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9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Searching Within: Understanding the Mitzvah of Bedikas Chometz

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

Home Repair

"The neshomoh of a person is the candle of Hashem; it [the neshomoh] searches all of the inner chambers of a man's heart (Mishlei 20:27). From this verse the gemora learns that on the night of erev Pesach, every Jew is required to search the rooms of his home for chometz (Pesochim 7b).

On a simple level, we do so in order to make sure that we will not violate the prohibition of owning or eating chometz during Pesach.

The Ibn Ezra adds an extra dimension to the understanding of this mitzvah. He explain the above verse allegorically. The neshomoh of a person lights up his entire physical being, enabling it to do mitzvos and to live a spiritual life. This synthesis of body and soul lifts every Jew to incredible heights.

One potential stumbling block to this process is eating, for food can cause us to be drawn after the physical. The repercussions of this can influence the environment around us as well. Before Pesach, we try to repair any harm that our eating may have caused.

Based on this, we can understand an added dimension to why we should check our homes erev Pesach in any place where we might have eaten during the year. Just as the neshomoh lights up the physical body, checking our homes for chometz in the places where we ate sanctifies our homes, illuminating them with the radiance of mitzvos. Even if during the year we may have been drawn after our physical desires while we were eating, the mitzvah of bedikas chometz helps rectify this, allowing us to be completely worthy of receiving what Pesach has to offer.


In the days of Chazal, candles were the primary source of light at night. Therefore, the mitzvah of bedikas chometz was performed by candlelight (Shulchan Oruch 433:1). Today, there are so many different types of quality light on the market. Must we still use candlelight? Many poskim write that a flashlight is considered a first choice for bedikas chometz.

Walking into a room full of helium balloons, or any other flammable substance, with a candle could cause a major explosion. Similarly, checking underneath one's bed, inside a small closet full of clothes, or in one's car with a candle could easily cause a fire. In any instance where such serious consequences could be involved, a person is forbidden to use a candle for bedikas chometz (see Responsa Be'er Moshe Vol. 6, Electricity 63).

Furthermore, our Sages tell us that if one is afraid that the dripping wax of a candle will damage one's property, one's bedikah is not valid. Accordingly, today in many circumstances a flashlight is preferable to a candle (Shulchan Oruch 433:2).

Reuven lives next door to Mr. Jones, a non-Jewish neighbor. Due to faulty construction, there is a hole in the wall which joins their two homes. Should Reuven check this area for chometz?

Our Sages tell us that if Mr. Jones sees Reuven looking into this hole with a candle, he might suspect his Jewish neighbor of practicing witchcraft, something that could be particularly harmful to their relationship. Under these circumstances, Reuven should not check this hole at night but should wait until morning to check it by daylight (Mishnah Berurah 433:31 ).

Where to Check

In the times of the gemora, most people lived in very simple houses and checking for chometz could be accomplished in a single night. These days our homes have become much larger and more complex, necessitating much more involved preparations. After turning one's residence upside-down to find every last morsel of bread, where is there left to search on the night of bedikas chometz?

Our Sages tell us that any place where chometz could potentially end up during the course of a meal during the year must be checked. For example, there is a reasonable possibility that while a person was dining he entered a storage room where items are kept that might be needed for the meal. Therefore, it must be checked (Shulchan Oruch 433:3).

In order to identify the less obvious areas, we must exercise the imagination. A sandwich may have been hidden away in the glove compartment of one's car during a family outing. The trunk of a toy fire engine could have been chosen as a stash area for a piece of cake.

One is only obligated to check areas where there is at least a possibility that there is chometz. It is unlikely that chometz would have found its way into the top cabinets of the parents' bedroom. On the other hand, someone with young children should suspect that chometz might be found in other unexpected places that are accessible to children (see Mishnah Berurah 433:19).

In the days of Chazal, kitchen cabinets where not prevalent, and it was common to use holes in the wall as storage areas. Therefore, the mishnah (Pesochim 2a) writes, one must search for chometz in chorin and sedokim (holes and cracks). These days no one uses these areas, so they do not require bedikah. Even cracks where chometz might be found -- one is not required to check, if they are accessible only with tremendous difficulty (Graz 433:19).

After all the Pesach cleaning has been completed, most parts of the home are cleaner than they ever were at any time of the year. How carefully does one now need to check these places for chometz? As long as one is sure that an area has been thoroughly cleaned, one can rely on a more superficial checking for bedikas chometz (Shaarei Teshuvoh and Da'as Torah 433:2).

. . .Al Biur Chometz

The brochoh recited on bedikas chometz is multi- faceted and is one of the most fascinating topics in halachic literature. We are busy doing bedikah, searching for chometz, and we recite a brochoh of biur -- destroying chometz. Why don't we mention the bedikah in the brochoh?

Checking our homes for chometz is not an end in itself. Even if we discover hidden pieces of bread, they must still be destroyed. Since this is the main goal of our search, the brochoh was established accordingly, even though we only burn the chometz the next day.

What happens if we forget to recite the brochoh? As long as we are still busy looking for chometz the mitzvah is not complete, and the brochoh can still be recited. According to some opinions, even after we have finished checking our homes, we may recite the brochoh, at the time of burning the chometz.

The rule regarding speaking during bedikas chometz [and other mitzvos] is that if one spoke about unrelated matters after saying the brochoh and before beginning the mitzvah, he must recite another brochoh. Notwithstanding this, once the bedikah has started a person should still focus completely on the search and not speak about unrelated topics. (Saying asher yotzar is permitted.) If one accidentally spoke about other matters, he does not recite another brochoh. (Mishnah Berurah 433:3-6).

Searching one's home at night with a candle is one of the most exciting moments of the entire year. Why don't we precede it with a Shehechiyonu as with other uncommon mitzvos?

Some say that the joy of this mitzvah is slightly diminished by the thought that we are busy destroying our property, and it is thus improper to recite this brochoh (Rashbo). Others say that this mitzvah is included in the Shehechiyonu that we make on Seder night (Rosh). Some are stringent and acquire a new fruit over which to recite Shehechiyonu over prior to searching for chometz (Kaf HaChaim 433:9), but the general custom is not to do so.

Bedikah or Bittul?

As Pesach draws closer, the thought of chometz becomes more and more unsettling. We count the minutes until Pesach will be here and we can free ourselves of this bondage to bread. Finally, the night of bedikas chometz arrives, and we all breathe a sigh of relief that we finally made it to this long-awaited moment.

In the midst of this anti-chometz campaign, we might take a moment to reflect on the following thought: Our Sages tell us that if we make a heartfelt declaration that our chometz is completely removed from our ownership (bittul), the Torah permits us to leave it in our homes. If so, why do we go to such incredible lengths to find and destroy all chometz, when it would seem that we could simply rely on the above declaration?

"On the first day of Pesach, tashbisu (remove) sourdough (and other leavened products) from your homes" (Shemos 12). Our Sages realized that parting from one's possessions is very difficult. For someone who owns a considerable amount of chometz, declaring all of it to be ownerless, with conviction, is even more difficult. However unless a person means it with all his heart, he may be transgressing the Torah prohibitions of bal yeiro'eh (not to see) and bal yimotzei (not to find) any chometz on Pesach in his possession.

Furthermore, even if one fully intends to annul the chometz, there is another problem with keeping it in one's home. Since we are accustomed to eat bread all year round, if there is chometz in our house on Pesach we could momentarily forget about the prohibition and accidentally eat it. For this reason, our Sages ruled that we must perform a bedikah to search out and destroy all of the chometz. Lest we not find every last crumb, they instructed us to take a further precaution and to declare it completely removed from our possession (Ran Pesochim 2a).

Searching Within

Since our Sages have compared chometz to the yetzer hora, searching for bread on the night before Pesach has meaning beyond the simple act of freeing our houses of chometz. The mitzvah of bedikas chometz speaks to every Jew, telling him to search within and to seek out any negative character traits that should not be there and destroy them.

In this vein, HaRav Yaakov Emden suggests that one recite the following tefilloh after bedikas chometz:

"May it be Your will Hashem, that I merit to search and find all of the illnesses of my soul that I acquired by listening to my evil inclination. May You aid me in complete repentance before You and, in Your tremendous goodness, have mercy on us and help us to sanctify Your honored Name, and save us from the prohibition of chometz, even the smallest amount, this year and every year, and all the days of our lives. Omein, may this be Your will."

Through the mitzvah of bedikas chometz, may we merit to remove all chometz from within and without, so that we can enter Pesach truly "chometz free" and reach the tremendous heights that Seder night has to offer.

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