July 21, 2024
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Checking for Chametz

According to Torah law, we must get rid of all of our chametz, our leavened bread, before Pesach. However, this can be accomplished either by rendering it all ownerless or by disposing of it. Rabbinic law requires us to do both—bi’ur chametz, disposing of it, and bitul chametz, rendering whatever remains in our possession ownerless. Part of the process of bi’ur chametz is bedikat chametz, checking our homes for any remaining chametz on the night before Pesach. Before we begin checking our homes, we say the blessing of “al bi’ur chametz.”

Contemporary practice raises a question of whether that blessing is necessary. If it is not necessary, it is not allowed because an unnecessary blessing constitutes a beracha levatala. I would like to explore two forms of doing bedikat chametz which lead to three theories justifying the blessing, one of which only allows it in specific circumstances.

Pre-Cleaning

Most people today clean their homes thoroughly well before bedikat chametz and therefore will not find any unexpected chametz when they formally check for it. This is not a new practice. Already in the 13th century, Rav Mordechai Ben Hillel of Germany writes that we must clean our house before performing bedikat chametz (Mordechai, Pesachim, no. 536). It seems to have been a well-established practice in his day. Earlier (no. 535), he mentions that Rav Elazar Ben Nassan (Ra’avan, 12th cen., Germany) says that people who clean their homes must still do bedikat chametz at the proper time. In 15th century Austria, Rav Yisrael Isserlein likewise says that many people thoroughly clean their homes two or three days before bedikat chametz (Terumat Ha-Deshen 1:133). If so, why do they still have to do bedikat chametz?

Rav Mordechai Ben Hillel gives two answers. First, he says that we do not differentiate between bedika and bedika (ibid., no. 535). Meaning, we do not say that some homes need bedikat chametz and some do not. The rabbinic decree applies to all homes equally. Additionally, you might still find chametz in a crevice (ibid., no. 536). The practical difference between the two answers is a house that undergoes a rigorous and thorough cleaning in which you are certain that you will not find chametz in a crevice. According to the first reason, this does not matter because the obligation applies equally in all situations. According to the second answer, if there is no likelihood of finding chametz, there is no obligation of bedikat chametz in such a pre-cleaned house. Rav Yisrael Isserlein (ibid.) quotes both answers and requires a full bedikat chametz even if the house has been cleaned days in advance.

Checking After Pre-Cleaning

Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema, 16th cen., Poland) says, based on Rav Mordechai’s ruling, that we must pre-clean the house before bedikat chametz (Gloss to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 433:11). Despite that, we must also do bedikat chametz. However, later authorities note that people act very leniently about bedikat chametz. Rav Chaim Mordechai Margoliyos (19th cen., Ukraine) quotes an earlier authority who says that the thorough cleaning of houses in advance explains why so many people only do a cursory bedikat chametz (Sha’arei Teshuvah to Orach Chaim 433:1). Rav Shlomo Kluger (19th cen. Ukraine) suggests that if you clean your house more than three days before the time of bedikat chametz, you have established a presumption that your house contains no chametz and are exempt from bedikat chametz (Chochmat Shlomo, ad loc.). Somewhat similarly, Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (19th cen., Russia) says that while in prior times, their pre-cleaning may have left some chametz, in his day the cleaning was so thorough that there is no chametz to find; therefore, you only have to do a cursory bedikat chametz (Aruch Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 433:13).

However, a simple reading of the Rema indicates that even a pre-cleaned house needs to undergo bedikat chametz. As mentioned above, Rav Mordechai Ben Hillel gives two reasons to require bedikat chametz on a pre-cleaned house. Even if there is no chance of finding chametz, the rabbinic decree does not differentiate between houses. Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan (20th cen., Russia) likewise says that we do not differentiate between houses when it comes to bedikat chametz and therefore even a pre-cleaned house must be subjected to a thorough bedikat chametz (Mishnah Berurah 433:45).

We find two approaches to bedikat chametz. In an age when people generally clean their houses thoroughly a few days (sometimes weeks) before Pesach, some require a full and thorough bedikat chametz and some require a quick and cursory bedikat chametz. According to the first approach, we understand why we say a blessing on bedikat chametz. According to the second approach, how can we recite the blessing? Don’t we really know that the house has already been checked and we are just going through the motions?

A Blessing on a Quick Check

Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chida, 18th cen., Israel; Machazik Berachah, Orach Chaim 433:8) says that since there is debate whether bedikat chametz is required in a pre-cleaned house, you should not say the blessing. Rav Zev Wolf of Zitl (19th cen., Russia) says that we can only recite a blessing if we follow the custom to hide pieces of chametz for bedikat chametz (Responsa Emek Halachah, Orach Chaim, no. 128). Once those pieces are hidden, the search for chametz becomes obligatory and requires a blessing. Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (ibid., 432:5) offers a different approach to why the blessing is still necessary. We started checking for chametz when we originally cleaned the house. We will continue that process of eating and disposing of chametz through the morning before Pesach, when we burn the remaining chametz. Therefore, we are in the middle of the process of disposing of the chametz, which is a legitimate time to recite the blessing.

We have seen two approaches to bedikat chametz. According to Terumat Ha-Deshen and Mishnah Berurah, we must do a thorough bedikat chametz on the night before Pesach and therefore we recite a blessing on it. According to the others, if we clean our houses early, we do not have to do a full bedikat chametz on the night before Pesach. According to Rav Zev Wolf of Zitl, we say the blessing on the pieces of chametz we hide. According to the Aruch Ha-Shulchan, we say the blessing because we are in the middle of a long disposal of chametz.

Among more recent authorities, we find a slightly different approach to bedikat chametz and its blessing. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th cen., Israel) says that pre-cleaning a house does not exempt it completely from bedikat chametz (Halichot Shlomo, Pesach 5:1). Rather, you still have to go through the entire house and confirm with family members what was cleaned and look for areas that might not have been cleaned from chametz. This can be a relatively quick process but still constitutes bedikat chametz and requires a blessing. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky (cont., US) seems to take a similar approach (Kovetz Halachot, Pesach 6:22). While bedikat chametz might have changed somewhat from its initial enactment, we still have to check for whatever chametz might be left, even if we have to hide some ourselves.


Rabbi Gil Student is editor of www.TorahMusings.com.

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