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Shabbat Parashat Metzora | 5768

Cleaning for Chametz in Hard to Reach Places

Ask the Rabbi

Question: Often during Pesach cleaning, I am aware of chametz that is in places where it is very hard to get to. Am I required to make every possible effort to get the chametz out?

Answer: Gemaras talk about cases where it is questionable whether one must get rid of chametz that is not readily accessible. The gemara (Pesachim 8a) states, regarding a hole in between the property of two Jews, that each one must put his hand as far as it reaches in search of chametz. Whatever might remain may remain, and bitul (a declaration of nullification) suffices. Similarly, the mishna (Pesachim 31b) says that one does not have to worry about possible chametz underneath rubble. Again, the gemara adds that one should do bitul. If it is known that chametz exists there, he must take steps necessary to remove it unless there are three tefachim (approximately, 9 inches) of rubble on top of it (Tosafot 8a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 433:8).

Perhaps the most pertinent gemara for our case is the list of questions about chametz in out-of-the-way places in Pesachim 10b. The gemara presents two possible sides regarding chametz on top of rafters. Perhaps the Rabbis did not inconvenience one to bring a ladder to get it since he is unlikely to come and eat the chametz; perhaps it is necessary because the chametz could fall. The gemara then asks that if we are stringent in the former case, perhaps it is unnecessary if the chametz fell into a pit (from which it will not “fall up”). One might still be stringent there because it is possible that he will go down to the pit and eat the chametz.

The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch (OC 438:2) rule stringently on the question of the rafters. Regarding the pit, they are lenient but with the provision that one will do bitul. The Beit Yosef (ad loc.) explains that by doing bitul, one lowers the issue to a maximum of a rabbinic level problem, and then one need not remove the chametz. We do not make him remove that chametz before or during bedika  because it is referring to a case where it will take a lot of toil to get the chametz and the fact that it is out of access makes it like the aforementioned case of rubble (ibid.; see Mishna Berura 438:15). One cannot put chametz into such a situation purposely (Beit Yosef, ibid.).

In describing the case of the rafters where one has to go to the trouble of removing it, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch talk about there being a k’zayit (the size of an olive) of chametz. There are poskim who say that if there is less inaccessible chametz than that, there is certainly not a need to go to the trouble of removing it (see Mishna Berura 438:12 and Sha’ar Hatziyun 438:11). Anyway, all of the sources we have seen clearly indicate that if the chametz is in a place where one will not have access to it on Pesach and there is significant difficulty getting to it, one may rely upon bitul chametz  (which we do as a matter of course) and leave it where it is.

However, many (most?) of us seem to be more stringent on ourselves in these matters than we might need to be. Why are we so apparently “masochistic”? The source or explanantion for the fixation with perfection in our Pesach cleaning is apparently related to the following source. “People have the practice of scraping walls and chairs that chametz touched, and they have what to rely upon [for being arguably needlessly stringent], and if there is chametz in a crevice that one cannot reach he should put a little cement over it” (Shulchan Aruch, OC 442:6). Along the lines of this approach, many normal people do more than what is halachically required to remove every piece or even trace of chametz from different places. So, if you spend several minutes reaching into the recesses of your sofa to get out chametz, you may be more machmir than required, but you are also in good company. Even chumrot should have limits, but these are hard to quantify.

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Mazal tov to Chaim Mann on the occasion of his bar-mitzvah.

May he continue to grow in Torah, yirat shamayim, and middot tovot.


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