“Passover is almost here… and I haven’t even started preparing!”
“I hate preparing for Passover. I always get so stressed out!”
“DON’T TALK TO ME RIGHT NOW! I’M BUSY!”
Do any of these sound familiar?
If you’re anything like me – it probably does.
Growing up, the day we were preparing for Passover always felt like we’re preparing for war.
And the funny thing? Passover is supposed to be about celebrating our escape from slavery to freedom… Yet, it always seemed to me like the exact opposite: the road from freedom to slavery.
So… how do we avoid falling into that trap this upcoming Pesach?
How can we prepare for Passover, without losing our cool (or our minds) in the process?
Easy: simply follow a Passover preparation plan that’ll walk you through each step – one step at a time.
Good news! I happened to create a simple Passover preparation checklist you can follow – that’ll help you do just that! (no need to buy me a Passover gift… this one is on the house 🙂 )
Important: Before we begin – keep in mind that I’m not a Rabbi, nor do I play one on the internet. If you’re unsure whether something is allowed or prohibited – always ask your Rabbi just to be safe.
Table of Contents
Shopping for Passover (Without Breaking the Bank)
My motto when it comes to Passover shopping is: Buy what you need, NOT what you can.
Sure, we all need to do some shopping for Passover. But do we really need to go overboard and spend money like you’re in Congress?
Unless you’re hosting a grandiose Passover Seder and you want to really impress your guests – then no, not really.
Instead, focus on the essentials – the “must-haves” (perhaps a few “nice-to-haves”).
Here’s a (partial) list…
Tip: For the full list, check out our complete Passover shopping list.
The Seder plate is the cornerstone of the Passover Seder. It’s where we place the 6 symbolic Passover food items (coming up next)
Seder Plate Items
There are six traditional Seder plate items:
- Charoset: A brown spread made of nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and red wine. It’s a symbol for the brick & mortar the Jews were forced to put together to build the Egyptian buildings and pyramids.
- Maror – Bitter herbs (horseradish or romaine lettuce): A symbol of the bitterness of slavery the Jews suffered from in Egypt. Maror comes from the Hebrew word “Mar” – which literally means “bitter”.
- Shank bone – Zeroah: Symbolizes the Passover sacrifice (Korban Pesach) the Jews used to perform in the Jewish temple.
- Egg – Beitzah: Represents the special Pesach festival sacrifice the Jews used to perform in the Jewish temple during the Passover Seder.
- Karpas (parsley or celery): A symbol for hope and renewal. During the Seder – we dip the Karpas in saltwater – a symbol of the tears and pain the Jews endured as slaves.
- Chazeret (romaine lettuce or endive): The second type of Maror – bitter herbs. During the Seder, we make a “Chazeret” sandwich with two Matzot – known as “Korech Sandwich”.
Matzo (or Matzah) is the unleavened bread we eat during the 8 days of Passover to commemorate our Jewish ancestor’s exodus from Egypt.
Wait, but Why?
The common answer is that the Israelites had to leave Egypt in such haste that they couldn’t wait for the bread dough to rise. This is also known as the “Matzah of Freedom”.
But there’s a second reason not many people know about, or mention: we eat Matzo on Passover, because that’s the food the Jews were fed as slaves. We call that the “Matzah of Affliction”.
At first glance, these two reasons seem paradoxical.
But when you add the two puzzle pieces together – you can suddenly realize the full picture: we eat Matzo to celebrate our escape from “Matzah of Affliction” (a symbol of pain, poverty, and slavery) → to “Matzah of Freedom” (a symbol of hope, richness, and redemption).
Shmura Matzah isn’t the same as the Matzah you dip in Charoset for breakfast. They’re special handmade Matzot that are guarded (“Shmura” = guarded in Hebrew) against leavening (Chametz) from the moment they’re being harvested from the crops… as opposed to “regular” Matzot that are only guarded from the point the wheat is ground into flour.
As you might expect, this extra level of supervision makes these round-shaped Matzot more expensive than your average Matzo.
The Passover Haggadah is where the Seder is “at”. Each Passover guests has his own copy of a Haggadah to follow along, sing along and perform the Passover customs.
“Wine gladdens the heart of man” – Psalm 104:15
Wine holds a special place in Judaism. We drink it during Shabbat, weddings, festivals, holidays…you name it.
Passover is different. We don’t just drink wine on Passover. We drink A LOT of wine on Passover!
What’s a lot? We drink 4 cups of wine during the Passover Seder alone (not including the glasses of wine we drink during the meal).
Did You Know?
Technically, we pour 5 cups of wine during the Seder, but we only drink 4. What’s with the 5th cup? More on that later…
Obviously – every time we read a religious Jewish text (in this case, the Haggadah), Jews are required to wear a Kippah.
Wearing a Matzah-shaped Kippah is just a bonus
Remember the 5th cup of wine I mentioned earlier? This is it…
The Elijah cup is the 5th traditional cup of wine we pour (but don’t drink) to honor Elijah the prophet.
Wait, but why?
Why pour a 5th cup that no one drinks?
There was an old debate (Machloket) in the Talmud about whether we should pour 4 or 5 cups of wine during the Passover Seder.
No agreement was reached… so it was settled with a compromise (that happens a lot in Judaism): pour a fifth cup, but do not drink it.
During a “normal” Kiddush – we cover the Challah bread until we recite the Hamotzi blessing. This is a symbolic act for not “embarrassing” the Challah while we recite the wine blessing.
On Passover, we replace the Challah with a Matzah… and just as we cover the Challah with a Challah cover – we cover the Matzah with a Matzah cover.
We use the Afikoman cover to hide the Afikoman during the Passover Seder meal… we later “reveal” it and eat it for dessert.
Note: It’s a common tradition for the Seder host to hide the Afikoman for the kids to find… and whoever finds it, gets a prize! (parents – this is not a replacement for a Passover gift. Don’t be mean)
Like any Jewish holiday – we light candles and recite a special blessing to welcome the holiday.
What dishes do you use for the Passover Seder?
Typically, you’ve got two options:
Kashering is obviously a cost-effective choice, but it requires a lot more time and hassle. On the other hand, if you’re hosting the Passover Seder every year, perhaps it would be a good idea to get a special set just for Passover.
There’s also a third choice…
You can always go with disposable Passover paper plates.
On the one hand – they’re much easier to clean… on the other hand – they’re not exactly the fanciest option. So keep that in mind…
You can do the same with wine cups. Each and every guest will drink at least 4 cups of Kiddush wine during the Seder. They can either drink it with a regular Kiddush cup or wine glass or with a disposable one… up to you.
The Pesach tablecloth is ground zero: without it – you don’t really have a table to decorate, to begin with.
Following Elijah’s footsteps… A fairly new Passover tradition has emerged in recent decades to honor Miriam (Moses’s Sister): leaving a cup filled with water next to Elijah’s cup.
While this isn’t exactly a Halachic requirement – this tradition is becoming more and popular – mainly thanks to the egalitarian “shift” in the world
As part of the Passover Seder, we get up to wash our hands several times (during Urchatz and Rachtzah). Instead of forcing everyone to wait for the towel, you can provide each of your guests with their very own towel.
Napkins are necessary. Matzo napkins are optional… but they’re cute.
Not necessary by any means… only if you want your guests to be super-comfortable and “survive the Seder” without letting their behinds go numb (remember, the average Seder lasts for a good couple of hours)
Passover Cleaning – The Battle Against Chametz
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of WarClick To Tweet
Who is it we’re fighting here, exactly?
Passover enemy #1: Chametz.
You see, the thing is… you can’t just grab a broom and go out “on the attack”, you’ll soon find yourself chasing after Chametz like Harry Potter chases after the snitch (hey there fellow Harry Potter geeks!).
First, you need a “plan of attack”: What to clean? How to clean? Where to clean first?
In other words – you need a Passover cleaning checklist.
Lucky for you, I wrote an entire article, guiding you step-by-step what to clean, how to clean and where to clean. Follow the link above, bookmark it, read it, re-read it, and make your house shine like Cinderella’s shoe!
Getting Rid of Chametz
You’ve spent hours (days? weeks??) cleaning your house and clearing the Chametz.
What do we do with all the leftover Chametz?
Well, if you’re Joey from Friends, you can…
But if you’re not, here’s what you do…
The night before Passover, Jews all across the world transform into a group of Jewish Sherlock Holmes.
The suspects we’re looking for? Chametz!
We grab our special “detective gadgets”: a candle, feather and wooden spoon (you can get a Bedikat Chametz kit here)… and go on a Chametz hunt!
PSSST: Don’t forget to wrap 10 pieces of Chametz and plant them around the house. Otherwise, it would be embarrassing to go on a hunt and not find anything, now would it? Don’t tell the kids!
Together, we search the house looking for the pieces of Chametz hiding in the dark.
When you (by you, I mean mostly the kids… don’t spoil the fun, please) find a piece – you sweep the Chametz with the feather into the wooden spoon, and from there into a bag (we’ll return to the bag in a moment).
Removing the Chametz
There are three ways to get rid of Chametz:
- Burn the Chametz (Biur). Remember the bag of Chametz you collected during the Bedikat Chametz? Now is the time to burn it in what’s called a “Biur Ceremony”.
- Nullify the Chametz (Bittul). Before the Bedikat Chametz and before burning the Chametz, we recite a blessing, declaring that any Chametz left in the family’s position is considered ownerless, and therefore nullified.
- Sell the Chametz (Mechirah). You can sell any Chametz you have left to a non-Jew, which you can then regain after Pesach is over by “buying” the Chametz back.
“I don’t know any non-Jew who I can sell my Chametz to…”
No kidding! Yea, that’s usually the case. Could you imagine what an awkward phone call that would be?
Anyways, in most cases, there’s a local Rabbi (often the community Rabbi) who acts as a proxy between you and the non-Jew. In other words – you “sell” your Chametz to the Rabbi, the Rabbi then sells it to the non-Jew, and after Pesach, the non-Jew gives you the Chametz back (unless he couldn’t resist or had the munchies).
There’s a popular French phrase among many famous chefs: Mise-en-place (“put in place”).
It means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.
You know where I’m going with this… don’t you?
That’s right: Passover is stressful enough. You don’t need a disorganized kitchen and the clock breathing down your neck to add fuel to the fire.
Before you jump straight into cooking your delicious Seder meal, take the time to make “Seder” in your Seder (in case you don’t know – Seder in Hebrew literally means to “organize”)…
- Declutter your kitchen
- Organize your Passover groceries
- Prepare your Passover recipes in advance
- Put on your favorite music or podcast
- Cook the Seder meal like a champion
Take your time. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Who knows, you might end up enjoying preparing the Seder meal?
Setting the Passover Seder Table
Buying Passover groceries is only half the battle. The next step? Setting the Seder table!
Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. In fact, you can even let your kids do it!
“But mooooom… I want to play with my Passover toys and costumes!”
Relax! Setting the table is easy-peasy. In fact, we’ll do it in (less than) 10 steps!
Each guest should get, at a minimum:
- Bowl (if you’re serving soup)
- Cutlery (include tablespoons if you’re serving soup)
- Drinking glass
- Wine glass/Kiddush cup (you can also use disposable Kiddush cups)
And at a maximum:
- Place card
- Personal hand towel
- Napkin ring
- Pillows or cushions (on the chairs)
- Wine glass
- Yarmulkes (Kippot) for the boys
- Any of the other Passover decorations I mentioned above
4. Place the Seder plate, including the Passover plate items:
- Egg (ביצה)
- Shank bone (זרוע)
- Bitter herbs/Horseradish (מרור)
- Vegetable (כרפס) – usually parsley or celery
- Haroset (חרוסת)
- Hazeret (חזרת) – usually lettuce or a root vegetable
5. Set the Shmurah Matzah plate. Set a plate with three pieces of Shmurah Matzah on top of each other, and cover them with the Matzah cover.
6. Set another Matzah plate with regular Matzos for people to eat freely throughout the Seder
7. Add a bowl (or several bowls) of salt water.
8. Spread bottles of Kosher for Passover wine or grape juice across the table.9. Place an empty Kiddush cup for Elijah, and (optionally) an empty cup for Miriam
Whatever you do… do NOT arrive at the Seder table empty-handed! Especially if you’re the guest at someone’s Seder table… Rude!
Your Passover hosts graciously invited you over for Seder, the least you can do is thank them with a thoughtful Passover gift.
But it’s not just the Seder hostess you should think about.
What about the children?
You’re taking away all of their delicious snacks, forcing them to sit at the Seder table for hours and eat Maror… no wonder they’re jealous of the Christian kids! There goes the Easter Bunny, dropping Easter eggs like there’s no tomorrow, while the only egg at the Seder table is the one on the Seder plate (which they can’t even touch!).
Needless to say – Jewish parents need to do a little preemptive damage control. You need to somehow tip the scales back in your favor…
The best way to do that?
Give them an awesome Passover bribe gift!
… A gift that’ll get them excited about Passover!
… A gift that’ll teach them about the Exodus and put them in the Passover spirit!
… A gift that’ll make them prefer eating Matzah over Pizza!
OK, that’s probably pushing it, but you get my point…
Before we talk about medicine, let’s first set a few ground rules:
- Rule #1: Consult your Doctor and Rabbi before you decide whether you should or shouldn’t your medicine.
- Rule #2: Never forget rule #1.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s mention a few other things.
According to the OU (Orthodox Union), inedible medicine such as non-chewable pills or creams can be owned and consumed on Passover, even if they contain Chametz (or Kitniyot).
If you’re really strict, and you prefer to replace a Chametz medicine with an equally effective Chametz-free medicine – only do so AFTER you consult with your Doctor and Rabbi (rule #1, remember?)
What about chewable pills and other flavored pills? Those may indeed contain Chametz. If they do, ask your Doctor for a replacement pill that doesn’t any Chametz.
If there’s no replacement medicine available, the following rules apply:
- If there’s any danger to human life or a possible deterioration to that point – you can take the medicine.
- If there’s no danger to human life and no possible deterioration to that point – consult with your Rabbi.
Reminder: Don’t try to play Doctor, Rabbi or Doctor-Rabbi when deciding whether you should take your medicine. Consult with the experts… M’kay?
Your bottle of perfume, your makeup, lipstick look innocent enough… But are they?
After all, none of us are planning to serve lipstick for dinner or raise a glass of perfume for Kiddush… so what’s the deal?
According to Halacha, we’re forbidden to keep any edible Chametz in our house during Pesach.
What qualifies as edible, you ask? Halacha says – anything that is fit for human or dog consumption (hey, I didn’t make up the rules).
Finally, let’s look which cosmetics are allowed, which aren’t allowed, and which ones are debatable:
What is allowed?
The following cosmetics are allowed on Pesach, even if they contain Chametz ingredients:
- Nail polish
- Face powders
- Eye shadow
- Eye liner
- Shaving cream
- Skin cream
Note: Even though Halacha permits the use of these cosmetics, some Jews take the “strict route” and don’t use any cosmetics that include Chametz.
What isn’t allowed?
The following cosmetics are not allowed on Pesach:
- Anything that contains Chametz alcohol (i.e contains grains – ethyl) such as perfume
Note: The exception here is Kitniyot. While Ashkenazi Jews don’t consume Kitniyot on Pesach, they are allowed to use cosmetics that contain Kitniyot during Pesach (as long as you’re not eating them, of course)
What is debatable?
The following cosmetics are debatable:
Notice anything in common with these products? They can all be accidentally swallowed.
As always – if you’re unsure whether you can use a certain product – consult your Rabbi.
There you have it: a simple step-by-step Passover preparation plan that’ll save you hours of time and unnecessary stress.
Now… take this Passover preparation checklist – save it, bookmark it, print it if you have to…
And when everyone asks you how you did it – point them to this article 🙂