Bedikat Chametz - Obligation and Effect

  • Rav Reuven Taragin


Sources and questions for preparation for shiur #01 on the topic of "Bedikat Chametz - Obligation and Effect":


1) Source- See mishna 2a, Rashi "Bodkin," Ritva "Matni."  What are the two possible sources for bedika?  What motivated the Ritva to make a new suggestion?  Why did Rashi not agree?


2) Basis - Does the problem quoted by Rashi necessarily require a bedika?  See Tosafot 21a s.v. Ve-i, Rambam Hilkhot Chametz 2:2 (Mekor Chayim 431:1), and Rosh 1:9.


3) Effect - Does bedika totally solve the problems it aims to address?  See Kesef Mishneh Hilkhot Chametz 2:2, Ran 1a s.v. Ela ("Umashma...ha-kora"), Rabbeinu David 2a s.v. Ela, Tosafot 29b s.v. Rav ... "U-mikan..."


4) Mi-derabbanan - After bitul- See Tosafot 2a "Or", Ran 1a "Ela...le-altar."  What are the two ways one can use statements of the Ran to answer Tosafot's question on Rashi?  What are the different ways of understanding the nature of the takana de-rabbanan?



I)  Obligation


A)  Source


            Masekhet Pesachim appropriately opens with the obligation that inaugurates the Pesach season - bedikat chametz [checking for chametz].  Most Rishonim assume that bedika is, under certain circumstances, required by the Torah.  By stressing that "bitul" (verbal annulment of one's chametz) renders the bedika only a rabbinic obligation, the gemara (4b) implies that before bitul has been performed, bedika is mandated mi-de'oraita (by the Torah).  As additional support, the Ran (1a s.v. Shema) notes that the gemara (7b, 27b) deduces many of bedika's laws from pesukim of the Torah.


            The Rishonim quote two pesukim as sources for bedikat chametz.  Rashi (2a s.v. Bodkin) explains that bedika neutralizes the prohibitions of "bal yera'eh" and "bal yimatzeh" [i.e., the prohibition against having chametz in one's possession during Pesach] (Devarim 16:4; Shemot 12:19).  The Orchot Chayim (Hilkhot Chametz 1:2) adds that "lo yimatzeh se'or be-vateikhem" [Chametz shall not be found in your houses] actually dictates bedika.


            Tosafot (2a s.v. Or) challenge Rashi's linkage to bal yera'eh on the basis of the gemara's (6b) assertion that bitul, which is required anyway, sufficiently offsets the bal yera'eh problem.  For this reason, the Ritva (ibid. s.v. Matni) quotes the positive commandment which demands the destruction of chametz - "tashbitu se'or mi-bateikhem" [You shall destroy chametz from your houses] (Shemot 12:15) - as bedika's source.  Although by nullifying the chametz, one evades the prohibition of possessing and, thus, the need to actually destroy the chametz, one can fulfill the positive commandment of "tashbitu" only by actually searching for one's chametz and disposing of it.  (Bitul's status as a fulfillment or merely an evasion of tashbitu is beyond the scope of this shiur.  It will be dealt with in later shiurim.)


B)  Basis


            Applying the pesukim of "tashbitu" or "bal yera'eh" to bedika assumes that these commandments relate even to situations in which we are unsure of chametz's presence.  Regarding bal yimatzeh, Tosafot (21a "Ve-i") assert that it applies only to chametz whose whereabouts are known.  (The Bach (OC 431 "U-mide'oraita") limits the leniency to chametz whose actual existence is unknown.)  The Mekor Chayim (431:1) utilizes Tosafot's limitation to explain the Rambam's ruling (Hilkhot Chametz 2:2, according to our editions) that bedika is not mandated mi-de'oraita.


            (Similarly, one could claim that tashbitu pertains only to known chametz.)


            The Rishonim who do connect bal yera'eh to bedika presumably hold like the Rosh (1:9) who claims, against Tosafot, that the prohibition pertains also to chametz whose location is unknown.  (See Maharshal and Maharsha (6a) who discuss Rashi's opinion on the matter.)


II)  Effect


A)  Fulfillment of Obligation


            Assuming that the prohibitions include unknown chametz, however, raises a second problem: how do the bedika and subsequent disposal of found chametz alone suffice?  Would we not still require bitul to account for undetected chametz?  The Rambam (ibid), according to the reading of the Kesef Mishneh, indeed requires both bedika and bitul.


            The Ran (1a "Ela"), though, asserts that bedika alone suffices mi-de'oraita.  According to the Ran, then, we must explain why we seem to disregard the danger of undetected chametz.  One explanation is that although undetected chametz is a dangerous prospect, the Torah does not require one to consider such an improbability.


            This approach might be the one that the Ran himself suggests - "She-harei samkha Torah al ha-chazakot..."  Since the Torah recognizes probability, it demands only a bedika in places where chametz's presence is distinctly possible.  If a statistical aberration strangely occurs, it is considered a violation (albeit a mistaken one); the Torah, though, does not require one to account for such statistical aberrations.


B)  Evasion of Prohibitions


            A second approach could go a step further by asserting that undetected chametz does not even constitute a violation.  This assertion could be justified in two distinct ways.


1) "Ones" - Accident


            The first would be to say that one who performed the mandated bedika cannot be considered negligent in even the slightest sense - he is not even considered "shogeg" (mistakenly culpable), but rather "ones" (victim of an absolute accident). One who, justifiably, relied on probability cannot be punished if the specific situation turns out to be an exception.


            Rabbeinu David (2a "Ela"), too, applies this principle to bedika - men, unlike angels, cannot be expected to find all chametz.  Since the Torah mandates only bedika/bi'ur (Rabbeinu David, like Ritva, assumes that tashbitu mandates only bi'ur, not bitul), one who complies is not culpable for the remaining, undetected chametz.


2) Definition of Prohibitions - Purpose of Chametz's Presence


            Both the Ran and Rabbeinu David agree that chametz which remains despite the bedika is included in the prohibitions of bal yera'eh/yimatzeh.  According to the Ran, it is legitimate to assume that the chametz survived the bedika, while according to Rabbeinu David we apply the exemption of ones.  However, we can suggest a third possibility which actually limits the prohibitions bal yera'eh/yimatzeh.  Although the simple reading of the pesukim imply that the prohibitions relate to any chametz technically present in the home, irrespective of the reason it is there, Tosafot (29b "Rav") make use of the prohibitions' association with the positive commandment to limit them: one is not liable for having chametz in his possession on Pesach if he intended to destroy it.  Since tashbitu is the mandated way of dealing with chametz, chametz slated for such treatment does not fall under the rubric of the prohibitions.  (See also Rashi 6b "Ve-da'ato and 7a "Keivan" from which the same principle can be inferred.)


            The Kesef Mishneh extends Tosafot's chiddush to account for a difficult Rambam.  The gemara (6a) states that one who finds chametz during yom tov (when burning is prohibited) waits until afterwards to destroy it.  The obvious question, though, is why the prohibitions of bal yera'eh/yimatzeh do not demand immediate action?  Rashi ("Kofeh") and most other commentaries explain that the gemara refers to a case in which bitul was performed and, thus, the prohibitions do not apply.


            The Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz 3:8), though, applies the gemara's decision to a case in which bitul has not been performed.  Why, then, are we not concerned with the prohibitions?  The Kesef Mishneh explains that the prohibitions apply only to a scenario where one was negligent and therefore did not dispose of the chametz. If, however, chametz remains only because disposal is not feasible, such as the case of yom tov, then the prohibitions do not apply.


            Tosafot's principle, as applied by the Kesef Mishna, can be used to explain our leniency regarding undetected chametz.  One who performs a thorough bedika has demonstrated his aversion to the presence of chametz and his wish to destroy all that exists; whatever chametz remains is against his will until he finds it and can dispose of it.  The chametz's undetected nature functions like the issur of yom tov in preventing the disposal the owner wishes he could complete.


            The bedika, then, has two independent effects - it prepares the found chametz for disposal and it, much like bitul, expresses one's feelings toward what has remained undetected.  (In a certain sense bedika, which entails an action, is an even clearer expression of intent than is bitul.)


             The two approaches differ in their explanation of why the fulfillment of tashbitu neutralizes the prohibitions.  According to Rabbeinu David, performing bedika renders one an ones, while according to the second approach, the act of tashbitu exhibits intent which, in turn, neutralizes the prohibitions.


III)  Mi-derabbanan - After Bitul


A)  The Mishna


            Up to this point we have dealt with bedika as a mi-de'oraita mandate.  The gemara (4b) asserts that even though bitul can (also) fulfill the de'oraita mandate, bedika is still required mi-derabbanan (according to rabbinic and not biblical law).  Tosafot (2a "Or") explain that even though bitul neutralizes the prohibitions, the rabbis required bedika  in order to avoid the danger of one finding and, perhaps, eating the chametz which is still in his possession.   Tosafot wonder why Rashi ignores this facet of bedika and mentions only the prohibitions against possessing chametz.


            The Ran (ibid.) explains that, according to Rashi, the law regarding treatment of chametz developed in two stages.  The mishna, which mentions only bedika, reflects a first stage when bedika alone was required.  Only later did Rav demand bitul as well (6b).  Thus, Rashi, commenting on the mishna which reflects only the earlier stage, mentions bedika's role only in nullifying the prohibitions.


            Thus, it is possible that Rashi agrees with Tosafot's explanation of the motivation for the takana (rabbinic enactment) to require bedika even after bitul.  He does not mention the "akhila" (consumption) problem only because he feels that the mishna expresses the law as it was before this problem's consideration.


B)  The Takana's Motive


            The Ran, though, explains the takana's impetus differently - we are concerned that some individuals may not genuinely nullify their chametz. According to the Ran, the takana addressed not a new obstacle, but rather concern that bitul would not effectively deal with the old one.  Bedika de-rabbanan addresses the same problem as bedika de'oraita - the prohibitions of bal yera'eh and bal yimatzeh.  (See also Rabbeinu Peretz [2a "Ve-rabbeinu"] who explains the takana in a similar fashion.)


            According to the Ran, Rashi's commentary on the mishna comprehensively encompasses bedika - both mi-de'oraita and mi-derabbanan.  (See Penei Yehoshua [2a "Be-tosafot" s.v. Or] who explains Rashi this way.)  For Rashi, the danger of akhila played no role in motivating the takana.  (Tosafot (10b "Ve-im) seem to have a similar understanding of Rashi.)


            The problem with this approach comes from the gemara (10b) which considers the possibility of requiring one to remove chametz from the rafters only out of fear that it might fall and be eaten on Pesach.  Similarly, we can imply that one is obligated to check for chametz to avoid the possibility of eating it on Pesach, and not to avoid possessing it.


C)  The Takana's Formulation


            The Maharshal (10b "Ve-im"), attempting to balance Rashi's reference to bal yera'eh with the gemara's focus on the danger of akhila, suggests that one is obligated to perform bedika only when the danger of akhila exists. However, this danger is not the primary reason for bedika.  Although he mentions both concerns, the Maharshal does not explain the relative roles each played in the takana's formation.


            Various Acharonim (eg. Chidushei R. Shmuel Roszofsky, ch. 1) associate the two concerns with the motivation and formulation aspects of the takana.  They explain that although the takana's motivation was the hazard of akhila, the takana took the form of a higher standard of the prohibitions.  Mi-de'oraita, the mere performance of bitul neutralizes the prohibitions; the rabbis, though, required a more comprehensive treatment.  They decided to view the prohibitions as still in force until after the performance of a proper bedika.  Thus, the prohibitions of bal yera'eh/yimatzeh, which apply mi-de'oraita only before bitul, apply mi-derabbanan afterwards as well.


            Based on this distinction, we can explain that the gemara, which focuses on the akhila hazard, relates to the takana's motivation, while Rashi, who refers to the prohibitions, relates to the takana's formulation.  (Rashi may have decided to relate to this aspect of the takana so that he could quote one issue that would accurately depict both levels of bedika.)


            The approaches of the Ran (taken simply) and that of these Acharonim differ as to which aspect of the takana Rashi and Tosafot argue about.  According to the Ran, the two differed regarding the takana's basic motivation, while according to these Acharonim the disagreement is only about the formulation.




Sources for next week's shiur:


Topic: Prohibition of melakha on Erev Pesach


1. Pesachim 2b "Meitivei ... le-de'oraita," Rashi s.v. Assur, Tosafot s.v. Me-ematai, R. David s.v. Me-ematai, Tosefta 3:12-13.

2. Mishna 50a, Rashi s.v. Shelo, Tosafot s.v. Makom, Ba'al Ha-ma'or until "...lefi ha-minhag," Ra'avad until "...ta'am ha-issur," Ramban Milchamot until "...Rashi z"l," Sefer Ha-mikhtam s.v. Makom.

3. 55a "Va-chakhamim ... ka-amar," Tosafot s.v. Amar, Yerushalmi 4:6.




1. What is the basis for the argument between R. Eliezer ben Yaakov and R. Yehuda?

2. What three questions do Tosafot (2b) ask on Rashi?

3. Does the issur melakha on Erev Pesach apply today?  Why should or shouldn't it?



Note: The level of work prohibited on Erev Pesach is similar to that of chol ha-mo'ed.  For details see OC 468.