In loving memory of Fred Stone, Yaakov Ben Yitzchak A”H
beloved father and grandfather,
Ellen & Stanley, Jacob, Zack, Ezra, Yoni, Eliana and Gabi Stone, Teaneck NJ
Shiur #10: Bedikat Chametz (Checking Chametz)
Before the Fourteenth of Nisan
by Rav Yair Kahn and Rav Shlomo Brin
Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass and Paul Lewin.
A. Thirty Days Before the Holiday
B. Before the Fourteenth
C. The Special Nature of the Fourteenth
A. THIRTY DAYS BEFORE THE HOLIDAY
Though the first mishna in Pesachim declares: "We check for chametz on
the night of the fourteenth [of Nisan]," the obligation to check our houses
might actually take effect earlier.
Two passages in the gemara seem to present differing versions of when the
obligation to check for chametz begins.
Source #1: Pesachim 6a
"One who embarks on a sea voyage or joins a departing caravan more than thirty
days before Pesach need not
destroy the chametz [in his house], but one who leaves less than thirty
days before Pesach must remove the chametz [in his house]. Said Rava: Only one who does not
intend to return to his home [Rashi: during Pesach] need not destroy the chametz
in his house if he leaves more than thirty days before Pesach. However, one who does intend to
return must destroy the chametz in his house."
This passage in the gemara seems to maintain that the obligation to check
for chametz takes effect THIRTY DAYS BEFORE PESACH (or, according to Rabbi
Shimon ben Gamliel, two weeks; see the continuation of the gemara on 6a and 6b). One who leaves his house earlier than
that has no obligation to check.
Later on, when Pesach comes, he is absolved from checking because he is simply
too far away. He is therefore not
responsible for any chametz in his possession during Pesach. Nevertheless, one who knows he will
return to his house during Pesach must check prior to his departure and destroy
his chametz. This is not because of
any obligation to check per se, but rather in order to avoid the intolerable
position of being in a house full of chametz on Pesach.
Source #2: Pesachim 4a
The gemara asks who is obligated to check a house that is rented out on
the fourteenth of Nisan: Does the owner of the house check because the chametz
is in his possession, or does the tenant check because the chametz is in the
house he is living in? Rav Nachman
rules that the answer is dependent on when the keys were handed over to the
tenant. If the keys were transferred
before the fourteenth of Nisan the tenant is obligated to check; whereas if, at
the start of the fourteenth the keys were still in the hands of the owner, the
obligation falls upon him.
Rav Nachman's assumption is that the obligation to check takes effect on
the FOURTEENTH, in acceptance with the simple reading of the mishna mentioned
above. Therefore, we assign the
obligation to he who was in possession of the keys when the fourteenth begins.
There are two basic approaches to resolving these seemingly contradictory
1. The obligation to check for
chametz takes effect on the fourteenth (as indicated by the simple reading of
the gemara on 4a and the first mishna).
The obligation to check within thirty days of Pesach stems from another
source - "Starting thirty days before Pesach we engage in discourse ["sho'alim,"
we ask questions, "ve-dorshim," and we teach publicly] about the laws of Pesach"
(Pesachim 6a). Thirty days before
Pesach we must begin to address ourselves to the approaching holiday.
Therefore, one who plans to leave home within that time period has no
excuse for not having his house checked for chametz on the fourteenth. Although he will be far away from
home on the relevant date, the fourteenth, he is required to plan ahead to make
sure his house will have been checked when that day arrives. More than thirty days before Pesach,
one need not be concerned about the holiday; when the fourteenth comes around he
is not responsible for checking if he finds himself far away on that day. Although he is obligated to check his
house, extenuating circumstances (distance) absolve him of that responsibility. However, within the thirty day
period, since he must plan ahead for Pesach, the difficulty in checking is not
considered extenuating circumstances, and the obligation to check remains.
2. The personal obligation TO
CHECK takes effect thirty days before Pesach (6a); only WHICH HOUSE he checks is
determined on the fourteenth (4a).
This is the approach put forth by the Ra'avia (as explained by the Beit Yosef OC
436): "Avi Ha-ezri writes: A Jew who leaves the house of a Gentile within thirty
days of Pesach must destroy the chametz [he leaves there]... for the obligation
falls upon the Jew who leaves....
This is only if he embarks on a journey....
However if the Jew enters a different house... he searches for chametz
there." The Beit Yosef explains:
"For within thirty days of Pesach the rabbinically mandated mitzva of bedikat
chametz falls upon him.... However
it does not obligate him to search any particular house."
[The Yerushalmi (Pesachim 1:1) seems to have a significantly different
version regarding one who embarks on a journey before Pesach. Although the issues there affect the
questions dealt with here, it is beyond the scope of this shiur to delve into
Two basic approaches emerge with one fixing the onset of the obligation
to check for chametz at thirty days before Pesach, and the other limiting it to
the fourteenth of Nisan.
B. BEFORE THE FOURTEENTH
Until now, we have discussed the apparent tension between the sugya on 6a
and that on 4a. There is a parallel
dispute among the Rishonim concerning another passage on Pesachim 4a which also
relates to the possibility of doing bedika before the night of the fourteenth.
The gemara inquires why houses need to be checked on the night of the
fourteenth when it is only forbidden to eat chametz from the sixth hour of the
day of the fourteenth. Would it not
be sufficient to check in the morning?
The gemara seemingly rejects the possibility that zerizin makdimin
le-mitzvot (the zealous are quick in performing mitvot) is the cause and answers
instead: "Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says, '[We check at night which is] when
people are generally at home and [when] candle light is most efficient for
checking.'" The Rishonim were
puzzled by the relationship of these two seemingly unconnected reasons.
The first reason for checking on the night of the fourteenth (and not the
next morning) is that bedikat chametz is set for a time when people are usually
at home. Therefore they are unlikely
to forget or be unable to check. The
most appropriate time is at night, after the work day, when all are in their
homes. What about someone who wanted
to check EARLIER than the night of the fourteenth? R. David and the Ran understood that
according to the Ba'al Ha-ma'or one can check during the day of the thirteenth. After all the reason "People are
generally at home" is not relevant, since the danger of missing the final date
is avoided. Other Rishonim limit the
reason "People are generally at home" to working people. However, one who is unemployed can
check on the day of the fourteenth.
Both of these claims assume that the main reason for conducting the search on
the night of the fourteenth is "when people are generally at home." Consequently, if this reason doesn't
apply, one can check at other times.
The second reason "when candle light is most efficient" is accordingly an
additional nuance, not independently binding.
The Yerushalmi mentions only the second reason, "Candle light is best for
checking." It is possible that the
Bavli also agrees that this is the major reason; when people are generally at
home is a non-binding addition.
The gemara (8b) quotes Rava: "A hall is searched by its own light." Some Rishonim explain that Rava only
permits this post facto, that is that if one failed to check on at night one can
check during the day of the 14th by sunlight alone without the need to use a
candle. However Rashi (s.v. Le-ora nivdeket) explains that there is no need to
bring a candle and check at night; rather, one checks during the day. The Pnei Yehoshua understands that we
are specifically referring to the day preceding the 14th (i.e., although there
is no need to wait until the night of the 14th, one may not delay the bedika
until the day of the 14th.) However,
it is possible to claim that according to Rashi one can check the akhsadra even
on the day of the 14th. If so the
first reason of R. Nachman bar Yitzchak "the time when people are at home" is
irrelevant. We take into account
only his second reason giving preference to the light of the candle. However, in an akhsadra, where a
candle is unnecessary, one does not have to search on the night of the
fourteenth. The Pnei Yehoshua
rejects this conclusion and claims that Rava is dealing with the scenario where
the owner of the akhsadra is unemployed, thus eliminating the applicability of
Rav Nachman's first reason in this case.
R. David regards both of the reasons as complementary; only when neither
of them applies (as in a well-lit porch owned by a non-working person) can one
check at a time other than the night of the fourteenth.
The opinion of the Taz
According to the Taz (OC 431:2) both reasons of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak are
required to specify the time of bedika.
Since we need to use a candle, bedika must be done at night. However, any stage of the night is
sufficient to fulfill this requirement.
Thus, in order to prevent one from forgetting to do bedika or being
negligent, Chazal fixed a specific time to check for the chametz - when people
arrive home from work and there is a break in the daily routine. The start of the evening after dark
is the closest time to this hour.
The Ra'avad (dapei ha-Rif 2a) requires that bedika be done even earlier, at the
beginning of the night, BEFORE it is completely dark, thus enabling one to check
by both candlelight and the light of day, making the bedika more effective. It is possible that the mishna uses
the term "or" (light) to hint that bedika must be done while the light of day is
still partially present (i.e., before complete darkness sets in).
The Ran (dapei ha-Rif 2a) explains the opinion of the Ra'avad differently:
Accordingly, one must check while there is still some light so as to avoid
negligence or forgetfulness.
The Taz (mentioned above) uses the logic of the Ran but defines the beginning of
the night as the moment of complete darkness.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz u-Matza 3:3) and the Shulchan Arukh (siman 531)
state: "we check from the BEGINNING of the night of the 14th by the light of the
candle." It is unclear whether they
agree with the interpretation of the Ra'avad.
The Yerushalmi (1:1) cites an additional opinion as to why bedikat chametz is
performed on the night of the 14th.
According to R. Mana from the pasuk "you shall guard this day for all
generations at statute forever," we learn that the day and night shall be for
guarding. The entire day of the 14th
must be guarded from chametz and the
day starts from the previous night.
According to R. Mana bedika must take place at the beginning of the night so as
to render the house chametz-free for the entire duration of the 14th. In order to achieve this aim as fully
as possible, it is necessary to begin checking before it is completely dark (a
possible source for the opinion of the Ra'avad).
According to all of the opinions mentioned above, one could also check on
the night of the THIRTEENTH. The
Ba'al Ha-ma'or even allows for checking on the day of the thirteenth (since he
emphasizes the reason "people are generally at home"). Even R. David, however, who requires
that both reasons be fulfilled, would not object to one checking on the night of
the thirteenth. Candle light can be
used efficiently, and there is no danger of missing the deadline for bedika.
The Ra'avan, in contrast, takes the position that checking can only be
done on the night of the fourteenth.
He proves his case by quoting the Yerushalmi (Pesachim 1:1): "Do courtyards in
Jerusalem where 'chalot toda' (the leavened breads of a thanks offering) and
'rekikei nazir' (the thin breads of the nazirate's sacrifice) are eaten, require
checking for chametz? They are
searched for 'notar' (forbidden leftovers from sacrifices) anyway." Despite our certainty that there is
no chametz there because they were already searched on the thirteenth for
"notar," they are still to be checked on the night of the fourteenth. Apparently, says the Ra'avan, it is
essential to check on the fourteenth, even if one checked previously.
The Gra rejects the Ra'avan's proof from the Yerushalmi. The reason that those courtyards had
to be checked on the fourteenth even after having been checked for "notar" on
the thirteenth is not because the mitzva of bedikat chametz can only be done on
the fourteenth. Rather, it is
because the one who checked on the thirteenth intended only to search for
"notar," not for chametz. If,
however, one had intended to check for chametz on the thirteenth, he would have
fulfilled the mitzva of bedika.
The Mordekhai (Pesachim 535) agrees with the Ra'avan's proof from the
Yerushalmi, but claims that the Bavli argues with it. Therefore, one can, (like the Gra),
check on the night of the thirteenth.
Once again we see that there are two basic approaches regarding the
necessity of bedika on the fourteenth.
According to one, the choice of the fourteenth is due to pragmatic
considerations. Where these
considerations are inapplicable, the night of the fourteenth is not required. The second, however, limits the
mitzva of bedika to the fourteenth irrespective of practical considerations.
There are several practical differences between these two approaches:
a. The berakha: According to
the Ritva, one recites a blessing over bedikat chametz within thirty days of
Pesach. This is in line with the
Ra'avia's approach. The Sefer
Ha-mikhtam disagrees and requires a blessing only when the house is checked on
the fourteenth. The Rama rules in
accordance with this opinion.
[The Ritva quotes the Ra'a's opinion that even one checking for chametz
before thirty days, makes a blessing over his bedika. Apparently, according to the Ra'a,
the blessing is to be made any time a required bedika is performed, even before
the normal obligation to check has taken effect.]
b. Using a candle: The gemara (Pesachim 7b) says: "The
Sages taught, 'We should not check [for chametz] by the light of the sun or the
light of the moon or the light of a torch, but [rather] by the light of a
candle, for a candle light is efficient for checking.'"
The gemara derives this rule of checking with candle light from passages
in Tanakh. R. David, in his
commentary on Pesachim, believes that this is an "asmakhta" (a verse which the
Sages connected to a particular halakha but which is not an actual source), and
what the Sages really require is to check in the most efficient way. In the times of the Talmud there was
nothing more effective than a candle.
Tosafot R. Peretz, though, sees this as an actual "gezeirat ha-katuv"
(prooftext); one must check by the light of a candle. (R. David and R. Peretz might then
differ regarding the use of some other type of illumination that is as efficient
as a candle.)
According to R. Peretz, whether or not a candle is required when
searching for chametz before the fourteenth, depends upon the chakira we
If the mitzva of checking for chametz takes effect thirty days before
Pesach, one who checks during those thirty days but before the fourteenth must
do it with a candle. If, however,
checking before the fourteenth is not part of the mitzva of bedikat chametz, but
simply a pragmatic way of preventing oneself from having chametz in his
possession when Pesach comes, it might not require a candle. The use of a candle, if it is part of
the mitzva of bedika (as R. Peretz claims), might only be required on the
In practice, then, one who leaves his dwelling place within thirty days
of Pesach but before the fourteenth of Nisan should preferably check at night
using the light of a candle (to take into account those whose opinion is that
the mitzva to check has already taken effect) but should not say a berakha over
the bedika (in accordance with the ruling of the Rama based on the opinion of
the Sefer Ha-mikhtam).
In summary, three major approaches emerge:
1. According to the Ba'al Ha-ma'or,
bedikat chametz can be done on the day or the night of the thirteenth.
2. According to R. David and most of the
other Rishonim, one can check on the night of the thirteenth but not on the day.
3. According to the Ra'avan and the
Terumat Ha-deshen, one can only check on the night of the fourteenth, not
C. THE SPECIAL NATURE OF THE FOURTEENTH
Until now, we have assumed that bedikat chametz is limited to the night
of the fourteenth (Ra'avan and Terumat Ha-deshen) due to practical
considerations (that people are in their homes, and that candle light works
well) apply. There might be another
reason, on a de-oraita (biblical) level, to limit checking to the night of the
The gemara (Pesachim 4b-5a) brings a number of derivations from the Torah
to show that the biblical prohibition of chametz begins at chatzot (noon) on the
day of the fourteenth. Some show
that the mitzva of "tashbitu" (destroying chametz, Shemot 12:15) starts on the
fourteenth. If we make the following
three assumptions there might be a biblical reason to limit checking to the
night of the fourteenth:
1. "Tashbitu" is a mitzva to actively
destroy chametz (see Gra, Minchat Chinukh mitzva 9, and Mordekhai 533); (See
2. The time for this mitzva is chatzot
on the day of the fourteenth;
3. Checking for chametz is the beginning
of this process.
It is logical to say that the time for bedika must be on the day that the
mitzva of "tashbitu" is to be kept.
Earlier than the fourteenth, the bedika would not serve to fulfill this mitzva
(see Mishna Berura 436:4). (The text
of the berakha, "al bi'ur chametz" would support this.)
Why, though, is assumption #2 correct?
Why should "tashbitu" take place on chatzot of the fourteenth? Why should the time for a mitzva not
connected to the Pesach sacrifice be on the fourteenth, Pesach eve, and not on
Pesach itself? The Torah commands,
"Do not slaughter the Pesach sacrifice [on the fourteenth] while you still own
chametz," (Shemot 23:18) but the mitzva of "tashbitu" is related not just to the
Pesach sacrifice but to the general restriction of chametz on Pesach. Why must "tashbitu" take effect so
In shiur #2, we developed the idea that erev Pesach is an independent
holiday focusing on the korban Pesach.
It may be for this reason that the prohibitions of chametz begin at the
time the korban Pesach was sacrificed (noon of the fourteenth). We further argued that this holiday
may be extended to include the entire day of the fourteenth. Accordingly, it is quite reasonable
that the proper time for the mitzva of bedika is only on the fourteenth. One who searches for chametz prior to
this date, is performing bedika on a day with no inherent halakhic significance
with regard to chametz. Therefore,
he may not be considered to have fulfilled his mitzva.
Alternately, we raised the possibility to view erev Pesach as an entire
day devoted to preparing for the seder and the holiday. Therefore, it is very appropriate
that the mitzva of "tashbitu" should take place specifically on the fourteenth.
Based on this understanding of the nature of the fourteenth of Nisan, one
can view the fourteenth as the time period when the mitzva of bedikat chametz
applies. Anyone who checks before
the fourteenth has done a mitzva before its appointed time (like eating matza
before Pesach). Only on the
fourteenth, the day the halakha designated for Pesach preparations, is there
significance to checking the house for chametz.
It is worth noting that the Yerushalmi (and the Mekhilta de-Rashbi)
derives the law of checking for chametz on the night of the fourteenth from the
passage "'Watch this day' (Shemot
12:17) - the day and the night should be watched." There is a special requirement that
on the fourteenth the house be cleared of chametz through checking and
destroying. This might very well be
based on the nature of the day in the eyes of the halakha - a day dedicated to
preparing for Pesach.
[Ponder the following question: If one searches for chametz before the
fourteenth, but keeps the chametz he found to burn at the proper time, should he
make a berakha prior to the bedika?
(See Mishna Berura 436:4)]