The Mitzvah of Bedikat Chametz
- Rabbi Josh Flug
- Apr 16, 2008
The Mitzvah of Bedikat Chametz
The mitzvah of bedikat chametz is the mitzvah that requires one to check his entire house before Pesach. In this week's issue, we will discuss some of the principles of bedikat chametz.
Is Bedikat Chametz Biblical in Nature?
Rashi, Pesachim 2a, s.v. Bodkin, implies that bedikat chametz is a biblical concept. Rashi states that the purpose of bedikat chametz is to ensure that one does not violate the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. The implication is that bedikat chametz is necessary in order to search for all chametz that may be in one's possession without one's knowledge.
Tosafot, Pesachim 2a, s.v. Or, disagree with Rashi. Tosafot claim that bedikat chametz cannot be a biblical concept because the Gemara, Pesachim 4b, states that on a biblical level, one can avoid violation of the prohibition of owning chametz through bitul chametz (nullification of the chametz). If, as Rashi implies, the sole purpose of bedikat chametz is to ensure that one does not violate the prohibition against owning chametz, bedikat chametz would be superfluous when one performs bitul chametz.
Tosafot suggest that bedikat chametz is a rabbinic institution. On a biblical level, bitul chametz would certainly suffice to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz. However, the rabbis were concerned that if one does not search for all chametz in one's possession, he may find chametz on Pesach and eat it.
Ran, Pesachim 1a, s.v. Bodkin and s.v. Ela, defends Rashi's position. Ran suggests that certainly Rashi will agree that through bitul chametz one can ensure that the prohibition of owning chametz is not violated. However, Rashi is of the opinion that one can also accomplish this through bedikat chametz followed by bi'ur chametz (destroying of chametz). Ran further states that while one can fulfill the biblical requirement through bitul chametz or bedikat chametz, on a rabbinic level both are required. One cannot simply rely on bitul chametz out of concern that one may find chametz on Pesach and eat it. Additionally, one cannot rely on bedikat chametz alone out of concern that one might find chametz on Pesach that was missed by the initial check. If he did not perform bitul chametz and even momentarily hesitates to destroy the chametz, he violates the prohibition of owning chametz. By performing bitul chametz, one ensures that the prohibition against owning chametz will not be violated even if one finds chametz on Pesach.
The Nature of the Mitzvah of Bedikat Chametz
R. Baruch D. Povarsky, Bad Kodesh, Mo'adim (pp. 3-6), notes that the beracha plays an important role in understanding the nature of bedikat chametz. The fact that a beracha is recited on bedikat chametz indicates that the final formulation of the mitzvah is not merely a means of ensuring that one does not violate the prohibition against owning chametz. If the purpose of bedikat chametz was only to ensure that one owns no chametz, bedikat chametz would be similar to the obligation to check food items for insects. One certainly does not recite a beracha on checking food items for insects. Rather, one must conclude that when the rabbis instituted that one must perform bedikat chametz (even when bitul chametz was performed), they instituted an actual mitzvah to check one's entire home for chametz. Therefore, a beracha is recited on the rabbinically imposed mitzvah to perform bedikat chametz.
R. Povarsky adds that nevertheless, the rabbinically imposed mitzvah can be understood in two ways. One can view this mitzvah as a mitzvah of finding all of the chametz in one's home. Alternatively, one can view it as a mitzvah of searching for all of the chametz in one's home. R. Povarsky suggests that these two views are reflected in a dispute recorded by Rama, Orach Chaim 432:2. Rama cites the opinion of R. Yisrael Brin that family members should hide pieces of chametz before the bedikah so that the one checking will find some chametz. Rama then cites the opinion of Kol Bo, no. 48, that there is no need to hide pieces of chametz. R Yisrael Brin is of the opinion that the mitzvah of bedikat chametz is to find chametz and therefore, bread should be hidden prior to the bedikah in order to ensure that the checker finds chametz. Kol Bo is of the opinion that the mitzvah is to search for the chametz. Even if there is no chametz, one still fulfills the mitzvah.
As a matter of practical Halacha, Taz, Orach Chaim 432:4, disapproves of the practice of hiding pieces of chametz out of concern that one of the pieces will get lost. R. Ya'akov Reisha, Chok Ya'akov 432:12, notes that although there are objectors to the practice of hiding the pieces of chametz, one should not this cancel this minhag. Mishna Berurah 432:13, cites the opinion of Chok Ya'akov. Mishna Berurah adds (in Sha'ar HaTziun 432:12) that according to R. Zev Wolf of Zittel, Emek Halacha no. 128, the pieces are required in a situation where the entire house was already checked thoroughly for chametz prior to bedikat chametz.
One Who Checks Before the Fourteenth of Nissan
The Mishna, Pesachim 2a, states that bedikat chametz should be performed on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan. The Gemara, Pesachim 6a, states that if one leaves his home prior to the fourteenth, if it is within thirty days of Pesach he must perform bedikat chametz under all circumstances. If Pesach is more than thirty days away, but he plans on returning home before Pesach or on Pesach, he must perform bedikat chametz. If he does not plan on returning until after Pesach, he is not required to perform bedikat chametz.
There is a dispute among the Rishonim regarding whether one recites a beracha on bedikat chametz that is performed before the fourteenth. Kol Bo, op. cit., cites one opinion that one only recites a beracha if bedikat chametz is performed on (or after) the fourteenth. According to Ritva, Pesachim 6a, s.v. Lo, one recites a beracha on any bedikat chametz performed within thirty days of Pesach. According to Ra'ah (cited in Ritva, ibid) one recites a beracha on bedikat chametz even if one performs the bedikah more than thirty days prior to Pesach.
The three opinions in the Rishonim are all codified by various Acharonim. Rama, Orach Chaim 436:1, rules in accordance with the opinion that one does not recite a beracha on an early bedikat chametz. Bach, Orach Chaim no. 436, rules that one recites a beracha within thirty days of Pesach. P'ri Chadash, Orach Chaim 436:1, rules that one always recites a beracha on bedikat chametz. Mishna Berurah, Bi'ur Halacha 436:1, s.v. V'lo, leaves this dispute as an open question regarding which opinion one should follow.
R. Povarsky, op. cit., explains that the dispute regarding whether one recites a beracha prior to the fourteenth is contingent on how one understands the obligation to perform bedikat chametz prior to the fourteenth. As we mentioned previously, a beracha on bedikat chametz is only warranted due to the rabbinically imposed mitzvah to check one's house for chametz. If bedikat chametz is merely a means to avoid the prohibition against owning chametz, a beracha is not warranted. Therefore, Kol Bo and Rama, in ruling that one only recites a beracha if bedikat chametz is performed on the fourteenth (or after), are of the opinion that any bedikah prior to the fourteenth does not fulfill the rabbinic mitzvah of bedikat chametz. Rather, its sole purpose is to avoid the prohibition against owning chametz on Pesach. Ritva and Bach are of the opinion that any bedikah within thirty days of Pesach fulfills the rabbinic mitzvah of bedikat chametz. Ra'ah and P'ri Chadash are of the opinion that any bedikah throughout the year fulfills the rabbinically imposed mitzvah.
Rambam, Hilchot Chametz UMatzah 3:4, rules that when Erev Pesach occurs on Shabbat, one performs bedikat chametz on the thirteenth of Nissan. Shulchan Aruch 444:1, codifies Rambam's opinion. Mishna Berurah 444:1, rules that one recites a beracha on the bedikah. This opinion seems to be universally accepted, even according to those who don't normally allow for the recitation of a beracha on bedikat chametz prior to the fourteenth. One must conclude that the rabbinically imposed mitzvah to perform bedikat chametz on the fourteenth is shifted to the thirteenth when the fourteenth occurs on Shabbat. As such, in those particular years, a beracha is warranted.