5. The Essence of the Mitzva

A fundamental question arose concerning the essence of the mitzva of removing the ĥametz: is the mitzva essentially to eliminate the ĥametz actively or is the main principle that no ĥametz remains in a Jew’s possession?

According to the view accepted by most Rishonim (Maharik, Ramban, and others), the mitzva is primarily that one’s domain be free of ĥametz. One who has ĥametz must clear it out, and one who has no ĥametz in his domain has already fulfilled the mitzva.

However, some Rishonim (Ran, Tosafot) imply that only someone who has ĥametz becomes obliged to fulfill the mitzva, and he fulfills it by clearing the ĥametz out of his house. One who has no ĥametz is exempt from the mitzva. Yet even according to this approach, we do not find that the Rishonim recommended acquiring ĥametz in order to fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz. Nevertheless, there are Aĥaronim who wrote that it is appropriate for one who has no ĥametz in his possession before Pesaĥ to go beyond the letter of the law and buy some ĥametz, so that he may fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz according to those who hold that one must actively remove ĥametz.[8]

In practice, Jews are a holy people and strive to perform the mitzvot in the most praiseworthy fashion, including making sure that they have ĥametz on the fourteenth of Nisan, which they use to fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz in a way that satisfies all views. Moreover, they are so scrupulous as to remove the ĥametz specifically by burning it, for, according to many poskim, burning is the preferred way to destroy the ĥametz (see below 5:4).

[8]. Minĥat Ĥinukh §9 discusses the different sides of the issue at length and notes that according to Rashi, Rambam, and Sefer Ha-ĥinukh, the mitzva is passive (this is also the opinion of Maharik in §174 and Ramban at the beginning of Pesaĥim). According to Tosafot and Ran, however, the mitzva is an active one, and so according to this opinion, one who has no ĥametz in his possession should purchase ĥametz in order to fulfill the mitzva of destroying it. R. Ĥayim Soloveitchik offered a novel interpretation, namely, that this dispute hinges upon the dispute between the Sages and R. Yehuda regarding the method of destroying the ĥametz: according to R. Yehuda, the mitzva is specifically to burn the ĥametz, whereas according to the Sages, any act of destruction works. Those who follow R. Yehuda’s opinion, therefore, would hold that one must do a positive action to fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz; and this needs further study. See also Piskei Teshuvot 445:6 which mentions several Aĥaronim, among them the authors of Ĥelkat Yo’av and Mekor Ĥayim, and Maharash Engel, who maintain that there is a mitzva for every person to own ĥametz in order to destroy it; conversely, SAH (436:21), Divrei Ĥayim (1:9), Ĥavot Ya’ir (§4), and Avnei Nezer (OĤ 318) maintain that there is no mitzva to obtain ĥametz in order to destroy it. As mentioned, the custom is to actively destroy some ĥametz to fulfill this mitzva according to all opinions. Indeed, MB (445:10) states that it is proper to leave a kezayit of ĥametz in order to destroy it actively and fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz.

The reason we have written that one needs a kezayit of ĥametz to fulfill this mitzva is that according to many poskim only an olive’s bulk must be destroyed (see MB 442:33). Even according to those who adopt the stringent view that less than a kezayit must be destroyed, this is probably because of the concern that one may come to eat it and violate the prohibition of eating ĥametz, which applies even to a piece smaller than an olive. According to the overwhelming majority of poskim, however, there is no Torah prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on a piece of ĥametz smaller than an olive (see Dagul Mei-rvava §442, Ĥakham Zvi §86, and Sha’agat Aryeh §81). This is significant since most authorities believe that the mitzva to destroy the ĥametz is connected to the prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, not the prohibition of eating the ĥametz. See also Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 15:4, which states that one should not pour lighter fluid on the ĥametz itself at the time of burning; rather, he should pour it onto the wood, so that the ĥametz is destroyed by fire itself and not ruined by the lighter fluid. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:10 n. 17 explains that there is no reason to be stringent about this, since the main point of the burning is to turn the ĥametz into ashes, regardless of whether or not the taste of the ĥametz is ruined.

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