Why do Bedikat Chametz

Pesachim (1:1) | Yoni Fisher | 16 years ago

The first perek of Pesachim deals with the prohibitions surrounding chametz. The first Mishnah specifically deals with the mitzvah to perform bedikat chametz (searching for chametz) on the evening before Pesach – “ohr la’arba asar”.

The Rishonim discuss the reason behind the obligation to perform bedika. Rashi says the purpose is to avoid transgressing the prohibition of “You shall not see…or find chametz”. The problem Tosfot and other Rishonim have with Rashi’s explanation is why there is a need for bedika if there is already a biblical obligation to perform bitul chametz – to nullify the chametz. The Gemara (Pesachim 4b) describes the process of bitul as a sincere declaration that all chametz in one’s possession is null and worthless. Bitul alone would be effective to exempt one from the biblical transgression of “you shall not see…” If so, according to Rashi what is the point of the laborious and time consuming bedika?

The Ran explains that Rashi would agree that in theory you could avoid the transgression of “you shall not see” by bitul alone, however, he was concerned that people would perform an insincere bitul. Therefore there is a mitzvah to do bedika as an extra precaution.

Several alternative reasons for the bedika are offered in Tosfot. The Ri explains that the reason is not related to seeing the chametz but to do with eating it. If you just do a mental “removal” of chametz you may come to eat it if you find a particularly enticing piece. He anticipates the question of why we are more severe with chametz than with other forbidden foods or mixtures like meat and milk and trumah. He answers that there is a greater concern because chametz is permitted all year so people are more accustomed to eating it and may do so out of habit.

This debate between Rashi and Tosfot comes up again in their explanation of the next Mishnah. The Mishnah cites the opinion of the Rabbis who require one to do bedika on the night of the fourteenth, failing that to do it on the day of the fourteenth, failing that during the “mo’ed” and if you still have not done bedika you must do so after the “mo’ed”.

Rashi explains that “during” and “after” the mo’ed refers to during the sixth hour and after the sixth hour on the fourteenth. Tosfot is bothered by the way Rashi interpreted the language of the Mishnah particularly because R’ Yehuda in the same Mishnah refers to the sixth hour as “the time of burning” not as “the mo’ed” and surely the simple reading of the Mishnah appears to be in contrast with Rashi’s explanation.

The Tosfot therefore explains according to the simple reading of the Mishnah, that the mo’ed refers to the festival of Pesach. The reason you must do the bedika even after Pesach is because you are forbidden to eat chametz which a Jew owned during Pesach. This explanation is consistent with Tosfot’s interpretation of the Mishnah that the reason for bedika is to avoid eating Chametz. Tosfot admits that Rashi was forced to interpret the Mishnah in the way he did because he holds the reason for bedika is to avoid transgressing “you shall not see”. Consequently, it would be pointless to do bedika after Pesach. Therefore “after the mo’ed” can only mean before Pesach and after the sixth hour.

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