Yesterday, we noted the question surrounding the relationship between two Mishnayot in the beginning of Masekhet Pesachim (2a, 9a) that discuss the laws of bedikat chametz. The first Mishna establishes that one is not required to search areas in the home where chametz is not brought, and the second Mishna (as understood by Rashi and Tosefot) establishes that after one searched an area in his home, it is considered chametz-free, despite the possibility that a rodent subsequently brought chametz there. Chazal do not expect a person to concern himself with this possibility, the second Mishna explains, because there would then be “no end,” as one would never be able to declare any part of his home free of chametz. Tosefot, as we saw, raised the question of why the second Mishna’s ruling needed explication, as it is seemingly implied by the first Mishna’s ruling. After all, once the first Mishna teaches that a place where one does not bring chametz does not require checking, we can logically deduce that Halakha does not require us to concern ourselves with the possibility of animals bringing chametz to different parts of the home. Why, then, does the second Mishna need to instruct that an area that had been searched is presumed chametz-free even if it is possible that an animal brought chametz there subsequently?
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Mussar Ha-mishna, answers by suggesting a distinction between an area where chametz is never brought, and searching is therefore not required in the first place, and an area where chametz is brought and that was checked for chametz. In the latter case, the bedikat chametz obligation applies, requiring one to thoroughly search to ensure the absence of chametz, whereas in the former case, no bedika obligation applies at all. One might have thought that in areas where bedika is required, a higher level of certainty in required to assure the absence of chametz. And thus even though we do not have to be concerned that an animal may have brought chametz to an area where chametz is not normally brought, one might have considered the possibility that such concern is warranted in areas that require bedika, after bedika has been performed. Since the bedika obligation had taken effect in these areas, it may have been reasonable to assume that one must be extremely thorough in his efforts to ensure the absence of chametz, to the point where he must repeat his search again later to ensure that an animal did not subsequently bring chametz there. The second Mishna therefore instructs that even though an area is subject to the bedikat chametz requirement, there is a limit to the extent of his responsibility to ensure the absence of chametz, and he does not have to concern himself with the risk of rodents bringing chametz there after the search.
Rav Ginsburg proceeds to note the broader implications of this distinction. When it comes to our efforts to rid ourselves of the “chametz” within our beings – our flaws and shortcomings – a higher standard of vigilance is required in regard to those areas “she-makhnisin bo chametz,” where we know we have a particular weakness. Once we have failed in regard to a certain matter, we must be especially careful and attentive to that area of religious life. When it comes to our areas of weakness, we require an extra level of care and concern, and must work especially hard to ensure the absence of any “chametz” – of any likelihood of repeating the mistake.
By the same token, we must also remember the Mishna’s conclusion – “im kein ein la-davar sof.” As in the case of bedikat chametz, we must acknowledge the inherent limits on our ability to guarantee the absence of “chametz.” Human beings are, by nature, imperfect, and thus no matter how vigilantly we work to rid ourselves of “chametz,” we will never reach a point where perfection is guaranteed. We must therefore follow Rabbi Tarfon’s timeless dictum in Avot (2:16), “Lo alekha ha-melakha li-gmor, ve-lo ata ben chorin le-hibatel mimena” – “You are not responsible to complete the work, but neither are you free to ignore it.” We are to work hard to eliminate the “chametz” from our beings, paying especially close attention to our areas of weakness, while acknowledging our limits and accepting the inalterable reality of human imperfection.