The Torah commands us to get rid of chametz (leaven) on the fourteen of Nissan, as it is written, "By the first day [of Passover] you must have your homes cleared of all leaven" (Exodus 12:15).
"Your Wonderful People, Israel!"
Perhaps it was some particular hardship or a difficult decree (Heaven forbid!) that caused Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev to wander out along the streets of the town during the Passover holiday.
When he ran into a gentile who he knew to be an energetic merchant, the rabbi asked him if he had any smuggled merchandise. The man glanced around and answered softly that he had plenty of contraband – wool, clothing, and even grain he had managed to smuggle in from the neighboring country.
When the rabbi asked him if he did not fear being caught and punished by the police, the merchant answered that it was worth endangering himself a little in order to earn a living. Furthermore, he had full confidence in his ability to attain and sell smuggled goods without getting caught. The rabbi listened attentively to the merchant and then continued on his way.
A short time later, the rabbi met a Jew, and he asked him in a whisper if he had any chametz. Startled, the Jew said "Certainly not! Heaven forbid that I should possess chametz during Passover! I am surprised that the rabbi could even ask such a question." Rabbi Levi Yitzchak thanked him and continued on his way. He asked this same question of a few more Jews he met and they all responded in a manner similar to that of the first.
Finally, the rabbi gazed heavenward and said in a voice full of supplication, "Master of the Universe, just see how wonderful are your people, Israel! The government outlawed all form of contraband, and allocated numerous policemen to enforce this prohibition. Nonetheless, the gentile merchant is able to smuggle in plenty of goods. The Jew, on the other hand, aware that you have commanded to "do away with all leaven" on Passover, will not even consider possessing such goods, despite the fact that there are no police to enforce this. Are your beloved children not deserving, then, of the salvation they so badly need at this time?"
Clarifying and Clearing Out
The sages explain that the words "By the first day [you must have your homes cleared of all leaven]" refer to the day before Passover, before the hour when chametz is prohibited. By this hour, one must remove from the world all of his chametz that he is aware of, and nullify any chametz he is not aware of.
The sages instituted that we search for and nullify chametz on the evening before the eve of Passover (i.e., the fourteenth of Nisan), because at this time everybody is at home, and because searching by the light of a candle is very effective.
One must begin studying the laws of Passover thirty days before the holiday (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 429:1). Our mentor, Rabbi A.I. Kook writes, "Therefore, when Passover approaches, every observant Jew must study the laws of Passover according to his ability and time . . . and it is even better that one hear a [regular] class in the study hall based on the work 'Chayeh Adam,' for it is impossible to cover all of the laws in a single lesson [on the Shabbat HaGadol]" (Orach Mishpat 155).
Because the laws of Passover are many, and there are differing opinions relating to the koshering of cooking utensils, especially kitchen appliances, a person should study these laws in a methodical manner and seek the aid of a qualified rabbi when questions arise.
While cleaning the house, one should have the intention to fulfill this commandment, for commandments must be carried out with proper intention.
One must clean all places into which chametz is brought. It is important to be very careful in this respect, for the prohibition against chametz has no minimum amount. Even a minute quantity is forbidden.