Bedikat Chametz

On the night of the 14th of Nissan, one is obligated to perform "bedikat chametz". [1]Bedikat chametz is the requirement to search one's home and other property for any chametz which one may not be aware of.[2] Chametz which is found during the search is put aside and burned the next morning. The search should be commenced immediately at nightfall.[3] Once nightfall arrives, one is not permitted to engage in any other activities prior to performing the bedikat chametz.[4] Bedikat chametz was instituted by the rabbis in order to prevent the possibility of finding chametz on Pesach and being tempted to eat it.[5] As such, one is only required to search places which one may have entered with chametz during the course of the year.[6] There is some dispute whether or not one is required to do bedikat chametz in the bathroom. As such, some authorities recommend doing so as the last component of the search.[7]

The search is traditionally conducted by the light of a candle. Some families have the custom to shut off the lights when searching for chametz in order to allow for the light of the candle to dominate, though this is not required. In fact, some authorities counsel against turning off the electric lighting as the extra lighting will better assist one in finding chametz.[8] One who does not have a candle may perform the bedikat chametz with a flashlight.[9]

Although the "shehecheyanu" blessing is often recited when performing an infrequent mitzva, it is not recited as part of the bedikat chametz. Some authorities explain that this is because the shehecheyanu recited at the start of the Pesach seder serves to "cover" the bedikat chametz, as well.[10] This is somewhat similar to Purim when we recite the shehecheyanu blessing only when reading of the megilla although it actually serves to "cover" all the other mitzvot of the holiday, as well. It is also explained that the shehecheyanu blessing is not recited on any mitzva which leads to a financial loss. The requirement to destroy perfectly usable chametz which is found during the search is certainly an example of this.

There are, however, a number of authorities who permit one to the recite the shehecheyanu blessing before performing the bedikat chametz should one choose to do so. Nevertheless, those who follow this opinion should also prepare a new fruit or item of clothing in honor of the occasion in order to better justify its recitation. One would then have both the bedikat chametz and the new fruit (or garment) in mind when reciting the blessing.[11]

There is a widespread practice to "hide" ten pieces of chametz throughout the home before one begins the bedikat chametz in order to ensure that at least some chametz is found during the search.[12] Nevertheless, even if no chametz was found, the search and its accompanying blessing were not in vain.[13] The mitzva is not to find chametz, but rather to search for it. In fact, there are many communities in which chametz is not hidden before beginning the bedikat chametz.[14]

Those who hide ten pieces of bread (or other chametz) should ensure that the pieces are small, preferable less than an ounce. This is because in the event that any of the hidden pieces of chametz are lost one will not be in violation of the prohibition to own or harbor chametz during Pesach with such a small amount.[15] The pieces may be hidden by the searcher himself or by another member of the household.[16] It is taught that the ten pieces of chametz symbolize the ten sons of Haman.[17] It is also fitting to recall that it was on the thirteenth of Nisan that the scribes of King Achashverosh were summoned to inscribe the decree to annihilate the Jews.[18]

In many families, the bedikat chametz is not as extensive and thorough a search as perhaps it was intended to be. This is because it is noted that the lady of the house makes heroic efforts to meticulously clean the home before Pesach. Such heavy-duty scrub downs essentially ensure in advance that no previously unknown chametz will be found. As such, there are grounds to justify a somewhat relaxed bedikat chametz.[19]  It goes without saying, however, that areas which were not meticulously cleaned require a thorough bedikat chametz.

[1] Pesachim 2a

[2] O.C. 431:1

[3] Mishna Berura 431:1

[4] O.C. 431:2

[5] Mishna Berura 431:2

[6] O.C. 431:1

[7] Rivevot Ephraim 2:13:2, 4:107

[8] Piskei Teshuvot 431:2

[9] Yabia Omer 4:40

[10] Be'er Heitev 431:1

[11] Piskei Teshuvot 432:2

[12] Rema O.C. 432:2, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 111:8, Pri Etz Chaim 21:5

[13] Rema O.C. 432:2

[14] Shaar Hatziun 432:11, Shu"t Haraavad 84

[15] Shaarei Teshuva 432:3

[16] Piskei Teshuvot 432:4

[17] Cited in "Rite and Reason"

[18] Esther 3:13

[19] Shaarei Teshuva O.C. 433:2