SALT - Tuesday, 13 Nissan 5780 - April 7, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
           The Mishna in the beginning of Masekhet Pesachim (2a) establishes the obligation of bedikat chameitz, which requires searching one’s property for chameitz on the night of the 14th of Nissan.  This search is in preparation for the mitzva which applies the following day, Erev Pesach, to eliminate all chameitz from one’s property by midday.  The Mishna rules, “Every place where chameitz is not brought does not require searching.”  Meaning, one is required to search only those areas in one’s property where chameitz is normally brought during the year.  The Mishna Berura (431:4) clarifies that even areas of the home where chameitz is not frequently used must be checked for chameitz if they are occasionally used for chameitz.
            Rav Yisrael of Kozhnitz, in his Avodat Yisrael (Shabbat Ha-gadol), uncovers the symbolism of this halakha by drawing upon the well-established association between chameitz and the yetzer ha-ra – our negative impulses.  The search for chameitz with the aim of eliminating it before Pesach has often been viewed as representing the process of identifying our flaws and weaknesses in an effort to eliminate them.  As Pesach celebrates the anniversary of our having been taken by God as His treasured nation, it behooves us to strive to be worthy of this designation by eliminating the “chameitz” within us.  Accordingly, the Maggid of Kozhnitz suggests, the law exempting us from searching in areas “where chameitz is not brought” symbolizes the fact that there are places where we are specifically instructed not to search for chameitz.  Namely, the Maggid teaches, this refers to other people’s characters and conduct.  The Maggid writes:
Everywhere chameitz is brought requires searching – meaning, each person must check in the place where the evil inclination – which is the “chameitz” – normally resides, each person according to his nature… And everywhere chameitz is not brought does not require chameitz – the allusion, it would seem, is that there are people who do not look after their own actions – but only after the actions of other people.  The Tanna therefore warns that places where chameitz is not brought does not require checking – meaning, one should not look after the actions of others, but rather correct and look after his own actions.
Often, when people focus their attention on self-improvement, on studying their conduct and character in an effort to grow and eliminate the “chameitz” from their beings, they become very critical of others, as well.  In their passionate quest to rid themselves of their own faults, they are quick to find those same faults in others, and look down upon those people for what they presume to be apathy, their refusal to make an effort to improve.  This tendency not only distracts one from his own efforts at self-improvement, but is also wrong in its own right.  We are to strive to look upon others favorably, to focus our attention on their admirable qualities, to respect people for what they do right, rather than criticize and find fault.  The Maggid of Kozhnitz thus warns us that our search for “chameitz” must be directed inward, within ourselves, and not lead us to the destructive habit of looking critically upon our fellow.