For many of us, spring cleaning is in full swing. For those of us who keep God’s holidays, our cleaning isn’t just about making more space in the garage. We clean to draw closer to God and show Him love by keeping His commands:
For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15)
What does this verse actually mean for us today? To find out, let’s look at the Hebrew words for “yeast” in the verse above. The English word “yeast” appears three times in Exodus 12:15, but there is a different Hebrew word used each time.
The first sentence gives us the first Passover command in the verse: eat matzo for seven days. The Hebrew word translated “bread without yeast” is matzot (מַצּ֣וֹת), meaning unleavened cakes/breads. There is even the idea of sweetness in the word, as opposed to sourness, like sourdough.
The first part of the second sentence in Exodus 12:15 gives us the next command: “Shabbat” the “leftover” from your houses. The word translated “remove” in the NIV above is actually a form of the word “Shabbat” (תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ) and means “to cease”, as when we cease working on Shabbat each week. The Hebrew word translated “anything with yeast” in the NIV is actually s’ohr (שְּׂאֹ֖ר), which means “leaven”, but is related to the word Shaar (שָׁאַר), meaning “to remain or be left over”. Did the ancient Hebrews use bread or dough from their last batch to leaven their new bread? Or did they use a starter as people do today for sourdough? In my mind, it appears that God is commanding the children of Israel to get rid of their leftover bread, dough or starter so they can start a totally new batch. That’s what I think this part of the verse is saying. In practical terms today, you would get rid of all your old bread and starter and begin anew.
The last part of Exodus 12:15 gives us the third command: don’t eat anything with yeast for seven days. The Hebrew word that the NIV translates “anything with yeast” is chametz (חָמֵ֗ץ). Chametz means “that which is leavened or soured”. This is the word that most rabbis have grabbed onto to define what is kosher for Passover and what is not- namely, any ancient-mid-east grain that has soured is not kosher for Passover.
So what do we get rid of for Passover? What is considered “chametz”? This varies within Judaism and Messianic Judaism. The rule in Sefardic Judaism is that any fermented grain other than corn or rice is chametz and is not kosher for Passover. Ashkenazim consider rice, corn and even beans to be chametz in addition to the grains.
This begs the question, what counts as a fermented grain? Because yeast spores naturally occur on the surfaces of grains and in the air, as soon as a grain flour gets wet, fermentation begins. This means that it’s impossible to make completely unleavened bread, except in a laboratory. This makes a wonderful parallel to our lives because leaven is a picture of sin, and it is impossible for us to live a completely sinless life according to Romans 3:23.
But getting back to the bread- the rabbis decided to make a rule that matzo for Passover had to finish baking within 18 minutes of the four and liquid being combined. For this reason, before Passover we remove from our homes all products that contain grains other than rice and corn. This is because we don’t know how much time elapsed between flour mixing and baking completion in grain products. This means all cookies, crackers, breads, cakes, pitas, tortillas, bagels, noodles and breaded foods are removed from our homes prior to Passover. Many will even remove all flour from their homes to prevent flour from accidentally getting wet and becoming chametz during the feast of unleavened bread.
In addition to removing grains, we remove all products containing grain vinegar and grain alcohol. Many products contain white/grain vinegar, including ketchup, salad dressings, mustard, hot sauce, etc. You may have to call the company to see what type of vinegar a certain product contains because unfortunately, the bottle usually just says “vinegar”. Cider and wine vinegar are allowed during the festival.
Most alcohol is also prohibited because it is made by fermenting grains. Alcohol products like vanilla and almond extract are also chametz. Wine, on the other hand, is allowed, and four cups are enjoyed by each Passover sedar participant.
Baking soda and powder do not need to be removed from the home, though many Jews won’t use baking soda during the festival. Some Jews won’t eat anything that is fluffy during the festival.
Yogurts and other foods containing bacteria are also allowed at Passover: bacteria and yeast are in completely different biological families.
So there you have it- my break down of what to get rid of for Passover: all products containing moistened grains (except corn and rice), grain vinegar and grain alcohol. It’s hard to say whether these are really the rules that the Hebrews followed when they left Egypt, but we have to try to follow the commands as best we can.
We also need to prepare for Passover with a heart that is truly seeking God. Cleaning for Passover is of no use if we don’t do it with a heart that longs to walk faithfully with God and know Him.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul longs for You, my God. I am thirsty for God, for the living God!” (Psalm 42:1-2)