Pesachim 5- 7 בל יראה ובל ימצא and the command of תשביתו

We have referred various times to the debate between Rashi and Tosfos on the first daf regarding the reasons for the requirement to search for chametz the night before Pesach.

Rashi explained that it is to avoid the prohibitions of בל יראה ובל ימצא.

Tosfos, in contrast, argued based on the Gemara (Pesachim 4b and 6b) that seeing as on a biblical level, בטול חמץ  is sufficient to remove it from one’s possession, AND בטול  is compulsory rabbinically, the search is not necessary to avoid these prohibitions and is rather a rabbinic requirement to avoid coming to eat chametz that one has nullified on Pesach.

On Daf 5, the Gemara analyzes the sources and parameters of these two related prohibitions and on Daf 6, it also records a debate amongst Tannaim as to how to fulfill the positive commandment of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession.)

To make some order, let us summarize the various pessukim involved:

שמות פרק יב

(טו) שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּ֣וֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹ֖ר מִבָּתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁ֖ן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי:

“For 7 days, you shall eat matzoth, but on the first day, you shall cease to have any seor (yeast) in your houses, as anyone who eats chametz will have his soul cut off from Israel, from the first day until the seventh day”

Here, we see a positive mitzva to remove all seor/chametz from one’s possession  before Pesach (the Gemara understands the “first day” here to refer to the day before Pesach, from midday and the word “but” to divide the day into two, half permitted to own chametz and half forbidden.

“Seor” refers to chametz that is no longer fit for a dog to eat but has turned into yeast which has the capability of causing other dough to become chametz.

שמות פרק יב

(יט) שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים שְׂאֹ֕ר לֹ֥א יִמָּצֵ֖א בְּבָתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל מַחְמֶ֗צֶת וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מֵעֲדַ֣ת יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בַּגֵּ֖ר וּבְאֶזְרַ֥ח הָאָֽרֶץ:

“For seven days, seor may  not be found in your homes, for anyone who eats “that which leavens”, his soul will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, amongst the stranger and citizen of the land.”

Here, we see a prohibition to allow any seor to be found in one’s house over the Pesach period, as well as the severe punishment of כרת  for one who eats seor or chametz on Pesach.

There also seems to be a hint to the Ran’s suggestion (see earlier post on Daf 2) that the reason for this prohibition is indeed to avoid the serious penalty for eating it.

שמות פרק יג

(ז) מַצּוֹת֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל אֵ֖ת שִׁבְעַ֣ת הַיָּמִ֑ים וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֜ חָמֵ֗ץ וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ שְׂאֹ֖ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלֶֽךָ:

“Matzoth shall be eaten for these seven days, and no chametz shall be ‘seen for/to you’ and no seor shall be ‘seen for/to you’ in all your borders.”

Here, we see a prohibition against any seor or  chametz “being seen for you” in all one’s borders.

What precisely this means, requires clarification, and based on the simple reading, it could refer to

  1. A prohibition against seeing any chametz
  2. A prohibition against seeing any chametz that belongs to you
  3. A prohibition against having any chametz that is or could be seen by you
  4. A prohibition against having any chametz in one’s possession, the word “יראה”  not referring to literally being seen, but rather to “appearing before one/being present” (as in “ולא יראה פני ריקם” regarding עליה לרגל.)

דברים פרק טז

(ד) וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֥ שְׂאֹ֛ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים…..

“and there shall not be seen to you any seor in all your borders for 7 days”

This seems to be a repeat (as is common in Sefer Devarim) of the prohibition against seeing seor on Pesach.

Based on the Gemara (Beitza 7b,) most of the Rishonim seem to understand that the prohibition against seeing chametz or seor is one prohibition applicable to both chametz and seor (see for example רמבם סה”מ לאו ר   and סמ”ג עז-עח but see also סמ”ק לד-לה who counts them separately!)

Similarly, the prohibition against owning chametz or seor is also seen as one prohibition.

However, the relationship between the prohibition against seeing chametz/seor (בל יראה)  and the prohibition against owning (בל ימצא) is more subtle.

Although they are counted by the Rishonim as two separate prohibitions (see for example Sefer haMitzvos 200/201) the Gemara understands that they share parameters, and whenever the one applies, the other applies as well.

For example, even if one owns chametz that is hidden from sight, one transgresses BOTH prohibitions, even though one does not see it.

In addition to this “double prohibition,” there is also a positive command of “תשביתו”, removing chametz from one’s possession before Pesach, which one transgresses on failure to do so.

There is so much to go into regarding this “double” prohibition and its related positive commandment and we shall hopefully get a chance to get to understand them a lot more over the coming daf- in the meanwhile, I hope that this brief summary will help clarify some of the basics.

Pesachim 4 Searching for Chametz with an electric torch

The first Mishna of the masechta told us that the search for chametz needs to be done the night before Pesach by candlelight.

On our daf, Rav Nachman bar Yitchak explains that the reason the search was instituted the night before and not the day before Pesach is because

  1. People are usually at home at night
  2. The candlelight is good for searching at night.

The second reason might be required in order that we should not think that people who are at home during the day should be allowed to intentionally do their search then- even for them, the search needs to be done by candle and a candle is not that effective at night! (see Ritva, Meiri, Rabbeinu Yonatan and other who make this point.)

 He does not explain, however, why one cannot simply search during the day by sunlight- The assumption seems to be that searching with a candle is an intrinsic part of the mitzva.

Whether one explains like Rashi that the reason for the search is to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach or like Tosfos that the reason for the search is due to a concern that one might come to eat chametz on Pesach that one has nullified, it stands to reason that the mitzva is goal-oriented and the main thing is that the chametz is found- how it is found should be less relevant.

As such, while we can understand that regular sunlight might not be suitable enough to achieve this purpose, any form of light which is at least as good or better for this purpose should be perfectly acceptable.

Whereas a candle might have been the most suitable item for this at the time that Chazal instituted this practise, a good quality easy to handle electric torch certainly seems to be even more suitable.

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 8a) gives various reasons why a flame-based torch (made up of more than one wick) may not be used, none of those reasons seem to apply to an electric torch which is more flexible, safe, and stable than a regular one-wick candle.

Yet there is also the possibility that whatever the reason Chazal required a candle, they instituted the mitzva specifically with a candle, and once they did that, the only way the mitzva may be fulfilled is with a candle.

Rashi, on our daf, gives us a “heads-up” and tells us that the Gemara later on actually derives the requirement to use a candle from a verse, strengthening the possibility that there might be more to this requirement than meets the eye.

Fast forward to Daf 7b, and Rav Chisda, later supported by a Beraisa, indeed derives the requirement for a candle from a string of גזירות שוות (comparisons based on similar language) which indicate that a search should be done with a נר  (candle.)

The Beraisa points out that this is not an actual proof but a זכר לדבר (a form of hint) and given that the whole requirement of the search is דרבנן (rabbinical,) it seems rather obvious that this is at the most an אסמכתא .

Nevertheless, the fact that Chazal were not satisfied simply to provide a practical reason why a candle needs to be used but chose to base the requirement on an elaborate string of דרשות, does seem to indicate that there is something deeper about this requirement above the simple reasoning that they gave.

The sugya there, however, proceeds to tells us that one may not use an אבוקה (torch made by a collection of more than one candle), sunlight, or moonlight for the search, but must use a candle, seeing as it is יפה (nice or suitable) for the search, the same reasoning given back on our daf.

This seems to shift the focus back to practical reasoning, and the Gemara in fact immediately points out that an אכסדרה  (outdoor structure/porch with lots of sunlight) or area in the house directly under an ארובה  (skylight) may indeed be searched by sunlight, a seemingly clear indication that the candle is less an intrinsic requirement of the mitzva and more a matter of utility.

The reasoning seems to be that there is usually not sufficient sunlight indoors to perform the search properly, but there is enough sunlight to render the candle ineffective – As such, the search is done at night where the superior light of a candle can be used.

In areas where the sunlight is strong enough to replace the candle, this is not necessary.

The Rishonim  (see, for example the Ran based on the Yerushalmi) are bothered by this leniency, however, given that the search is supposed to be done at night, for the two reasons mentioned earlier, so when would one ever come to do it by sunlight .

They reply that the Gemara is merely saying that for one who was unable to search at night at the optimal time, and is then required to do so in the day, sunlight is sufficient in an area that is exposed to plenty of it- in a case where the mitzva is already being performed sub-optimally and the candle does not have much effect anyway, whatever special relevance the candle has in the mitzva is outweighed by the superior impact of the sunlight.

Once we have admitted that this is already not the ideal way of doing the mitzva, the possibility again opens up that not only is the night an ideal component of the mitzva, but so is the candle itself, and that when the mitzva can be performed with a candle, even if there is an equally effective way of doing so, the candle should still be used!

Of course, even if this true, there is still room to argue that an electric light is considered to be a candle, at least for the purposes of this Mitzva, particular the original type with incandescent bulbs that actually burn (as opposed to fluorescent bulbs and modern day LED’s which do not.)

Although we have only come to study and raise the issues and not make halachik rulings, those interested in following up will note that some modern poskim seem to hold that the mitzva can indeed be fulfilled with an electric torch with a focussed light.

Some even seem to favor this as the concern for fires is lower and a more focussed search will thus result, but general practise seems to be to follow the longstanding custom of using a candle where possible, and amongst some, such as Chabad Chasidim, this is taking extreme seriously for more mystical reasons, which we have seen might indeed be at least hinted at in our sugya.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Pesachim 3 The trade-off between clean and clear language

On the previous daf, the Mishna told us that we need to search for chametz by the light of a candle on “אור לארבעה עשר” [ lit: “the light of the 14’th.]

One of the first פסוקים  (verses) we learnt as children tells us how Hashem created “אור”  [“light”]  on the first day, called it “יום” [day], and called the “חושך”  [darkness], “לילה” [ night.]

As such, our first assumption when reading this Mishna would be that we need to search for Chametz during the day, or perhaps at first light, of the 14’th, i.e. the day before Pesach.

Yet, far from taking it for granted, the Gemara asks what “אור” is referring to, and brings a debate between Rav Huna, who says it is referring to “נגהי”  (Aramaic for “light”] and Rav Yehuda, who says that it is referring to “לילי” (Aramaic for night.)

Seemingly unbothered by the apparent bizarreness of Rav Yehuda “translating” a word “everyone” knows means “light” as “night-time”, the Gemara initially assumes that at least  Rav Huna holds that the mishna is referring to day-time, as would be our natural assumption.

Yet after bringing an array of פסוקים  that all seem to use the word “אור”  to refer to day-time, and offering seemingly forced alternate explanations of all them in a way that the word “אור”  itself might still refer to night, it brings various examples of usage in משניות  and ברייתות where the word clearly seems to refer to night.

Clearly choosing the later over the most obvious usage in the pessukim, the Gemara concludes that even Rav Huna agrees that the Mishna refers to night-time, but explains that in his town, the word “נגהי” was also used to refer to night-time.

Seeing as we are dealing with the usage of words by Chazal, it is not surprising that the Gemara chooses examples of its usage from Chazal over the simple meaning of its usage in the scriptures, but given that Chazal do sometimes use language differently to the scriptures (see for example B.M. 2a re “ראיה”), it seems strange that the Gemara feels the need to explain the פסוקים in a way that is consistent with their usage- perhaps the Torah simply uses “אור”  in its literal usage to describe light or day, and Chazal use it as a reference to “night”, for whatever reason?

The Gemara concludes that the reason why the Mishna (and by implication other statements of Chazal) use the word “אור”  in place of “חושך”  or “לילה” is in order to make use of “לישנע מעליה”  (lit. “superior language.”)

It bases this on Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling that a person should never let a “דבר מגונה”- “degrading word” came out of his mouth.

This ruling is in turn based on the fact that Torah added 8 extra letters, despite the golden rule that it NEVER wastes letters or words, in order to replace the phrase ” בהמה טמאה” (impure animal )  with  “בהמה אשר איננה טהורה” (“ an animal which is not pure.”

This proof is followed by others from different Amoraim.

The school of Rabbi Yishmael then brings a similar rule requiring people to always speak with “לשון נקיה” (clean language.)

This is based on the fact that whereas something that a זב  (male impure due to an unusual emission) rides on (and thus becomes impure) is referred to as מרכב הזב (lit. something the זב  rode on), the equivalent by a woman is referred to as “מושב”  (lit. something she sits on.)

Rashi explains that seeing as riding an animal involves spreading one’s legs out to a degree, something normally considered immodest for a woman, the Torah prefers to use the more modest sounding “מושב”

They then bring another two verses to substantiate their claim, which the Gemara understand come to teach us that not only does the Torah, due to its extra sanctity, go out of its way to use clean language, but Chazal were also expected to do so.

Furthermore, not only are the Rabbis due to their stature required to do so, but one is required to do so in every day talk as well!

Perhaps this could explain why the Gemara was not satisfied to simply take the verses that refer to “אור” at face value and explain the Mishna on the basis that Chazal use the word differently.

In the case in Bava Metzia, Chazal might have  used the word “ראיה”  in the every day sense as in “seeing” even though in the language of the Torah, it usually implies “דאתיא לידיה” – something that comes into one’s hand.

However,  the idea that the Torah would never be concerned about using ‘clean language” and Chazal would be was not something the Gemara could consider, as we have seen that the greater sanctity of the Torah should make it more concerned about such things, not less so!

As such, the Gemara needs to go out of its way to show that the Torah could also have used the word “אור” in place of night, and the places where it means “light” literally can be explained in other ways.

Yet in truth, it is hard to say that words like “night” and “impure” are examples of such unclean language, and as the Gemara itself points out, the Torah itself often uses such words such as “טמא”

The Gemara thus qualifies the requirement to use “clean language” to a situation where the clean language is just as short and concise as the “less clean” alternative, in keeping with the dictum of Rav that a person should always teach his students with  concise language.

The clarity of concise language usually thus takes priority over being particular over “clean language,” at least regarding talking to one’s students.

If so, how do we explain the fact that in the examples brought earlier, the Torah indeed added extra letters in order to make use of “clean language?”

Rashi explains that this was an exception the Torah made in order to teach us the importance of using clean language wherever possible, and Tosfos adds that had the Torah not done so in that case, we would not have known that we need to be particular about using clean language in cases where it does not affect the concise nature of the statement.

The incredible implication of this seems at face value to mean that if it was not for this special exception the Torah made, we would think that using “unclean language” even for no justified reason is acceptable?

Is it possible that bad language, of which it is said “כל המנבל את פיו מעמיקים לו גהינום”   (one who dirties his mouth gets a deeper spot in hell- Shabbos 33a) would be acceptable had it not been for this unusual exception made by the Torah?

It seems to be that we need to differentiate between truly dirty language and words like “night”, “impure” ,and “riding” (in the context of a woman) that can hardly be said to be objectively dirty or rude.

It might go without saying that the former has to be avoided in all but perhaps the most extreme or necessary cases, if at all (objectively “dirty” language is found even in Tanach in reference to idol-worship for example- see Sanhedrin 63b  “ליצנותא דע”ז.)

The later, however, is part of everyday language that often cannot be avoided.

So important , however, is the sanctity of one’s speech, that even remotely negative words should be avoided wherever possible, and the Torah breaks its golden rule of never using unnecessary letters that once in order to drive home this essential point (see  ר”ן ד”ה “לישנא מעליה”  who seems to take this approach.)

Negative language inevitably leads to negative thoughts and actions, and although the Torah doesn’t avoid negative statement where absolutely necessary to make a point, as the ultimate “לקח טוב”  (good gift or teaching,) positivity is at its core, and should be at ours as well!

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Pesachim 2 Bedikat Chametz and the biblical fence

The opening Mishna of Pesachim introduces the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  (searching for Chametz) before Pesach.

The mishna tells us that אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר.

After much debate on this and the next daf, the Gemara concludes that אור לארבעה עשר refers to the evening of the 14’th of Nisan, and that the evening is referred to as אור  (literally light) in order to use לשון נקיה (clean language,) something I hope to discuss in tomorrow’s post.

As such, the Mishna is understood to mean that on the evening BEFORE Pesach starts, we need to search for any chametz with the light of a candle.

The reason for this search is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Rashi explains that it is to avoid the prohibition of בל יראה ובל ימצא (owning chametz on pesach- see Shmos 12/19 and 13/7), and the Ran seems to understand that it is also connected to the positive mitzva of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession- see Shmos 12/16.)

By searching for any remaining chametz in the house and burning it the next day, we make sure to avoid this prohibition (and fulfill the positive mitzva.)

It seems to follow that Rashi considers this to be a חיוב דאורייתא  (biblical requirement) due to the prohibition of owning chametz.

The Tosfos famously take issue with this based on a later sugya (Pesachim 6b) where Rav Yehuda rules in the name of Rav that one who has searched also needs to perform בטול חמץ  (nullify the chametz in his heart.)

Seeing as this is a requirement in any case, and מדאורייתא בבטול בעלמא סגי ליה (on a Torah level, annulment is enough to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz-Pesachim 4b), they dispute what they understand as Rashi’s claim that the search is necessary in order to avoid this prohibition. Indeed, the Gemara itself there states that בדיקת חמץ  is only a rabbinical requirement!

Instead, they explain that this a rabbinic requirement in case one sees chametz on Pesach that he has already annulled and comes to eat it- the prohibition of eating chametz carries the severe penalty of כרת and applies to all real chometz whether one owns it or not.

Whereas the Tosfos clearly saw Rashi as claiming that the search is NECESSARY in order to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz, it is possible to understand him simply as saying that the search is a legitimate and possibly preferable way of avoiding the prohibition- one can do so without it by nullification, but seeing as the search takes place first, in practise it has also removed any concern of this prohibition by the time the nullification comes along.

This is how Rishonim such as the Ran understand Rashi: The Torah requires the end result that we do not own chometz on Pesach, but Chazal determined how we get to that result, and due to the severity of the prohibition and the need to cover all bases, they required us to go through two processes- search and destroy, and nullification.

The Tosfos, on the other end, seem to hold that there was no need for Chazal to institute two methods to remove chometz from one’s possession, and that seeing as they made nullification mandatory, they must have required the “search and destroy” operation for other reasons. )It should be noted though that whereas the requirement to search is recorded in the Mishna, the requirement  to perform בטול is only recorded later in the early Amoraic period  by רב יהודה אמר רב, making this argument seem problematic unless the requirement for בטול  also goes back to the time of the Mishna and Rav was simply recording it, something that requires evidence.)

According to this view, one needs to understand why Chazal were so concerned about us coming to eat chametz that they required us to search for it and destroy it?

After all, there are many other things we are forbidden to eat or even benefit from, and Chazal made no such requirement.

The Tosfos suggest that this is because of the severe penalty prescribed for one who eats חמץ,  but are still faced with the fact that eating certain other foods such as חלב (forbidden fats) is also subject to the same כרת  punishment.

As such, they add another factor to explain this special stringency, namely the fact that chometz is something which people are not used to avoiding, given that it is permitted the rest of the year, and in addition to the severity of the penalty for doing so, this was enough reason for Chazal to set this prohibition apart from others and require search and destroy.

They also suggest that Chazal treated chometz more seriously than other prohibitions because the Torah itself did so- It is the only food subject to a ban of eating and benefitting from which is also subject to a prohibition against owning.

The simplest explanation of this idea is that  the fact that the Torah prohibited even owning chometz shows us that this prohibition is to be taken even more seriously than others- Chazal followed this queue and imposed the obligation to search and destroy in addition to nullifying it.

The Ran (דפי הריף א. ד”ה “ומה” ) is even more explicit and suggests that the reason the Torah itself forbade owning Chometz on Pesach was because people are not used to refraining from eating it the rest of the day, and combined with the severity of eating it on Pesach, the Torah took extra precautions to prevent this.

This idea is rather novel in that it would be a rare example of the Torah creating its own fence to protect another Torah commandment, something usually the mandate of Chazal.

  This is not completely without precedent- the אבות דרבי נתן  (chapter 2) understands that the Torah made a “fence” around the prohibition of forbidden sexual relations such as Niddah by prohibiting  קירבה(coming near) -sexually arousing acts such as hugging and kissing are thus forbidden on a Torah level as a restraint against sexual acts themselves.

Although the Ramban (השגת לספר המצוות לאו שנג), based on the view of רבי פדת (Shabbos 13a) understands this to be an אסמכתא  and the prohibition of “coming near” to be rabbinical in nature, the Rambam (ספר המצוות לאו שנג)  takes this literally and holds that it is a Torah prohibition punishable by lashes.

If we accept the Ran’s reasoning regarding בל יראה ובל ימצא and the Rambam’s regarding קרבה, the common denominator is clear- both eating chometz on Pesach and forbidden sexual relations are extremely serious prohibitions punishing by כרת, both are unusually hard to avoid (chometz because of habit and עריות  because of the power of the libido) and both have “satellite” biblical prohibitions to keep us far away from them!

If the Torah itself singled out these prohibitions by making its own biblical fences around them, and Chazal themselves followed with fences of their own, how careful should we all be to stay as far away as possible from them.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.