepant that we ask questions, pay attention and remember. Bedikat Chametz is a case in point.
Most of my Jewish buddies don’t do this ritual. They tell me they don’t keep kosher “enough” to do Bedikat Chametz. They are right, if you take a traditional view. Yes, we are supposed to rid our homes of all leaven before Passover, and yes, we are supposed to conduct a symbolic search to find and destroy any remaining, hidden leaven. The ceremony is a mitzvah—a commandment—and is deeply meaningful (and ritually essential) for people who do the work to be kosher for Passover.
But what if you don’t take the traditional view? What if you look at the activity from an educational point of view, as if you were a classroom teacher planning a hands-on workshop, introducing a tradition with real materials, real blessings and real excitement? And what if you regard levels of observance as levels of observance, rather than all or nothing?
WHEN: The Search for Leaven happens the evening before the day of the first seder. The Burning of the Leaven happens the next morning (the day of the first seder).
- candle, wrapped in foil to protect hands from drips (leftover Hanukkah candle is fine)
- wooden spoon
- feather (from a craft store, from the yard)
- paper sack
- printout of the blessings (see links below)
HOW: Here’s what my family does, which is fairly typical: I hide 10 small pieces (always 10, so I can remember how many) of bread (Cheddar Bunnies, actually) in the kitchen. We get a candle (with foil wrapped around the base), a wooden spoon, a feather and a paper sack, and then turn out the light. The kid finds each piece of bread, helped by the light of the candle. We use a feather to scoop the bread into the wooden spoon, and then dump it on in to the sack. We recite short blessings before, after and the next day (see below).
Common sense: a child only has two hands and there is flame involved, so someone needs to help with this procedure. And, to herd small objects using only a feather requires some major dexterity. I make sure the bread is fairly accessible (not wedged between cans of soup, for example). By the way, the search can be all over the house if you’re up for it and/or if your kids are older.
Why feather, wooden spoon, candle and paper sack? Why not flashlight or plastic brush or ziplocs, etc? All-natural tools are traditional, and they can all be put in the fire the next morning and burned. Yes, more flame! Another discrepant event! Isn’t this FUN? (We use an outdoor BBQ pit.)
(That being said, many families do use a flashlight rather than a candle for the hunt. It’s safer, easier and leaves behind zero wax drips.)
MORE INFO: Detailed instructions and the blessings to say before the hunt, after the hunt and when you burn the stuff the next morning are all online here (MyJewishLearning.com link). Some haggadahs include them, as well. I include lots of links below.
Bedikat Chametz links (holler if you find better ones, and I’ll add):
- Hametz Hunt (board book), by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Rick Brown. Short, adorable intro to the ritual.
- Leaven info, plus Bedikat Chametz and blessings in English from MyJewishLearning.com
- How -to from Aish.com
- Succinct, traditional how-to from Ask Moses
- Bedikat Chametz tips from the PJ Library guide for No Matzoh for Me!
- YouTube video of cute little girl in pjs finding chametz. Sweet!
- Wikipedia’s entry
- Academy BJE brief entry on Bedikat Chametz
- Detailed how-to from Torah Tots.com (includes blessings)
- The blessings in English
- iPhone app for Bedikat Chametz