Bedikat Chametz (Checking Chametz) Before the Fourteenth of Nisan
Written by Rav Shlomo Brin and Rav Yair Kahn
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 sources:
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 the Yerushalmi.]
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 developed:
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 fourteenth.
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 earlier.
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 fourteenth.
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 shiur #6)
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 early?
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)]