Passover- The Laws of Bedikat Hametz
Regarding some laws that apply to Bedikat Hametz, which is done the night before Pesach. The Mishna says in Pesachim; ‘Or L’arba Asar Bodkin Et Ha-Hametz Leor Haner’. Halacha says that one should start the Bedikah immediately when the stars come out. Since Bedikat Hametz is from Derabanan (Rabbinical) so we are able to be lenient on the early time of Tset Hakochavim, so therefore one can start his Bedikah 20 minutes after sunset, that’s already the most opportune time to do Bedikah. Its important to know the time because Halacha says from a half hour before the Bedikah, which would be about 7:30, one is forbidden to engage in different activities.
Activity #1 is eating. Eating means one should not eat more than a Kabetzah, which would be 2 ounces or 56 grams of bread, or lets say Mezonot items. For example, one should not sit down a half hour before bedikah to have dinner, which is a normal time to have dinner and wash and have a couple slices of bread- that’s a problem. Within a half hour of Bedikah, 2 ounces of Mezonot or 2 ounces of bread is forbidden. A person can have a drink if he wants, or fruit or rice- that’s OK. Specifically Mezonot, and Hamotzee items, and specifically 2 ounces or more. Less than that would be permissible.
Also, when the time of Bedikah comes, from a half hour before, one should not sit down to learn, because it’s possible that you might get caught up in learning, as the Gemarah puts a person into a different world and you get caught up, and therefore you might be lax and miss the Bedikah. Also a person should not start different Melachot (work). Its not a time when you go start; fixing your car, or doing things around the house. One should be prepared already to make the Bedikah.
Some different equipment that you need for Bedikat Hametz. According to the Halacha, of the opinion from Chacham Ovadia and based on Shulchan Aruch, you need a candle to make the Bedikah. Now, today that our homes are more flammable, and Chas Veshalom a fire develops, so there is room to be lenient to use a flashlight to make Bedikat Hametz. Some of the Rabbis advise that one should start with a candle and then after you do a couple of spot searches with a candle, you can let the candle go out, and then continue with a flashlight in order to get the best of both worlds. To follow the strict Halacha of a candle, but to benefit from the advantages of the flashlight that you would be able to go through the house more thoroughly.
The custom of closing the lights before Bedikat Hametz, is not necessary. Chacham Ovadia writes clearly that if you’re looking for something, then you don’t shut the lights. On the contrary, you open the lights. The flashlights and candle benefit is for under the tables, in the closets, in the corners, where the light does not shine brightly. So therefore, one can keep the lights open before and when he does the Bedikah, and that would be advisable.
The Ben Ish Hai (Rav Yoseif Chaim ben Eliyahu 1835-1909) writes that it’s the custom also to walk around with a bowl, and to put salt in the bowl. It seems, he says, the salt wards off Ayin Harah and the Satan and different bad spirits, and also it’s a symbol of endurity, a symbol of life as salt preserves things, and it’s a Beracha. And therefore, one should sprinkle some salt into the bowl.
The Beracha before Bedikat Hametz is, “Asher Kidishanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu Al Beur Hametz”, as the purpose is to burn the Hametz that you find. Bedikah is only an intermediary to get to the main Mitzvah of burning whatever you find. It should be pointed it’s not a Mitzvah to find anything. In most cases, Baruch Hashem, we have done the Pesach cleaning from before, and have seen to it that by Erev Pesach that there’s not going to be any Hametz in the house. So you shouldn’t be shocked if you didn’t find anything. But we always say that if you have a house with children, then anything is possible. Therefore, a house that has children, then every area of the house becomes a place that you have to check for Hametz. That includes the coat closet for sure, that includes the pockets of the coats, that includes obviously the kitchen, the basement, and includes all the low places where the kids are able to get in. One has to be very careful to check all those spots. Its clear you don’t have to check the spot where your Hametz is being stored if you’re selling it. If you designated a certain area in the house and you locked it off and you sealed it, and you put all your Hametz there, and that’s the area you’re selling, so its obvious you don’t have to check there, because you know it has Hametz there. It’s quarantined off. We’re talking about the rest of the house. This includes the porch, this includes the backyard, this includes the automobiles, and therefore Bedikat Hametz is not a 5-minute ritual in order to work up an appetite so you can go out to dinner for the last Hametz meal. Bedikat Hametz is supposed to be a rigorous event and it should take some time to check the house properly.
Now, Arizal brings down that the custom is to take 10 pieces of bread, and put them into small pieces less than a Kezayit, tiny little pieces of bread, and wrap them up in paper, tape it so there are no crumbs, and place them around the house. You then go around, and besides looking for other types of Hametz, you are also look for those 10 pieces. Again, you shouldn’t lose sight of the Minhag. The Minhag is not to put 10 pieces and then start playing Hot & Cold games with your children, and just find the 10 pieces and then go out to eat again. The 10 pieces are a separate Minhag. You are looking for the 10 plus everything else, and therefore one should keep the custom of Klal Yisrael, to put small pieces in a piece of paper so you don’t get the house dirty with crumbs, and place them where you know they are. In the even you found 9 out of 10, then Halacha says its OK, and that you don’t have to turn the house upside down, for the pieces are less than a Kezayit, and you can rely on the Bitul, the nullification which you are going to do after. Again, you start off the Bedikah with the bowl and the salt, with a light, and a candle, and you say a Beracha, and then you start to go around and find the pieces that you put and the bread that is there.
During the Bedikah, one should not become involved in talking. It would be a good idea to close cell phones, regular phones and all that, because it is a Mitzvah from the beginning to the end and one should not interrupt. If a person interrupts on something that’s related to the Bedikah, for example, ‘Bring me another battery for the flashlight, or bring me another candle,’ things like this is permissible. As it has something to do with the Bedikah. If you interrupt for things not for the purpose of the Bedikah, so long as you started the Bedikah, then your interruption will not invalidate it. However, if you spoke immediately after the Beracha before you even started the check, then already you have to make another Beracha, because you interrupted from the Beracha to the actual starting.
After you make the Bedikah, you take the bread that you found, put it in a secure place, and make the Kal Hamirah, which is written in the Machzorim. The custom is to make the Kal Hamirah 3 times following the text in the Machzorim. What you’re doing is, saying that all the Hametz that you didn’t find, let it be nullified, let it be Hefker, let it be ownerless, ‘I want to have nothing to do with it’. You’re nullifying the chametz you didn’t find. That which you did find, you are not nullifying it yet, because you want to burn it the next day. You want to burn your own Hametz, not Hametz that’s ownerless. So therefore, at night you make the Kal Hamirah on the bread that you did not see. On the following morning you make the Beur Hametz.
It should be pointed that for those who go away for Pesach, who are not going to be home the night before the holiday, which is the proper time to make the Bedikah, do not have Bedika before they leave. So long as they are selling their Hametz and are not planning on returning on the holiday, and are planning to make bedika wherever they are going to be, whether in a hotel room or an apartment. It should be pointed out, the person that’s going away still has to make Bitul Hametz wherever he is in the world to nullify the Hamertz before Pesach, so that whatever you didn’t find should be Keafra Dearrah and become ownerless.