For the week ending 1 April 2006 / 3 Nisan 5766


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Alicia in New Haven

Dear Rabbi,
If we clean the house of chametz before Pesach, and then particularly the day before the holiday, why do we then hide pieces of chametz around the house before checking that night. Doesn’t that seem to defeat the purpose?
Dear Alicia,

On a strictly practical level, once we’ve endeavored to clean the house of all unknown chametz by the eve ofPesach, the search at night might be done superficially, since the members of the household already “know” that the house is clean for Pesach. Hiding pieces of chametz encourages the person who’s checking to be more thorough. Also, even though the mitzvah is to search even though one doesn’t find, nevertheless, since a blessing is recited upon commencing the search, it is befitting that some chametz be “found”.

That being said, it’s important that people who perform this custom be careful not to lose the chametz they’ve hidden. It is advisable that before the search the person who hides the pieces should write down where they are placed, since sometimes because of the rush to finish so many different preparations for the festival, one may forget. Preferably, the pieces should be wrapped in paper or in small plastic bags so that they may be easily disposed of without leaving crumbs. In any case, one should be careful to prepare only small pieces (less than a k’zayit each) so that if any get lost, they may be verbally nullified.

The following is an explanation on a more symbolic level. The search for chametz teaches us to seek for the evil inclination in hidden places. Putting down pieces of chametz after cleaning and before searching indicates that even if a person has made every effort to cleanse himself of impurity, he must not consider himself free of iniquity. For if he were to continue his search, he would certainly find room for improvement and repair. This is the meaning of the verse, “For there is no man so righteous in this world that he does only good and never sins.” He who prides himself that he has corrected all his faults can be certain that he hasn’t completed the search.

From: Andrew in Paris

Dear Rabbi,
I am studying abroad this year and will be observing Passover for the first time without my family. I seem to remember something about first-borns fasting on the day before the holiday. Do I have to do this if I’m not in my parents’ home? Thanks.
Dear Andrew,

It is an ancient and widespread practice for the firstborn to fast on Erev Pesach in memory of the miracle that saved the Jews from the plague that slew the firstborn of the ancient Egyptians. This fast should really take place on the actual date that it occurred, namely the fifteenth of Nisan, which is Passover night. But by then the festival has already begun and we do not fast on a festival.

There are different customs associated with this fast. Less common practice intends to recall that at least one person of every Egyptian household died and therefore has every firstborn fast: male or female, whether from the father or the mother. Accordingly, even if there is no firstborn, the oldest of the children fast. The prevalent custom is that only firstborn males of the mother fast. A person who fits this criterion fasts even when not in his parents’ home, and even when he has his own home and children.

This fast is generally treated with leniency so that if there is a meal connected with a mitzvah such as a brit milah or a siyum (a completion of the study of a Talmudic tractate) the firstborn participate in this. It has become the usual practice to arrange for a siyum to take place in the synagogue after the morning prayers so that the firstborn who are present may partake of this meal (usually consisting of light foods), and having broken their fast for a mitzvah, are then allowed to eat during the day.

From: Marc in Belgium

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve been looking over the Haggada and there is a section that is not so clear to me. The passage reads, “And it is this that has stood by our fathers and us, for not one alone has risen up against us to destroy us, but in all ages did they rise up to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, delivered us from their hands.” What I don’t understand is, what is the “this” that has stood by our fathers etc.? Does it refer to G-d? If so, why doesn’t it say, “And He has stood by our fathers…”? Thank you for your reply.
Dear Marc,

On a simple level, perhaps the “this” is referring to a promise or a pact that G-d has made with the Jewish people, that no matter what happens to the Jewish people in any generation, despite the persecution of the nations, G-d will ultimately be with us, protect us and redeem us. Accordingly, the intention is as follows, “The promise made by G-d to our forefathers and which He keeps with us, their children, is still binding and in effect, even though in all ages the nations rise against us, He will deliver us from their hands.”

However, there is a deeper and very beautiful explanation based on the idea that it is the Jewish people’s eternal dedication to the Torah that is the basis for our affirmation of G-d’s protection. This explanation is derived from the Hebrew term used for “this”: “v’hee” - spelled ‘vav’, ‘hey’, ‘yod’, ‘alef’. The letter ‘vav’ , which has the numerical value of six, indicates the six orders of the Mishna, the oral teaching. This takes precedence because the oral tradition reveals to us the meaning of the written teachings. The letter ‘hey’, which has the numerical value of five, indicates the five books of the Torah. The letter ‘yod’, with the numerical equivalent of ten, indicates the Ten Commandments, which are the essence of the moral teachings of Judaism. The letter ‘alef’, with the numerical equivalent of one, indicates the One G-d, whose unity it is our duty to declare.

According to this, if we abide by the oral teachings, study the written Torah, base our code of conduct on the Ten Commandments, and proclaim our faith to the One G-d, the Almighty will ultimately redeem us from all our foes.

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