Shiur #11: The Schedule of Bedikat Chametz

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #11: The Schedule of Bedikat Chametz

by Rav Moshe Taragin

The first mishna in Masekhet Pesachim delineates the obligation to search for and destroy chametz the night before Pesach. As Tosafot immediately comment, the entire obligation of bedikat chametz is Rabbinic in origin. On the level of Torah obligation, 'bitul chametz' – verbally renouncing one's interest in, and/or ownership of, chametz – would suffice to circumvent the concern of bal yeira'eh (the prohibition against possessing chametz). However, the Chakhamim decreed that actual bedika and bi'ur be performed, rather than relying on purely verbal solutions.

The gemara in Pesachim (4a) inspects the timing of the bedika. After all, since the prohibition only begins sometime on the morning of the 14th (Erev Pesach), why was bedika scheduled for the night before? The gemara concludes that evening time was chosen because that is when people are home and have the opportunity to perform bedika. Had Chazal allowed bedika to wait until the morning of the 14th, it may have been neglected in the flurry of pre-Pesach preparations and work responsibilities. As the gemara asserts, "[in the evening] people are home and the candlelight is effective for the process of bedika."

Some read this gemara as a recommendation: since most individuals may be too busy on the morning of the 14th, the evening before was selected. However, an unemployed person, for example, who has no professional responsibilities to attend to on the morning of Erev Pesach, may delay bedika until the morning, since there is no danger of neglect. Similarly, if one were to preempt the 14th and perform bedika on the DAY of the 13th, he would have fulfilled the mitzva nonetheless, since in not delaying until the last possible minute, he does not face the danger of neglect. Some claim that in such situations, when one conducts the search on the DAY of 13th OR the DAY of 14th, he should still utilize a candle – following the gemara's assertion that candlelight allows for more effective searching. Other positions, however, claim that when the bedika is performed during daylight hours, a candle is unnecessary and sunlight may be used.

The Ramban rejects the possibility of searching for chametz during the day, based upon a comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi that candlelight is radiant only at night. Even though scheduling bedika during the daytime of the 13th or the 14th (for the unemployed) may effectively skirt concerns of neglect, it does not allow for the use of a candle in its most effective manner. In fact, the gemara (7b) derived the use of a candle from a series of pesukim, suggesting that its use is mandatory, and not merely recommended. Since the Yerushalmi limits the effectiveness of a candle to the nighttime, the bedika, which requires candlelight, must take place specifically at night.

The Ramban's position invites the question of whether the bedika may be performed by candlelight on the NIGHT preceding the 13th. Theoretically, a bedika conducted at this time should satisfy all the requirements: it is performed by candlelight, and does not pose the danger of neglect. Indeed, some opinions sanction this option (see Chidushei Anshei Shem on the Ri"f, Pesachim 1b). And even those who reject this option point to purely technical reasons for demanding bedika specifically on the night of the 14th. For example, Maharam Chalava contends that an early bedika may not be as thorough as a search conducted imminent to the time when the prohibition sets in. Fundamentally, though, the night of the 13th is just as suitable as the night of the 14th.

The Mordekhai cites a passage from the Yerushalmi which may yield a different approach to this issue. During the time of the Mikdash, courtyards in the city of Yerushalayim would occasionally be searched for leftover loaves of bread brought together with a korban toda (thanksgiving offering). Halakha required eating these breads within a given time frame, after which they become "notar" and must be burned. The Yerushalmi suggests that although the courtyards in Jerusalem were searched for loaves to avoid the problem of "notar," and thus presumably had been ridded of chametz, they must nevertheless be searched a second time on the night of the 14th of Nissan. One might claim, then, that Chazal instituted an obligation of bedika on the night of the 14th independent of the presence of chametz. Chazal did not merely demand a search for chametz and recommend a schedule which would best effect the search. Instead, they formalized the obligation by demanding a searching "ceremony" on the night of the 14th. Even if the courtyards were just checked a few hours earlier for chametz, they must be re-inspected on the night of the 14th. As opposed to the approaches mentioned earlier, which hinge the timing of the bedika on peripheral, pragmatic concerns, or on the requirement of candlelight, the Yerushalmi perhaps viewed the timing – the 14th of Nissan – as a fundamental component of the essential obligation of bedika.

This question may underlie an interesting debate regarding the prospect of reciting the berakha of she-hechiyanu when conducting the search, a berakha which we normally recite when performing an annual or otherwise infrequent mitzva. The Tur (O.C. 432) debates the issue and cites the position of the Ba'al Ha-ittur, that she-hechiyanu is indeed recited over bedikat chametz. In rejecting this view, the Tur argues that since bedika has no fixed schedule, she-hechiyanu is not recited. He notes that those who travel during Nissan are allowed to pre-schedule their bedika even as early as the beginning of the month, and the mitzva therefore has no universal, specifically designated time, a prerequisite for warranting the she-hechiyanu recitation. Interestingly enough, the Tur did not base his theory of the bedika's variable schedule on the fact that it was not fundamentally legislated for the evening of the 14th. Might he have agreed that Chazal did, in fact, assign it specifically to the evening of the 14th, and it thus would have deserved a she-hechiyanu were it not for the special dispensation for travelers? Or, did he point to this "travelers dispensation" as proof to the absence of any formal timeframe for this obligation? Conversely, the Ba'al Ha-ittur may have felt that bedika was assigned a fixed timeframe - the evening of the 14th – and therefore required reciting she-hechiyanu.

Quite possibly, then, the Tur and the Ba'al Ha-ittur disagree as to the nature of the bedikat chametz schedule. Whereas the Tur perhaps denied any formal, "ceremonial" bedika obligation on the night of the 14th, and thus denied the possibility of a she-hechiyanu requirement, the Ba'al Ha-ittur likely accepted this "ceremonial" approach to bedikat chametz, rendering it a candidate for she-hechiyanu.