The phrase ‘or la’arbah asar’ from the opening mishna of masechet pesachim is interpreted by the Gemara as referring to the night of Erev Pesach. Even though the Halacha states that one is allowed to leave the chametz over until chatzot of Erev Pesach, the Chachamim instituted that the Bedikah should take place at night. The two reasons given by the Gemara for this timing is either because in general after nightfall is a time when people are found at home and are able to do bedikah, or because the light of a candle is needed, which works most effectively after dark.
The Talmud Yerushalmi learns the appropriate timing of the Mitzvah from a pasuk. In Shemot (12:17) it states in relation to Pesach “u’shmartem et hayom hazeh l’doreteichem’ (you should guard this day for your generations”). The Yerushalmi homiletically learns that one must ensure that the day (i.e. being both night and day) of the 14^th^ is ‘guarded’ from chametz. Interestingly, this limud forms the basis for the opinion cited in the Bach and Magen Avraham that one should begin the search for chametz prior to tzeit kochavim on the 13^th^ of Nisan in order to have the full day of the 14^th^ guarded from chametz. However, the accepted Halacha is that the bedikah is done on the 14^th^ of Nissan – however it should be done at the beginning of the night, as soon as possible after tzeit kochavim. This also conforms to another dictum in mitzvah performance which is to perform a mitzvah as soon as it is possible (zerizin makdimim l’mitzvot).
The Gemara (Pesachim 4a) poses the question that if one is zealous in performing the mitzvah of bedikah, then ideally it should be done first thing in the morning on the 14^th^. This assumption is based on the example of brit millah, where the whole day is available to do the mitzvah, however one should strive to do it first thing in the morning. Another example is demonstrated by Avraham when commanded to do the akeidah -“Vayashkem Avraham Baboker”. Rashi states here that the fact that millah and the akeidah are brought as the examples demonstrating the concept of zealousness, show that when one has the whole day to perform a mitzvah the concept of zerizin is not to be done at nightfall, but rather first thing in the morning.
Rav Soleveitchik in Harerei Kedem asks why the incident of the akeidah was also brought as a proof to demonstrate bedikah should be done in the morning. After all, Yitzchak was to be offered as a korban olah, which are only permitted to be sacrificed during the day (see Megillah 20b). Likewise, the mitzvah of milah cannot be performed any earlier than the morning; unlike checking for chametz.1
Based on this difficulty, the Rav defines the concept of zerizut as a function of the mitzvah itself, as opposed to expressing a desire to fulfil mitzvoth in general. Therefore performing the mitzvah in its earliest time is part of the kiyum of the mitzvah. It is for this reason that the mitzvot of milah and the akeidah are brought to teach the concept of zerizin. For these two examples, the timing of the mitzvah is to be done during the day. Within this time, the optimum kiyum of this mitzvah is to perform it with zeal, i.e. first thing in the morning. Citing the Ramban, he explains that the ikar time of the mitzvah of tashbitu (removing chametz) is the day (like millah) of the fourteenth. The concept of zerizim is therefore in that time period, even though one could check for chametz earlier. For that reason the Gemara had to answer that it is either because in general after nightfall is a time when people are found at home and are able to do bedikah, or because the light of a candle is needed, which works most effectively after dark.
We are now at the time of year where it is imperative for us to scrutinise our actions and behaviours in preparation for the Yom haDin. Throughout the year it is difficult to keep ourselves fresh and enthusiastic about performing mitzvot. However, it is especially significant now to remember this concept of ‘zerizin’ and undertake an extra effort to fulfil any mitzvot that come our way with zeal and enthusiasm. With this we will add zechuyos to be remembered when we are judged before HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
Ketiva veChatima Tova
1 The Pnei Yehoshua states that it is difficult to learn from milah considering the mitzvah can only be performed during the day – and in fact milah that is performed at night is deemed pasul. Rather the proof is learned from the fact that one does not even have to make the preparations for the milah on the previous night (i.e. the earliest time possible).
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