Shabbat Parashat Vayikra| 5767
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Question: I grew up in a standard Orthodox house in which we scrubbed and cleaned for a month before Pesach, but, on the night of bedikat chametz, we did a ceremonious bedika,which was unlikely to uncover chametz. After learning the relevant gemarot, I understand that the bedika on the night of the 14th of Nisan should be a serious search for chametz. What should we really be doing?
Answer: In terms of classical sources, your observation is correct. The gemara does not discuss the cleaning we do; it does spell out the serious job one should do on the night of the 14th.
However, already in the Rishonim’s time, the phenomenon you discuss existed. The Terumat Hadeshen (15th century, Ashkenaz- I, 13) reports that many people would sweep (clean?) the house a few days before Pesach, put a few pieces of bread in a few rooms, and stop the bedika when they found them. He rejected the practice based on the Mordechai (Pesachim 535) who said that sweeping the house beforehand is not sufficient. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 433:11) concurred. A few centuries later, the Sha’arei Teshuva (ad loc.) cited and justified the practice you refer to. Does the practice conflict with the Terumat Hadeshen’s ruling or has the situation changed so that the Terumat Hadeshen would agree?
The main reason the Mordechai mentions for requiring bedika even on a cleaned house is to avoid distinguishing between one bedika and another. In other words, Chazal instituted a time for doing bedika, on the eve of the 14th, and one should not say that he previously obviated the need. The Terumat Hadeshen already points out that if this were the only issue, it would have been sufficient to fulfill the mitzva of bedika on a single room. However, he continues, sweeping the house does not do a complete job, as it does not get into the holes and cracks, and it is, therefore, not a valid replacement for bedika. The Sha’arei Teshuva addresses this, saying that since those who do a cursory job on the 14th clean very carefully beforehand, this is sufficient.
The Magen Avraham (433:20) raises another issue. Chazal required that the bedika be done by candlelight at night or in an area with direct sunlight during the day. Few are careful to check all areas they clean in this manner. Furthermore, the Taz (433:1), Bach (433) and others say that even if one did a halachic bedika on the 13th at night, he must repeat it on the 14th, the time Chazal instituted. The Chok Ya’akov (ad loc.: 23) and Pri Chadash (ad loc.: 11) say that one can fulfill the obligation of bedika on a night prior to the 14th. The Ba’er Heitiv (ad loc.: 1) premises this opinion on the condition that he is careful that chametz be kept away from the checked areas.
However, we can still justify the prevalent practice even according to those who say that the bedika can be done only on the 14th, as follows. Only those areas into which chametz is sometimes brought need to be searched (Pesachim 2a). One can then claim that areas which were cleaned and into which people were subsequently careful not to bring chametz become places that do not have chametz. Thus, a superficial perusal of the house to make sure that indeed no chametz got into this room or that may be considered checking the relevant parts of the entire house. (This is apparently the Aruch Hashulchan’s (433:13) understanding; see also Piskei Teshuvot 433:8). According to some, this logic makes the minhag to put out pieces of bread to find necessary because otherwise there is nothing to check (see Sha’arei Teshuva 432:12).
It would be wrong to imply that all poskim fully accept the practice you mention. The Mishna Berura seems to neither embrace it nor reject it. Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechave Da’at I, 5) says that it is proper to do a serious bedika on the 14th. However, our orientation is to instruct people to follow a prevalent minhag when it is justifiable, as this one is. If one wants to be more stringent, that is his business.
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