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Shabbat Parashat Metzora| 5764

Pninat Mishpat

Ownership of Chametz on Pesach
 During the seven days of Pesach, chametz is not only forbidden to eat but is also forbidden to receive benefit from (asur b’hana’ah) and, consequently, leaves the possession of its previous owner. This creates a paradoxical situation. It is forbidden to have chametz in one’s house, but it is permitted to have chametz which is not his own in his house. (The exact parameters of that halacha are complicated and beyond our scope). If chametz is not yours anyway, then how can you violate the prohibition of possessing it, which requires ownership? The gemara (Pesachim 6b) says that this paradox is included in the definition of the prohibition, and, thus, chametz is one of those things which “are not in one’s possession, yet the Torah made it considered as if it was in his possession.”
 The lack of possession is significant in a few scenarios and paradoxically makes it more likely that one will violate the prohibition of possession. The primary reason is that one cannot transfer ownership on that which is not his. As long as chametz is mutar b’hana’ah, it can be sold (Pesachim 21a). However, once it becomes asur b’hana’ah, not only is it forbidden to sell it and receive money (=benefit) for it, but it becomes impossible to do so. If someone were to sell the Brooklyn Bridge, he would not be stealing from the owners of the bridge, as there is simply no meaning to selling something which is not yours. This is why the rabbis who do mechirat chametz must make sure that the transaction is complete before the end of the fifth hour of the morning (when the isur hana’ah begins). Afterward, the sale cannot be accomplished. So too, a homeowner who had not intended to sell a certain item and then decided to include it in the mechirat chametz cannot do so after this time. (He must also realize that the rabbi’s sale on his behalf was probably completed several minutes before this time.)
Another thing which must be accomplished by this time is the bitul chametz (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 434:2). Bitul is either nullifying one’s ownership or, as owner, rendering it of no consequence (see Rashi and Tosafot on Pesachim 4b). Either way, this cannot be done after the “owner” no longer has control. This is a common problem for the following reason. We do not do bitul on chametz we are aware of until we physically burn our remaining chametz. This is in order to fulfill the mitzva of burning our own chametz (Rama 434:2). But if we burn the chametz close to the end of the time limit, we wait so that the chametz will be ours until it is rendered destroyed, and certainly if the bitul slips our mind for another few minutes, it can become too late to perform the bitul.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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