December 4, 2020

Pesachim 4

Today’s daf (Pesachim 4a) draws a comparison between the laws of בדיקת חמץ (searching for chametz) in a rented home, and the laws of קביעת מזוזה (affixing a mezuzah on the doorposts) of a rented home which, together, point to a wider Jewish ethic concerning human responsibility.

In terms of בדיקת חמץ in a newly rented home, the question addressed by the Gemara concerns who should take responsibility to search for chametz? The owner of the property? Or the renter of the property?

Since, until now, the property owner has been living in the home and therefore any chametz in the property is most likely theirs, a strong argument could be made that they are responsible to check for any chametz that they may have left in the property. At the same time, by recently adopting the responsibility for whatever takes place in the property, a strong argument could also be made that the renter is now responsible for all duties in the home – including the checking of chametz.

In seeking to answer this question, the Gemara cites a Beraita which states that someone who rents a home is responsible to affix a mezuzah on the doorposts of the home. On this basis, it would seem that once someone agrees to rent a property, they are then responsible for all duties in the home including the checking of chametz.

This proof is dismissed by the Gemara because the laws of Mezuzah are dependent on ‘residency’ and therefore the renter who is the resident of the property is obliged to affix a mezuzah (presuming there isn’t one already there). However, as the Gemara explains, the laws of searching for chametz are seemingly not determined by the concept of ‘residency’. Given this, upon whom does the responsibility to search for chametz fall?

To this, the Gemara explains that rather than ‘residency’ being a factor in searching for chametz, ‘timing’ is the factor with respect to this law. Consequently, if the property owner remains in possession of the keys of the home once the fourteenth [of Nissan] (i.e. when we are commanded to search for chametz) has begun, then they are responsible for searching for chametz. However, if they have already given the keys to the tenants prior to this time, then the tenants are responsible for בדיקת חמץ.

What we learn from here is that even in the situation when we are not the owner of a given property, if we are a ‘resident’ of that property, and if are present in that property for specific period of ‘time’, then we are responsible for fulfilling the duties relevant to that property – namely the things that have to be added and incorporated in the home (eg. קביעת מזוזה), as well as the things that must be removed and cleansed from the home (eg. בדיקת חמץ).

Clearly this idea has many applications, but I would like to focus on two themes, namely our responsibility to the planet, and our responsibility to our body.

By being residents of the planet for a specific period of time, we learn from here that we have responsibilities to the planet – which means that there are things we should actively do to protect the planet, as well as things that we should actively desist from doing to the planet.

In a similar vein, by being residents of our body for a specific period of time, we also have responsibilities to our body – both in terms of what we actively do to maintain its health and fitness, as well as those things that we should desist from doing.

True, ‘the earth is the Lord’s as well as all that it contains’ (Tehillim 24:1). Still, what we learn from today’s daf is that by being ‘residents’ of the earth and of our bodies for a specific period of ‘time’, we are responsible – at least during that period of time – for what occurs.

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