6.When the Prohibitions of Eating and Benefiting from Ĥametz Begin
The mitzva of getting rid of the ĥametz must be carried out by midday of the fourteenth of Nisan. Every instant that a Jew keeps his ĥametz after that time he is in violation of the positive commandment to remove the ĥametz. Beginning at midday, the Torah prohibition against eating and gaining benefit from ĥametz begins as well (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 1:8; see also section 1 of the present chapter).
As discussed above (2:2), in order to distance one further from possibly violating commandments, the Sages added to the prohibitions and forbade gaining benefit from ĥametz for an additional hour. They also forbade eating ĥametz for two extra hours, since on a cloudy day people are likely to err by as much as two hours.
These times are calculated by dividing the day into twelve equal parts, each of which is called "a seasonal hour" ("sha’ah zmanit"). It is forbidden to eat ĥametz from the beginning of the fifth hour; it is forbidden to gain any benefit from the ĥametz from the beginning of the sixth hour; and the Torah prohibition against eating and benefiting from ĥametz begins from the beginning of the seventh hour.
Thus, in practice, it is permissible to eat ĥametz throughout the first four hours of the fourteenth day of Nisan. During the fifth hour, it is forbidden to eat ĥametz by rabbinic decree, but it is still permissible to benefit from the ĥametz – for example, one may feed it to an animal or sell it to a gentile. From the beginning of the sixth hour of the day, it is forbidden by rabbinic decree to gain benefit from the ĥametz. From the time that it is forbidden for a Jew to gain benefit from the ĥametz it is considered as if it does not belong to him, so that he is no longer able to sell it to a gentile or to nullify it. The only way to get rid of it then is to burn it, crumble it and throw it into the sea, or scatter it to the wind (SA 443:1).
However, the poskim disagree about when the day begins. Magen Avraham maintains that it begins at dawn, that is, from when the first light becomes visible in the east. The Vilna Gaon (Gra) maintains that it begins at sunrise, that is, from the time when the sun itself becomes visible in the east. The difference between dawn and sunrise is more than an hour; thus, for every halakha contingent on the hours of the day, calendars list two times. The earlier one in the morning is based on the approach of Magen Avraham, and the later one accords with the approach of Gra. This is true concerning the recitation of the morning Shema, which must be done by the end of the first three hours of the day, and it is also true of the Shaĥarit prayer, whose set time is until the end of the fourth hour (for more detail, see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 11:10 n. 14).
In practice, since the final times for eating and benefiting from ĥametz are of rabbinic origin, as are the sale and bitul of ĥametz, the halakha follows the more lenient view, since in cases of doubt on matters of rabbinic origin the halakha follows the lenient view. Nevertheless, it is better to be stringent when possible (MB 443:8). 9 7.The Procedure for Getting Rid of Ĥametz
As we have learned, we clear the ĥametz out of our homes both in deed and in thought. The process of removal consists of four stages: search (bedika), nullification (bitul), elimination (bi’ur), and nullification once again. The process begins with the bedika on the evening of the fourteenth. The search is aimed at ensuring that we have no more ĥametz in our home other than the ĥametz that we are keeping to eat and to destroy. Immediately after the search, we nullify the ĥametz for the first time; this is the removal in thought. The next morning we physically destroy the remaining ĥametz in our possession in deed. It is customary to destroy it by burning it. After the burning, one again declares null any ĥametz in his possession.
There are two more possible ways of disposing of ĥametz: selling it to a gentile and declaring it ownerless. As noted, one violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei only for ĥametz in his possession, and it is only ĥametz that is in his possession that he is commanded to eliminate. Thus, if he sells the ĥametz to a gentile or declares it ownerless, he does not violate any prohibition on its account.
Thus, search, disposal, and nullification are actions directed against the ĥametz with the aim of eliminating it. In contrast, declaring the ĥametz ownerless and selling are not directed against the ĥametz to destroy it, but rather their aim is to remove the ĥametz from our possession so that we do not violate the ĥametz prohibitions. With the search, the disposal, and the nullification, we wage war against the ĥametz, whereas by selling it or declaring it ownerless, we evade the responsibility it places upon us. These are all ways to remove the ĥametz.
Now that we have learned the principles of the mitzva of removing the ĥametz, in the coming halakhot we will explain the laws of removal of ĥametz in detail. We will begin with the halakhot of the search for ĥametz, with which we begin our campaign against ĥametz. We will then continue on to the halakhot of nullifying and destroying ĥametz. Then we will address the laws of selling ĥametz to a gentile for one who wishes to preserve the value of his ĥametz and free himself from the need to destroy it.
We clear the ĥametz out of our homes in two ways: in thought and in deed, that is, spiritually and in practice. The removal in thought is done through nullification (bitul) of the ĥametz, declaring it ownerless and considered as mere dust. We do this nullification because we violate the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei only with ĥametz that belongs to us and that we consider valuable. One who nullifies his ĥametz and considers it to be as dust does not violate any prohibitions on its account. Similarly, if he declares it ownerless, he commits no violation on its account.