Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Four-Part One

Bedikat Chametz – the Search for Chametz


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

1.The Time for Bedikat Ĥametz
As we learned in the previous chapter, one who possesses ĥametz on Pesaĥ transgresses two prohibitions: "no ĥametz of yours shall be seen" (Shemot 13:7), and "there shall be no se’or found in your homes" (ibid. 12:19). In order not to violate these Torah prohibitions, one must eliminate all ĥametz from his possession. According to the Torah, it is possible to dispose of the ĥametz by nullifying it verbally, because when one nullifies the ĥametz in his possession, it becomes like dust, no longer belonging to him, and consequently, it does not cause him to transgress the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.
Nonetheless, the Sages ruled that we must not rely on this nullification (bitul) alone; rather, one must also physically remove ĥametz from his possession. There are two reasons for this: firstly, they feared that people would nullify ĥametz insincerely, intending to benefit from it after Pesaĥ, and this would result in their transgressing the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Secondly, they feared that after nullifying the ĥametz, one might see an enticing piece of pastry and eat it, forgetting that it is Pesaĥ. The Sages therefore ordained that, in addition to bitul ĥametz, one must search out ĥametz in order to eliminate it from his possession.
At first glance, the appropriate time for bedikat ĥametz should be just before midday on the day of the fourteenth of Nisan, the deadline for removing ĥametz. However, the Sages ordained that we search for ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because during the day people are busy with their affairs, and if one waits until the day of the fourteenth to do bedikat ĥametz he is liable to forget it altogether. Furthermore, candlelight is especially effective for checking the cracks and crevices of the house. But during the day, candles do not illuminate well, since sunlight prevents the eye from focusing on the weaker light of the candle. Therefore, the Sages instituted bedikat ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because at night, people are usually at home and candlelight is effective at this time (SA Ha-Rav 431:5).
Since people normally pray Ma’ariv at the beginning of the night, one should do so prior to the bedika, as a more frequent mitzva takes precedence. One should then proceed quickly to bedikat ĥametz (MB 431:8). One who is accustomed to praying with a minyan later in the evening should search for ĥametz at tzeit ha-kokhavim (the appearance of three distinct stars) and then pray at his usual hour.
The obligation to search for ĥametz rests primarily upon the father. However, if he must return home late on this day, it is better that he appoint his wife or another adult family member to search in his stead at the appointed hour, when nighttime arrives. Regarding this mitzva there is no difference between men and women, and one should choose as a shali’aĥ (proxy) a person who can be trusted to carry out the search properly and responsibly (see AHS 437:7). If it is difficult to appoint a shali’aĥ, then be-di’avad one should perform the search himself later in the evening, when he gets home. 1
2.Activities Rabbinically Forbidden before Bedikat Ĥametz
The Sages prohibited starting a task or a meal during the half hour before the time of bedikat ĥametz, out of concern that one might become caught up in these activities and forget to search for ĥametz. It is permitted, however, to snack on fruit or pastry, or to perform light work that can be finished quickly.
Once the time for bedikat ĥametz arrives, it is improper to start any sort of work or eat fruit, even as a quick snack, for it might impede the fulfillment of the mitzva at its proper time (BHL §431).
One should not even begin studying Torah once the time for bedikat ĥametz has arrived. If one began studying Torah beforehand, some poskim rule that he may continue studying (Beit Yosef). Nonetheless, according to many poskim, even in this situation it is best to stop studying at tzeit ha-kokhavim, in order to fulfill the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz at its proper time (MB 431:11; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 23).
It is best not to cancel a regular, public Torah lecture at this time. Proceeding with the study will not cause participants to neglect the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz, for the search can be performed after the lesson, but canceling the lecture will result in the loss of group Torah study (SA Ha-Rav 431:9). However, the participants should remind each other after the lesson to be prompt about searching for ĥametz.
3.The Berakha
Before beginning to search for ĥametz, one recites the berakha "Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning bi’ur ĥametz" ("asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al bi’ur ĥametz"). Though the actual bi’ur ĥametz will not take place until the following morning with the burning and nullification of ĥametz, we nonetheless recite "al bi’ur ĥametz" before the search on the night of the fourteenth, because bedikat ĥametz is the first step in the process of eliminating ĥametz from the home. 2
After the berakha, it is forbidden to talk before beginning the search. If at this point one talks about matters unrelated to bedikat ĥametz, he has abandoned that berakha and must recite another. If, however, one talks about unrelated matters after beginning the search, his berakha remains valid, for it applies to the portion of the search that was already carried out. One should preferably avoid talking about unrelated matters during the search, in order not to become distracted (SA 432:1; MB ad loc. 5, 6).
One who owns several houses must search them all. He recites the berakha before searching in the first location. He recites it only once, even if the houses are located a distance from one another. 3
If one must travel, and therefore performed bedikat ĥametz before the fourteenth of Nisan, even though his search is valid, he does not recite the berakha. One only recites the berakha over a search performed from the night of the fourteenth onward, because such a search is adjacent to bi’ur ĥametz. Any ĥametz found on the evening of the fourteenth will be destroyed the next morning. If one was unable to search on the evening of the fourteenth, and instead searched the following day, or during Pesaĥ, he recites the berakha, because he will immediately destroy any ĥametz he finds, and it is appropriate to recite "al bi’ur ĥametz" over such a search. But if one searches before the fourteenth, he does not recite the berakha (Rema 436:1 and BHL ad loc.; MB 435:5). 4
^ 1.. Some have suggested one who wishes to engage in the search himself should appoint one of his family members to search the house at the proper time and leave one room unchecked; when he returns later that night he can search the unchecked room. He should be sure to ask them to remind him to check the room when he returns, or if he does not return, to check the room themselves (Teshuvot Ve-hanhagot 2:214). However, it seems to me that if there is someone in the house who can perform the search instead, it is better to appoint this person as a shali’aĥ to conduct the search of the entire house at the appropriate time. This issue is dependent upon a fundamental question: did the Sages decree that the bedika should be conducted specifically at the beginning of the night, or is the entire night acceptable for bedika since the candlelight is more visible at night, but in order to prevent a person from forgetting to check, they forbade working and eating before the bedika? According to most poskim, the primary time for the bedika is at the beginning of the night. This is the opinion of Taz, Pri Ĥadash, Gra, and SAH in 431:5. Conversely, Rema and Mekor Ĥayim maintain that the bedika can be done throughout the entire night. Thus according to them, one may be more lenient about postponing the bedika as long as there is someone who will remind him to check later on. I have written in accordance with the view of most poskim, and in the next section, I have written that it is proper to refrain from eating even casually once the time for bedikat ĥametz has arrived, so as not to delay the bedika.
^ 2.. If one forgot to make the berakha before the bedika and remembered while in the middle, as long as he has other areas to check, he may still make the berakha. However, if he remembered after the completion of the bedika, the poskim disagree about whether he can make the berakha before burning the ĥametz the following day. According to MB 432:4, we do not prevent someone from making the berakha in this situation, since the berakha is on the burning of the ĥametz; thus, as long as he has not yet burned the ĥametz, he can make the berakha. On the other hand, there are those who hold that the Sages enacted the berakha on the bedika and not on the burning, and therefore if one forgot to make the berakha by the end of the bedika, he has lost his opportunity to do so. This is the opinion of Baĥ, SAH, and others. When in doubt about whether or not to make a berakha, we are lenient, and so one should not make the berakha. One should not make a berakha on bitul ĥametz alone, since we do not make berakhot on mere words or thoughts.
^ 3.. The authorities disagree about this, as noted in MB 432:7. According to Pri Ĥadash and Ĥayei Adam, walking a far distance is considered a significant interruption, and he would have to make a new berakha. Conversely, according to Ĥok Yaakov and Ma’amar Mordechai, walking is not considered a significant interruption. This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ĥayim 432:22. When in doubt about whether or not to make a berakha, we are lenient. The Aĥaronim also disagree about whether a shali’aĥ appointed to search part of a house who did not hear the owner’s berakha must make his own berakha; see SHT 432:9.
^ 4.. Indeed according to Ra’ah and Pri Ĥadash, one who is halakhically required to check should make a berakha, since the purpose of the bedika is to ensure that he does not violate bal yeira’eh/bal yimatzei afterward; since the Sages decreed that one who leaves his house before the night of the fourteenth should check before he leaves, he should also make a berakha. According to Ritva and Baĥ, he should make the berakha as long as he checks within the thirty days before Pesaĥ. But, as noted, Kol Bo and Rema (436:1) are of the opinion that the berakha is also on the burning that takes place the following morning. This is also the opinion of Gra, and seems to be the conclusion of MA, Taz, and others. If one is uncertain about the berakha, we are lenient, and this seems to be the opinion of BHL ad loc.
Itur states that there are those who maintain that one must also make the berakha of "she-heĥeyanu" prior to the bedika, since it is a mitzva that comes periodically, and there are those who say not to recite this berakha. Rosh rules that one should not make this berakha, since the bedika is connected to the Pesaĥ holiday, when anyway he will recite she-heĥeyanu. Shulĥan Arukh does not even mention the idea of she-heĥeyanu on the bedika. However, some Aĥaronim suggest, as a nice custom, that one take a new fruit or new garment and recite she-heĥeyanu on it before the bedika (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 432:9).

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