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Thought for the Day: Kashering Pots and Utensils for Pesach -- הגעלה (Boiling) vs ליבון (Scorching)

Volume 5 ('חלק ה for you frumies) of the Mishna Brura concerns itself with the laws of Passover and Yom Tov in general.  It starts with siman 429, entitled: We don't fall on our faces (ie, say tachanun) the entire month of Nissan, but the first halacha in that siman is: We (start) asking about the laws of Pesach from 30 days before Pesach.  The Mishna Brura that some say that we need to start 30 days before Pesach (as opposed to other holidays, that do not have that requirement) because there are so many laws of Pesach.  30 days.  All of hilchos Pesach.  30 days.  Maybe that's why the heading of this siman talks about tachanun.  "Wow!  No tachanun for a month!  I'll have so much extra time!"  Then ... wham!  Here's something to do with all that extra time...

Being as my Hebrew reading skills are still developing, I try to learn one topic each year.  This year was הגעלת כלים; which Google translates -- I kid you not -- as "Hagalah".  The word הגעלה has an interesting etymology, see Job 21:10.  Basically the word means to "expel"; in this case, it means that placing the vessel in boiling water causes said vessel to expel any absorbed chameitz.  Why boiling water?  The rule is כבולעו כך פולטו -- as it was absorbed, that's how it is expelled.  Since our pots and pans had boiling water in them, and our utensils were used from time to time in boiling water, and because we are nuts (er... extra stringent) on Pesach, so the custom is to boil any vessels and utensils used during the year to make them fit for use on Pesach; even those that were used mostly or even wholly with cold food and liquids (such as glasses).

Now... when should you perform this hagala (which I can now use as an English word; thank you, Google)?  Siman 452:1 says to be careful to only perform hagala on vessels that have not been used for at least 24 hours, before 10:00 AM on erev Pesach, and in cauldron of boiling water that has at least 60 times times as much volumes as the vessels being hagalafied (which I can now use as an English word; thank you American public school system).  Why all these conditions?  Remember that even the teensiest amount chameitz is forbidden on Pesach.  That means that we really shouldn't be able to do hagala at all, since some teensy amount is certainly going to seep back into the vessels.  In fact, hagala isn't really an option on Pesach itself.  Here, however, we have three leniencies going for us.

First, chameitz is only forbidden to the teensiest level only on Pesach itself, so we can rely on ביטול/nullification of one part in 60 before Pesach.  Second, by keeping the water boiling we can rely on the rule that while the vessel is busy expelling, it can't absorb.  By ensuring the vessel itself hasn't been used within 24 hours, any absorbed chameitz will have become פגום/ruined, so according to some authorities doesn't really require ביטול/nullification anyway.  Yes, there are more conditions than you need (as noted by the Biur Halacha), but Mrs. Rema was not about to let her husband treif up her kitchen!

You may now be thinking, "The heck with it!  Let's just use a blowtorch; ie, ליבון."  Scorching  works by actually destroying the chameitz, so you don't have to deal with any of the conditions for hagala.  In fact, you can even do ליבון on Pesach itself.  So what's the catch?  First catch is that if the vessel is only heated enough that it could cause easily flammable things (such as straw) to catch fire; known as  ליבון קל, then it might not be any better than hagala.  That is, a smallish amount of heating doesn't actually burn the chameitz; it merely causes the absorbed chameitz to be expelled.  The only real deal for burning out the chameitz is  ליבון חמור -- hot enough that the vessel itself starts throwing sparks.

That brings us to problem number two, which I'll illustrate with a story: A young married lady wanted a self-cleaning oven for Pesach.  Her husband (a kollel man) told her he would take care of the oven.  She said she really just wanted a self-cleaning oven.  He reiterated that he would take care of it; self-cleaning ovens are, for goodness sakes, expensive.  He got out his blowtorch and as he got the oven cavity almost hot enough for his stringent opinion... the bottom fell out.  She had a great day; she got her self-cleaning oven and got to say, "I told you so."

Moral of the story: Get your wife the self-cleaning oven when she asks and get your vessels to be kashered for Pesach hagalafied at the right time.

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