From Rabbi Michael Friedland:
Pesah approaches with it the institution of ‘selling hametz’. Every year I act as agent to sell the hametz of members of our congregation who can’t rid their homes of all the hametz before the holiday and it is worthwhile to spend a moment reviewing what this means.
The Torah prohibits ownership of hametz during Pesah. Hametz is any product of food which contains one of five types of grain – wheat, oat, barley, spelt, or rye – which is mixed with water and allowed to leaven (or has the potential to leaven). Matzah is also composed of these grains BUT baked through before the grain has a chance to leaven.
We are required to clean out all the hametz from our homes. Since we are not allowed to have in our possession even a minute amount, including crumbs, on the night before Passover we check the house, mainly the kitchen and eating areas, for a final sweep (literally). We then recite a formula renouncing possession of anything that we might have missed. On the morning before the Seder we destroy whatever hametz we might have found. A final renunciation is recited and we are ready for Pesah.
But what if we have bottles of alcohol? Or ten boxes of pasta we found on sale two weeks before Pesah? We can’t own it so we sell it to a person who can own hametz during Pesah. That is why we arrange a sale of Hametz to non-Jews. In our community, I act as the agent who takes responsibility to sell any and all hametz in our possession to a non-Jew who agrees to purchase it. Kay Wroblewsky agrees to buy the hametz but does not take possession herself until a fair assessment of the cost can be determined. Immediately after the 8 day holiday, Kay can decide not to carry through on the assessment and the agreement to purchase is terminated. But for the eight days the hametz belongs to her. She has yet to complete the sale.
Hametz to be sold should be placed in a distinct location in the house and sealed off during the week.
Some dismiss this sale as a fiction and think it is silly. Let me offer a spiritual response. During Pesah, hametz represents the negative traits we wish to remove from within ourselves. The rabbis identified the puffed up hametz as arrogance. But it can be seen as any negative trait within us.Passover is liberation from the slavery of our impulses, our bad choices, our negative inclinations. Cleaning the house of hametz is a concretization of our desire to clean ourselves spiritually. But we can never clean every speck out. Selling our hametz is a spiritual exercise of imagining what we would be like if we were cleaned of our negative traits.
It is most appropriate to use this as an opportunity to do tzedakah. A donation to the Rabbi’s Discretionary fund of $18 is encouraged, but any amount is acceptable.
After the search for Hametz on the night before Pesah this formula should be recited --
“All hametz in my possession which I have not seen and have not removed shall be nullified and be ownerless as the dust of the earth.”
The next morning after ridding the house of all leftover hametz this version of the formula should be recited--
“All hametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not and whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified and be ownerless as the dust of the earth.”
Note: If possible, all hametz-food not acceptable during Pesah (Passover), or materials containing such unacceptable food – should be destroyed or given away before the holiday begins. Should this be impossible, the hametz may be stored in such a way that we are sure not to use it during the holiday and its actual ownership is transferred to a non-Jew until the holiday ends.