Searching for Chametz

Nidah (7:2) | Yisrael Bankier | 11 years ago

Cases of doubt regarding tumah appeared once again in our masechet. The Mishnah (7:2) discussed the question of how one should treat the items in a mavoi (laneway) if a dead sheretz (a source of tumah) is found there. The issue is that perhaps some items touched the sheretz and became tameh unknowingly. The question is particularly important as a mavoi has the status of a private domain making the ruling for any cases of doubt inside it tameh. Indeed the Mishnah rules that way. Nevertheless how far back in time do we rule that all the contents became tameh? The Mishnah explains that we assume the sheretz has been there since either a time when one can state that they checked the mavoi or since “sweeping time”.

The Gemara asks, what assumption is the Mishnah making stating that one can assume that the mavoi was empty of the sheretz after sweeping? Is it that we assume that the mavoi was also adequately checked at the time of sweeping? Or do we simply assume that sweeping alone would have collected the sheretz?

The Gemara (Nidah 56) provides two cases that illustrate the difference between these explanations. The first is that if the person that swept the mavoi said he swept but did not check. According to the first understanding this would not be adequate and even items that were in the mavoi prior to that sweeping would be tameh. The second case is if the sheretz was found in a crack. Since sweeping without checking would not collect the sheretz, items in the mavoi prior to then would also be tameh.

After some deliberation, the Gemara concludes that the assumption is that checking was performed at the time of sweeping. Consequently, if the sweeper did not say that he did not check, even if a sheretz is found in a crack, any items that were in the mavoi prior to sweeping are tahor.

The Mordechai in Pesachim (536) derives two important conclusions from our Mishnah that apply to searching for chametz prior to Pesach. The first is that sweeping alone is not enough as there is a concern that it will not collect the chametz in the cracks. One must also search for chametz in those swept rooms. This ruling is brought down by in the Shulchan Aruch (433:11) to which the Magen Avraham adds that if one swept every room but only inspected some, then they have not fulfilled the obligation for checking the remaining rooms (also the Bach, citing the Trumat HaDeshen).

The second conclusion drawn by the Mordechai is that one must sweep prior to checking – checking cannot be performed without it! This ruling is also brought down by the Rama (ibid).

While the first conclusion that sweeping alone is not enough appears to be explicitly stated in the Gemara, from where does the Mordechai derive that sweeping is necessary for proper checking? The Bigdei Yesha (31) explains that the answer lies in our Mishnah. Recall that the Mishnah states that there are two options: where someone stated they checked the mavoi or when it was swept. If sweeping requires checking as the Gemara concludes, why was it necessary to include both options? Just include the first: “I checked it”! The Bigdei Yesha explains that the Mordechai understood that the Mishnah included both as it was accepted that the only way of thoroughly checking was to sweep first. Consequently if they swept, it could be assumed that they were checking (second case in the Mishnah) otherwise they would be required to explicitly state that they checked extremely well (the first case).

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