As we learned in the previous chapter, one who possesses ĥametz on Pesaĥ transgresses two prohibitions: “no ĥametz of yours shall be seen” (Shemot 13:7), and “there shall be no se’or found in your homes” (ibid. 12:19). In order not to violate these Torah prohibitions, one must eliminate all ĥametz from his possession. According to the Torah, it is possible to dispose of the ĥametz by nullifying it verbally, because when one nullifies the ĥametz in his possession, it becomes like dust, no longer belonging to him, and consequently, it does not cause him to transgress the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.
Nonetheless, the Sages ruled that we must not rely on this nullification (bitul) alone; rather, one must also physically remove ĥametz from his possession. There are two reasons for this: firstly, they feared that people would nullify ĥametz insincerely, intending to benefit from it after Pesaĥ, and this would result in their transgressing the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Secondly, they feared that after nullifying the ĥametz, one might see an enticing piece of pastry and eat it, forgetting that it is Pesaĥ. The Sages therefore ordained that, in addition to bitul ĥametz, one must search out ĥametz in order to eliminate it from his possession.
At first glance, the appropriate time for bedikat ĥametz should be just before midday on the day of the fourteenth of Nisan, the deadline for removing ĥametz. However, the Sages ordained that we search for ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because during the day people are busy with their affairs, and if one waits until the day of the fourteenth to do bedikat ĥametz he is liable to forget it altogether. Furthermore, candlelight is especially effective for checking the cracks and crevices of the house. But during the day, candles do not illuminate well, since sunlight prevents the eye from focusing on the weaker light of the candle. Therefore, the Sages instituted bedikat ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because at night, people are usually at home and candlelight is effective at this time (SA Ha-Rav 431:5).
Since people normally pray Ma’ariv at the beginning of the night, one should do so prior to the bedika, as a more frequent mitzva takes precedence. One should then proceed quickly to bedikat ĥametz (MB 431:8). One who is accustomed to praying with a minyan later in the evening should search for ĥametz at tzeit ha-kokhavim (the appearance of three distinct stars) and then pray at his usual hour.
The obligation to search for ĥametz rests primarily upon the father. However, if he must return home late on this day, it is better that he appoint his wife or another adult family member to search in his stead at the appointed hour, when nighttime arrives. Regarding this mitzva there is no difference between men and women, and one should choose as a shali’aĥ (proxy) a person who can be trusted to carry out the search properly and responsibly (see AHS 437:7). If it is difficult to appoint a shali’aĥ, then be-di’avad one should perform the search himself later in the evening, when he gets home.
. Some have suggested one who wishes to engage in the search himself should appoint one of his family members to search the house at the proper time and leave one room unchecked; when he returns later that night he can search the unchecked room. He should be sure to ask them to remind him to check the room when he returns, or if he does not return, to check the room themselves (Teshuvot Ve-hanhagot 2:214). However, it seems to me that if there is someone in the house who can perform the search instead, it is better to appoint this person as a shali’aĥ to conduct the search of the entire house at the appropriate time. This issue is dependent upon a fundamental question: did the Sages decree that the bedika should be conducted specifically at the beginning of the night, or is the entire night acceptable for bedika since the candlelight is more visible at night, but in order to prevent a person from forgetting to check, they forbade working and eating before the bedika? According to most poskim, the primary time for the bedika is at the beginning of the night. This is the opinion of Taz, Pri Ĥadash, Gra, and SAH in 431:5. Conversely, Rema and Mekor Ĥayim maintain that the bedika can be done throughout the entire night. Thus according to them, one may be more lenient about postponing the bedika as long as there is someone who will remind him to check later on. I have written in accordance with the view of most poskim, and in the next section, I have written that it is proper to refrain from eating even casually once the time for bedikat ĥametz has arrived, so as not to delay the bedika.