SALT - Tuesday, 10 Nissan 5781 - March 23, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 444:1) rules that when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, bedikat chametz (the search for chametz) is performed on Thursday night, the night of the 13th of Nissan.  Normally, of course, we perform the search the night before Erev Pesach – the night of the 14th of Nissan.  If, however, this night is Shabbat, when the search cannot be performed, then we conduct the search the previous night, the night of the 13th of Nissan.
 
            At first glance, the search conducted on the night of the 13th can be perceived in two different ways.  On the one hand, we might explain that Chazal formally instituted only one date for bedikat chametz – the night of the 14th – but when this is not possible, we have no choice but to search the home earlier.  According to this perspective, the situation of Erev Pesach which falls on Shabbat resembles the case of a person who leaves home for a trip before the night of the 14th of Pesach (“ha-mefaresh ve-yotzei be-shayara”), who performs bedikat chametz the night before he departs (Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 436:1).  The formal obligation of bedikat chametz cannot be performed in such a year, but we must nevertheless search to ensure the absence of chametz, just as in the case of one who, in a regular year, will be away from home on the night of the 14th.  Alternatively, we might explain that the initial enactment of bedikat chametz took into account that Erev Pesach on rare occasions falls on Shabbat, and Chazal instituted from the outset that in such a year, the search should be held on the night of the 13th.  According to this understanding, we fulfill the formal obligation of bedikat chametz in such a year on the night of the 13th no less than we do in a regular year, when we search on the night of the 14th, because Chazal formally designated the night of the 13th as the time for bedikat chametz in such a year.
 
            One practical difference between these two outlooks concerns the case of one who performed bedikat chametz earlier than the night of the 13th in such a year.  The Chafetz Chaim, in Mishna Berura (433:1) and Sha’ar Ha-tziyun (433:5), cites different opinions as to whether – on a regular year – one who performed a proper search before the night of the 14th, and ensured not to bring any chametz into the home thereafter, must repeat the search on the night of the 14th.  Most poskim maintain that if the person searched thoroughly as Halakha requires, then he does not need to search the home again on the night of the 14th.  Some poskim, however, disagree, and require one to search his home on the night of the 14th even if he had checked properly on a previous night and did not bring any chametz into the home since then.  The Bach and (his son-in-law) the Taz explain that since Chazal instituted a requirement to search on the night of the 14th, one must search on this night even if he had searched earlier.  (The Levush also requires searching on the night of the 14th in such a case, but for a different reason – because people cannot be assumed to avoid bringing chametz into the home earlier than the night of the 14th.)  The question arises as to whether the Bach and Taz would apply this ruling also in a year when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat.  According to the first perspective presented above, in such a year, we in any event cannot fulfill the formal obligation of bedikat chametz, which was instituted to take place on the night of the 14th.  As such, one who prefers performing the search earlier than the night of the 13th of Nissan may do so, and then will not be required to search on the night of the 13th.  According to the second perspective, however, the night of the 13th in such a year is no different than the night of the 14th in a regular year.  Chazal from the outset instituted bedikat chametz on the night of the 14th in a regular year, and on the night of the 13th when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat.  Therefore, according to the Bach and Taz, one would be required to search in such a year on the night of the 13th even if he had searched earlier.
 
            The answer to this question may perhaps be found in the ruling cited by the Mishna Berura (470:6) from earlier poskim (Maharil, Magen Avraham, and others) that even when bedikat chametz is performed on the night of the 13th, one should not eat that night before performing the search.  Just as in a regular year, when the search is performed on the night of 14th, one should not eat once night falls until he completes the search, in a year when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, too, one should refrain from eating on the night of the 13th until he performs bedikat chametz.  This would appear to prove the second perspective presented above, that the search on the night of the 13th in such a year fulfills the formal bedikat chametz obligation just as one does on the night of the 14th in a normal year.  After all, if in such a year we cannot fulfill that formal obligation of bedikat chametz, and we search out of necessity earlier like in the case of one who leaves for a trip before the night of the 14th, there would seem to be no reason to refrain from eating before the search.  This prohibition applies only when we have a formal obligation to fulfill that night – just as, for example, one should not eat at night during Chanukah before lighting the candles.  The fact that Halakha requires refraining from eating before searching for chametz on the night of the 13th in a year when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat would seem to suggest that in such a year, the formal obligation of bedikat chametz is transferred to the 13th.  In such a year, we do not search earlier because we cannot search when Chazal required, but rather search on the night on which Chazal required searching in a year when the 14th of Nissan falls on Shabbat.
 
(Taken from Rav Raphael Binyamin Cohen’s article in Umka De-parsha, Shabbat Parashat Vayikra, 5771)