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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Laws of Pesach

B'dikat Chametz

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What happens when one is so over - zealous that he "snatches" a Mitzvah, for example B'dikat Chametz, from his friend?
The Hid"a (Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azulai), in the book Birkei Yosef, relates to an interesting question. One person "snatched" a Mitzvah from another. He checked for Chametz in place of someone else, and that person is suing him because of that.
And this is the story: two people lived in the same courtyard. One had a big house with several halls and many rooms. The other had a small house with one room. On the night of the 14th of Nisan, at the time of B'dikat Chametz, both men, each in his own house, said the blessing on B'dikat Chametz and began to check. The poor man finished checking in a short time. He saw that the rich man finished checking only one hall and still had many rooms left. The poor man went and checked for Chametz in some of the rooms of the rich man.
When the rich man got to those rooms, the poor man said to him, "I already checked these rooms and you don't have to check. I did this in order to ease your burden because I saw that you had a lot of work ahead of you." The rich man answered angrily, "Why did you do this? Why did you snatch a Mitzvah from me? I wanted to perform the Mitzvah by myself."
The Hid"a was asked what would be the ruling in this case. The Hid"a related that his Rav deliberated on a similar case: One man rented a house from another on the 13th of Nisan, and in the evening when the tenant came to check the Chametz, the landlord informed him that he had already checked the house for Chametz and there was no more need to check. The question is raised whether this is considered a Mekach Ta'ut (a transaction performed under mistaken assumptions) since the tenant wanted to check by himself. The Halacha says that one who grabs a Mitzvah from another is obliged to pay him ten Zehuvim (gold coins). This proves that a person is Makpid (he regards it severely) if he loses a Mitzvah. And in this case, if this is considered to be a MekachTa'ut, then the tenant is entitled to withdraw from the rental agreement, because he rented a house under the assumption that it was not checked, in order to check by himself.
And he answered, that the law that one who snatches a Mitzvah from another is obliged to pay him ten Zehuvim, is true only regarding Mitzvot D'Oraita (commandments from the Torah), but one who snatches a Mitzvah D'Rabbanan (a Rabbinical enactment) doesn't have to pay. And since the Mitzvah of B'dikat Chametz is D'Rabbanan (Mi D'Oraita, Bitul Chametz - the nullification of the Chametz - is sufficient, and there is no need for B'dikat Chametz), therefore he who snatches this Mitzvah is exempt from payment.
However, the Hid"a himself mentions that there are authorities who rule that even one who snatches a Mitzvah D'Rabbanan is obliged to pay ten Zehuvim and there is no difference between a Mitzvah D'Oraita and a Mitzvah D'Rabbanan.
How much are ten Zehuvim worth, in today's money? What price did the Sages put on Mitzvah - snatching? According to the current price of gold, the payment is over 2000 Israeli Shequels (over $500) if one person snatches a Mitzvah from another. An example is, if one man slaughtered a chicken (and he who does that is commanded to cover the blood with ashes) and someone else came along and snatched the Mitzvah of covering the blood. This is a case which actually happened, and Rabban Gamliel was ordered to pay ten Zehuvim which is more than 2000 Shequels. From this, it was learned that one who snatches from his friend the Mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon, which is comprised of four blessings, must pay 40 Zehuvim, over 8000 Shequels.
From this we see how much the Jews value the Mitzvot. Our Rabbis dealt with interesting questions, but the questions asked were not how one can avoid B'dikat Chametz, perhaps by selling the house to a non - Jew on the 13th of Nisan and then not being obliged to do B'dikat Chametz. The Hid"a and the Rabbis before him were asked the opposite kind of question. Because a healthy person loves and cherishes the Mitzvot and doesn't want them to be snatched from him. To him, the Mitzvot are worth far more than ten Zehuvim, and Mitzvot D'Rabbanan as well.
Regarding the question of the poor man who checked for the rich one, the Hid"a did not require the poor man to pay, since the rich man after all said the blessing over the Mitzvah of checking and checked some of the rooms, and the neighbor snatched from him only the remainder of the Mitzvah, and this is a "partial" Mitzvah and therefore he is exempt from payment.
Happy and Kosher Passover.
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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