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Shabbat Parashat Metzora| 5771

Ask the Rabbi: The Wisdom of Putting Out Pieces of Bread Before Bedikat Chametz

Question: Should one follow the minhag to put out ten pieces of bread before bedikat chametz? I have heard people question the minhag’s logic.   


Answer: The minhag is old, mentioned (and rejected) by the Ra’avad over 800 years ago as a safeguard that the beracha on the bedika should not turn out to be l’vatala (in vain) if nothing is found. The concern seems to assume that the beracha is for finding chametz. There are at least four explanations of this beracha, which is al bi’ur (on the destruction or the removal of) chametz, which is strange because it is made before the bedika, not the burning, which is the next day: 1) This is the beginning of the preparations for the main event, the next day’s bi’ur (Taz 432:4); 2) The beracha is primarily on the mitzva (perhaps rabbinic) to search for chametz (see Rosh, Pesachim 1:10); 3) The beracha includes the bitul (nullification) done after the bedika (see ibid.); 4) The beracha is primarily on the removal of the chametz from one’s mind, which happened before the bedika started (Rambam, Berachot 11:15). The problem of beracha l’vatala if no chametz is found (but known chametz will be disposed of tomorrow) is only according to the second approach and assuming that the search must turn up something. Yet, it is reasonable for a minhag to deal with a possible problem even if the concern is based on a minority opinion, and this is the simple reading of the Rama (Orach Chayim 432:2).

Some Acharonim reject the rationale and the practice of the minhag. The Taz (op. cit.) says that not only is it unnecessary but it is detrimental because one might not find everything that was put out. This concern is mitigated by the usual care of whoever puts them out to know the number (traditionally, ten) and location of the pieces. Irrespective of this minhag, it is always possible that chametz will be missed and after doing bedika and bitul, one is not culpable (see Living the Halachic Process, vol. I, D-16). Some suggest to make pieces of less than a k’zayit so that if he misses one, there will not be enough to violate the prohibition of possessing chametz (Zera Emet I, 48; Yechaveh Daat V, 31). An interesting practical machloket is whether people will take bedika more or less seriously due to the presence of the ten pieces, and it may depend where they are placed (see Chok Yaakov 432:14, Ish Matzliach I, OC 37).

Other reasons are given for putting out the pieces of bread. The Mahari Weil (193) cites the gemara’s concern that something prompt one to do bitul, and says that the best reminder is to finish bedika by putting everything found away for the next day’s burning and then doing bitul. Another factor makes the minhag particularly appropriate in our times. Classically, people had much smaller houses and less property, and bedika was the main Pesach cleaning. Now people spend weeks cleaning seriously in a manner that makes the bedika (almost) a formality, in which they do not look for real chametz. (See Ask the Rabbi, Vayikra 5766 for a discussion of whether this is justified.) Without the pieces of bread, then, the bedika is neither a preparation for burning nor a serious search, and the beracha is more problematic (Emek Halacha, cited by Kaf Hachayim 432:31). There are also Kabbalistic reasons, attributed to the Ari, for the minhag. (See the Tzitz Eliezer’s (IX, 17) proof that looking for something that you know is there is considered searching in our context.)

Although there have been, over the centuries, poskim who thought that this minhag is superfluous or detrimental, one should follow it unless he has specific reason not to. (Minchat Yitzhak VIII, 35 says that the minhag does not apply to one who is doing a “pre-14thbedika , as he does not make a beracha). An old minhag that is still in practice by the overwhelming majority of religious Jews deserves the phrase “the minhag of Israel is Torah”, all the more so when the logic behind it is readily understandable, even if arguable.

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