Intro: Of the many aspects of Hilchos Pesach, perhaps the most anxiety-producing (especially for the classic ‘balabuste’ - Jewish homemaker) is the pre-Pesach-cleaning! One of the leading Torah Sages of recent times, Harav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l, was most concerned over how “the pressure of pre-Pesach cleaning has reached unnecessary and overwhelming levels. The housewife often becomes a nervous wreck, unable to enjoy the Simchas Yom Tov of Pesach and unable to perform the mitzvos and obligations of the Seder night.” For years, the Rav would speak annually about how, if halachic guidelines are followed carefully, the pre-Pesach-cleaning need not be excessive. The next sixteen simanim in Shulchan Aruch discuss the halachos of searching for and removing chametz from our homes. As you probably know by now, MBY is primarily focused on the “primary sources” of Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berura. This fundamental approach is intended to familiarize us with the halachic system from the conceptual to the practical. Hopefully this will help to make us better “educated-consumers” and prevent us from getting stuck in the Spring-cleaning mentality that often leads to excess. At the same time, it can also be helpful to refer to more contemporary guides and practical how-to instruction from one’s Rav. You may like to try http://ohr.edu/810 for a sample brief list.
The three B’s Pre-Pesach cleaning is a prelude to the obligation to perform ‘bedikas chametz’ (the search for chametz - heretofore to be abbreviated BC) in one’s home and other properties. The Sages instituted BC as a mitzvah leading up to ‘biur chametz’ (burning/destroying the chametz), which is done in tandem with ‘bitul chametz’ (nullification of chametz). When these three procedures are done properly, one is secure against violation of the Torah prohibition of ‘bal yera-eh u’bal yimatzeh’ (lit. “It should not be seen nor found” - to henceforth be abbreviated BYBY), which plainly means that a Jew must not have any chametz in his possession during the entire Pesach holiday. (See below for further explanation.)
1. The when of BC.
Question: When is BC performed in its optimal time?
Answer: At the beginning of Erev Pesach, or the nighttime of the 13th day of Nisan. For example, if Seder night is Tuesday night, BC is performed on Monday night, after it gets dark.
Question: Why is BC done at night – wouldn’t it be easier to see during the day?
Answer: Sure, if one was searching outside, in broad daylight, a flat open surface, daytime would be most suitable. However, we must do most of our checking indoors, and often in small, dark corners, where the only way to see is by candlelight (or the modern-day flashlight), and that kind of light is more visible at night when there is no other light streaming in from the sun.
2. The where of BC.
Question: Does one need to check in every corner – what about in a place that one never brings chametz, such as an attic or storage closet?
Answer: No, one need not search for chametz in places where he never brings chametz-like food. However, if he does bring chametz there – even infrequently – he is obligated to perform BC.
3. The ‘why’ of BC.
Question: It was mentioned above that there are multiple ways of dispossessing chametz: 1) searching (‘bedika’) and destroying (‘biur’), and 2) nullification (‘bitul’). Why isn’t one or the other of these procedures sufficient to protect us from ‘BYBY’?
Answer: Each method has its advantage and disadvantage, if used alone: The disadvantage of using ‘bedika’ and ‘biur’ alone is that we could miss some chametz in our search; thus chametz would remain in our possession, albeit unknowingly. The problem with ‘bitul’ alone is twofold: For one, the decision to nullify is as good as the person’s intention. Were one to find a nice-looking piece of chametz lying around on Pesach, he might think to himself, “What a nice piece of chametz – I’d love to have it!” Well, guess what – by even thinking such thoughts, he has just “nullified” his nullification! Apparently, it’s not just “dust and ashes” in his mind anymore! For another, if the chametz is still physically in his home, he might forget that it is Pesach and actually eat it, chas v’Shalom! The Sages, in their wisdom, decided that only with the two-pronged attack of B/B and B are we secure in terms of avoiding both eating and owning chametz.
One last point: The Sages instituted a prohibition against engaging in activities during the designated time of BC that might cause a person to become pre-occupied and thereby postpone or neglect his obligation. This prohibition includes: no working, eating (except for a small snack) or learning Torah beginning a half-hour before the time of the BC arrives and and ending only once the BC is completed.