Talmud Tips

For the week ending 21 November 2020 / 5 Kislev 5781

Pesachim 2 - 8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
Library Library Library

Bye, Bye, Chametz

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “One who checks (for chametz), also needs to nullify (chametz).”

The “checking” that Rav Yehuda refers to in the gemara (on daf vav) is taught in connection with the first mishna of our new masechta, which teaches the mitzvah of bedikat chametz: “On the night of the 14th of Nissan, one checks for chametz by the light of a lamp.”

What is the reason for this mitzvah to check for chametz, also known as bedikat chametz? Let’s have a look at a few relevant laws of chametz and Pesach. First of all, there are prohibitions against eating or deriving benefit from chametz on Pesach. As the Rambam states, “On Pesach it is forbidden to have any benefit from chametz, as is stated in Shemot 13:3: ‘Do not eat chametz.’” (This verse not only prohibits eating chametz but also prohibits deriving benefit from it on Pesach.)

In addition, there are two prohibitions against the mere ownership of chametz on Pesach. “No chametz may be found in your homes” (Shemot 12:19). “No chametz may be seen in all your territory” (Shemot 13:7).

So, why does our mishna insist that bedikat chametz be done? Rashi explains that bedikat chametz is required in order to not transgress the Torah prohibitions against owning chametz on Pesach. By checking for chametz and destroying it before Pesach (or selling it to a non-Jew or giving it to a non-Jewish neighbor, as I recall doing as a youngster), a Jew will not possess chametz on Pesach. (Rashi)

Tosefot questions this reason based on the teaching of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav, that even if one does bedikat chametz he must still mevatel and nullify it. If the purpose of the bedika is as Rashi claims — to not transgress the prohibitions against chametz ownership on Pesach — why is bedika also needed? Once a person does bitul, nullifying his chametz, he no longer owns chametz and therefore does not transgress. The gemara clearly states that according to the Torah, even bitul b’lev — “nullifying the chametz in one’s heart” — suffices for avoiding the Torah prohibitions of not owning chametz on Pesach. Due to this question, Tosefot argues that although the required bitul is indeed enough to fulfill Torah law, the Rabbis enacted a stringency to also do bedika so that one will certainly be chametz-free and not mistakenly eat chametz on Pesach.

One defense offered for Rashi’s explanation is that he is explaining the reason for bedika at the time of the mishna and according to the basic Torah requirement. bedika would suffice. Only later was there an additional decree added, the reason for which is explained in the gemara on 6b and by Rashi there. (Rabbeinu Nissim)

There is much more discussion in the Rishonim and Achronim surrounding the mechanism of bitul chametz and the nature of the dispute between Rashi and Tosefot. Pursuit of further study of this subject makes for fascinating Torah study on a quite practical issue and is placed highly on this author’s “Recommended Reading List.”

And, in addition to the Torah’s prohibitions against owning, eating and benefiting from chametz on Pesach, there are numerous additional Torah mitzvahs related to Pesach, such as eating matzah, eating marror (bitter herbs), telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt (Hagaddah), bringing and eating a korban Pesach at the time of the Beit Hamikdash, and more. In fact, there is even a mitzvah to not break a bone of the korban Peasch while eating it. “And you will not break any of its (the korban Pesach’s) bones.” (Shemot 12:46)

This mitzvah has been explained in many rational ways, such as the notion that princes, unlike animals, eat with dignity, and that we should take special care to behave as royalty on the night of the Pesach Seder, not eating in an undignified manner and breaking bones of the food. (Sefer HaChinuch 16)

I would feel remiss in not citing an important life-lesson that the Sefer HaChinuch adds in noting the extraordinary abundance of “Pesach mitzvahs.” He explains that it is human nature that “a person is affected according to his actions.” Pesach is not just another holiday, but rather a time to reflect on our nation’s past, present and future eternal destiny. Pesach represents this all. The greater the number of mitzvahs that we do and the greater the number of prohibitions that we refrain from on Pesach serve to help shape us into the type of individuals and the nation that Hashem wants us to be.

  • Pesachim 2a

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