Pessach 5777


Seder night is an event replete with themes. Each theme contributes to the aura and the uniqueness of the night. Among the most pronounced of these themes is that of the “question”. Questions are a fixture of Seder night. The Seder begins with the questions, “Why is this night different?” Indeed, Halacha places such emphasis on the need for these questions that one celebrating alone is required to pose to himself these questions and then provide their answers.
At the conclusion of Seder night, once again through popular custom, a poem in question form is sung. “Who knows one?” The message is clear. Questions are an integral part of the Seder experience. But why? (We question the question!)
In the Torah itself, the inquisitive child twice poses questions.והיה כי ישאלך בנך מחר (שמות יג:יד) , כי ישאלך בנך מחר (דברים ו:כ), “And it shall be when your son will ask you.” Both questions are related to commandments pertaining to Yetzias Mizrayim. Clearly, the Exodus stirs the Jewish soul, arousing an interest, pushing him to inquire. The commandments relating to Yetzias Mitzrayim have the power to rouse the dormant Jewish soul.
The foundation of Jewish belief is Yetzias Mitzrayim. When the soul of the Jew comes in contact with those obligations that draw upon that core belief, it becomes awakened. In response to the arousal, it begins to inquire, seeking to satiate the feelings within.
That would explain the questions in the Pesukim regarding Yetzias Mitzrayim. But the questions required by Chazal are of a seemingly different nature. The questions found Biblically are posed by one seeking. One who is perturbed, and seeks to find the answer. The questions’ purpose is to receive the answer. The answer is the focus; the question is just the means to the answer. In contrast to that are the questions posed on Seder night. There, the very purpose is the question. The requirement is to pose questions, with which to give answers. The question becomes as important as the answer itself.
Certainly, questions are a pedagogical tool. Piquing the student’s interest and arousing his curiosity enables the answers to resonate, to make a lasting impression in the mind of the pupil. On this night, a night upon which the foundations of our belief are based, the most effective of educational tools will be called upon, enabling the lessons of the night to make a lasting impact. And so we ask questions.
Yet the message runs deeper.בצאת ישראל ממצרים…מה לך הים כי תנוס הירדן תסוב לאחור… מלפני אדון חולי ארץ… (תהלים קיד), “When Israel left Egypt … what bothers you that you flee O’ Sea? … Before the master, Creator of the world…” (Tehillim 114).
This chapter in Tehillim is recounting the Exodus. The narrative is in the form of question and answer. Rarely in Scriptural text is an account constructed in such fashion. Seemingly, the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is one which is to be related in question and answer form. Indeed, Rav Yitzchok Hutner famously noted that the requirement imposed by Chazal to conduct the Seder through question and answer is based upon this chapter of Tehillim. Chazal understood that this chapter is intimating the method in which the story of the Exodus is to be told – via question and answer. Here the question is as important as the answer. Each is an integral part of the narrative.
Yetzias Mitzrayim is not only the foundation of our belief; Yetzias Mitzrayim is the foundation of our relationship with G-d. When G-d smote the Egyptian first born, sparing the Jewish first born, we became His. Through the Exodus we became His people and He became our G-d; thus, a partnership was formed.
A relationship has two sides: giver and receiver. On the night of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the night on which we became G-d’s people, we are told to ask questions – a question for the sake of the question, a question to create the role of the recipient. And we are told to give answers – an answer for the sake of the answer, an answer to create the role of a benefactor. Two roles are created on Seder night, illustrating the two sides of a relationship created through the Exodus – a relationship between G-d and Israel.


The Rema (O.C. 432:2) mentions a most perplexing Minhag. First, we spend several weeks cleaning, scrubbing and Kashering, making sure our homes are Chometz free. Then, some people have the custom the night before the Seder to spread pieces of actual Chometz around the house, hiding them from the one who is doing the Bedikah. What could be the Halachic basis for this Minhag?
The Rema (ibid) himself seems at first to be addressing this issue. Quoting the Rishon Mahari Brin, he writes that this is done so that his Bracha, על בעור חמץ, should not be made לבטלה, in vain. This too, is hard to understand. As the Rema says next, quoting the Kol Bo, the person’s intent is to make a Bracha so he can do Biur in the event Chometz is found. Therefore, the Rema says that even if one did not put out Chometz, he can still make the Bracha.
This leads to another question. What difference does the Kavana, intention, of the person saying the Bracha make with regards to whether the Bracha is effective? For example, if someone makes a Hamotzi on a lollypop, his Kavana won’t help him; he still needs to make another Bracha.
Another question stems from the Mishna (Pesachim 2b). בודקין את החמץ, literally, “We check the Chometz.” Shouldn’t the Mishna instead say, “We check for Chometz?”
The Vilna Gaon (O.C. 432) seems to understand the Machlokes in Biur Chometz and another Machlokes of the R”i and Rabbeinu Tam (see Rosh, Brachos 1:13) as one and the same. The R”i understands that one does not make a Bracha of Leisheiv before going to sleep in the Sukkah, because he might not fall asleep. He would agree with the Mahari Brin that if there is no Chometz to be found, the Bracha is in vain. Rabbeinu Tam offers a different explanation: the Bracha made at the Seudah exempts one until the next Seudah. He would therefore maintain that it is not a Bracha in vain, even if one does not find any Chometz. The Gaon Poskens like Rabbeinu Tam.
As mentioned by Rabbeinu Tam, the prevalent custom is to make a Leisheiv at the Seudah. Similarly, the prevalent custom is to put out Chometz on the night of the Bedikah. Both may result from the same line of reasoning.
Why isn’t there a Bracha of על בטול חמץ, “on the nullification of the Chometz?” The Beis Yosef (O.C. 432) answers that a Bracha could only be made on a Ma’aseh Mitzvah, an active Mitzvah.
The Sha’arei Teshuva (end of O.C. 433) raises the issue that our checking for Chometz has become a mere perfunctory act, since the cleaning for Chometz is done so well. The Chiddushei Maharish that he is quoting says that this cleaning is so thorough that perhaps it actually replaces the Bedikah!
If this is true, then the placing of bread would turn the Bedikah into a full-fledged Ma’aseh Mitzvah. In addition, even without the bread, if the intent of the one doing the search is not to perform a perfunctory act but to check thoroughly, then the Bracha would in fact not be a Bracha in vain, and his Kavana would turn the otherwise perfunctory act into a Ma’aseh Mitzvah.
As far as the Mishna is concerned, the word את has three meanings. את can be a direct object indicator, i.e.,ראובן הרג את שמעון means Reuven killed Shimon, את ראובן הרג שמעון means Shimon killed Reuven. But את can also mean “from” or “with,” i.e., את יעקב (Shemos 1:1) means “with Yaakov.” When the Mishna says בודקין את החמץ, it means one does the Ma’aseh Bedikah with the Chometz. If there is no Chometz, then there is no Ma’aseh Bedikah.
Ultimately, the Poskim apply the popular adage מנהג ישראל תורה, an established Minhag of the Jewish nation serves as a primary source of Halacha, ואין לבטל מנהג ישראל, and no one has the authority to nullify an established Minhag of the Jewish People. (Chok Ya’akov O.C. 432:14).