A Searching Question …
Question: There is a widely observed custom to hide pieces of bread around the house on the eve of Passover, before searching for the hametz. What is the source of this custom? Is it a proper custom?
By Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Answer: Searching for hametz on the eve of Passover is one of the legal requirements of the festival. The Mishnah at the beginning of tractate Pesachim states: On the evening of the fourteenth [of Nisan] a search is made for leaven by the light of a candle… [Mishnah, Pesachim 1:1] Originally, this search, in which all the hametz was removed from the house and burnt, was the way the house was prepared for Passover. No other cleaning was required. In time, houses became bigger, cleaning became more sophisticated and the lengthy cleaning process before Passover that we have today became the norm. The result was that by the time we come to search for the hametz on the 14 th of Nisan, the house is already clean and there is (hopefully) no longer any hametz to be found.
This new situation gave rise to an interesting halachic problem: – Can one say a blessing for removing hametz when there is no hametz to remove? There were those who maintained that as there was no longer any hametz in the home, it was no longer possible to say the blessing. In order to remove any doubt as to the validity of the blessing, they instituted the custom of hiding some hametz to be ‘found’ during the search. Opposing them were those who said that the essence of the ‘removing of the hametz’ was the actual search. It didn’t make any difference whether there was any hametz to be found or not. They strongly opposed the idea of scattering new hametz, which they felt was based on a misunderstanding of what the blessing was about. The Rabad of Posquières [Provence, 12 th Century] wrote, “[Concerning] those who put hametz in the cracks and grooves at the time of searching for the hametz, [this] is the custom of women and has no root.”
Further arguments were brought both for and against scattering hametz before the search. The Pri Etz Hayyim 21:5: Chaim Vittal, [Safed, 16 th century] writes in the name of Isaac Luria, one of the fathers of the Kabbalah, that the custom has its roots in ancient Jewish mysticism. He also says that there is mystical significance in hiding 10 pieces of bread, a custom followed by many today.
On the other hand, R. Moshe HaCohen [Brit Kehuna 2:15b, Djerba, 20 th Century] writes that this custom undermines the original intention of the Mishnah. The fact that people ‘hide’ bread before searching for the hametz results in people searching only for the bread they have hidden rather than properly checking the house for hametz that has been missed. This does not count as a search at all!
Moses Isserlis [Poland, 16 th century] records the custom in his commentary on the Shulhan Aruch which is authoritative for Ashkenazi communities. Sefardi communities have adopted it because it is a Kabbalistic practice. Although there have been some Poskim who have challenged the custom, there is also the fear that should the custom of hiding bread be abolished, people might neglect the actual search which is a legal obligation,[Rabbi Matzliach Mazuz, the Ish Matzliach, Tunisia, 20 th century]. Therefore, the custom should be maintained and accepted practice as it is in all of Israel.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on Ovadiah Yosef, Yachve Da’at 5:31