Between “Not Owning” and “Not Finding”

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים שְׂאֹר לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּבָתֵּיכֶם

For a seven-day period, leaven shall not be found in your house. (12:19)

The Meshech Chochmah opens his comment on this verse by noting that there are certain authorities who maintain that bedikas chametz (the search for chametz) before Pesach is a Torah-level requirement.[1] What is the source for this obligation? It is true that the Torah forbids one to own chametz during the festival, but why should that translate into an obligation to actively search for it – even if one is unaware of having any?

He answers by drawing our attention to the Gemara[2] which, in the course of its discussion of bedikas chametz, cites the verse regarding the finding of Yosef’s cup among the brothers’ possessions:

וַיְחַפֵּשׂ... וַיִּמָּצֵא הַגָּבִיעַ בְּאַמְתַּחַת בִּנְיָמִן.

He searched… and the cup was found in Binyamin’s sack.[3]

This verse teaches us that part of the concept of “finding” something involves having searched for it. As such, when the Torah commands that leaven “shall not be found,” it includes the idea that even if one were to search for it he would not find it. This then necessarily requires that the person search his house, in order to ascertain that no chametz can be found even after a search, and this is the source for those who say that bedikas chametz is a Torah-level requirement.

Based on this, the Meshech Chochmah proceeds to draw our attention to a parallel verse at the end of the parsha regarding ownership of chametz on Pesach, which states:

וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ

Leaven shall not be seen [i.e. owned] by you in all your borders.[4]

Comparing these two verses with each other, we note that:

1.   Our verse uses the term “shall not be found,” while the later verse mentions it not being “seen” i.e. owned.

2.   Our verse specifies “your house”, while the later verse refers to “your borders” i.e. all of your property.

The Gemara states that when it comes to one’s courtyard, there is no requirement to check for chametz; for although it is forbidden to own chametz even in one’s outdoor premises, we rely on the fact that any chametz that was left there would have been eaten by the birds.[5]

Based on this, we can now understand the difference in phraseology between the two verses:

·      Our verse, which states that chametz “may not be found”, and which thereby includes an obligation to search for it, is stated specifically in reference to “your houses”, where such a search is necessary.

The later verse, which discusses the prohibition against owning chametz, with no requirement to search for it, is stated with regards to “all your borders,” which includes both indoors and outdoors.[6]


Tefillin: A Sign and a Remembrance

 וְהָיָה לְךָ לְאוֹת עַל יָדְךָ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ

It shall be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes.

What is the difference in connotation between a sign and a remembrance, and why is the one placed on the arm and the other between the eyes?

The Meshech Chochmah explains:

·      A “sign” represents verifying something that will happen in the future.

·      A “remembrance” relates to something the happened in the pastת as it relates to the present.

The events that we witnessed upon leaving Egypt fulfill both of the above roles. On the one hand, they expressed before our very eyes many of the truths upon which our faith is based, such as Hashem’s control and supervision of the world, reward and punishment etc. This means that as we reflect on these ideas with our minds, our knowledge of them is accompanied by the “remembrance” of our direct experience of them in Egypt.

At the same time, those events serve as a “sign” regarding our future redemption. We should never feel that we are beyond or unworthy of being redeemed. Regarding this too, we turn back to our experiences in Egypt, where we were in an extremely low and spiritually impoverished state, yet nevertheless, Hashem recalled His covenant with our forefathers and redeemed us. This itself is a source of confidence and conviction regarding the possibility of our redemption in the future. For this reason, the hand-tefillin are worn on the weaker arm, representing the Jewish people even in their weakened state, yet at the same time they are turned inward toward the heart, for they give our hearts hope for the future.

Hashem’s Tefillin

The Meshech Chochmah proceeds to move the discussion from our tefillin to those of Hashem, which as the Gemara describes, contain praises of the Jewish people, representing His connection with them.[7] Those, too, comprise head and arm tefillin, reflecting two aspects of that connection, as Hashem expresses elsewhere, “וְהָיוּ עֵינַי וְלִבִּי שָׁם כָּל הַיָּמִים – and My eyes and heart shall be there all the days.”[8]

·      The head tefillin, between the eyes, represent Hashem’s supervision of, and interaction with, the Jewish people.

·      The arm tefillin, positioned near the heart, represent Hashem’s love for the Jewish people.

From the Tachanun

In the tachanun prayer on Monday and Thursday, we say,

עד מתי עוזך בשבי ותפארתך ביד צר

Until when will Your strength be in captivity and Your splendor in the hands of the oppressor?

The concepts of “oz” and “tiferes” are related by the Gemara to the arm and head tefillin, respectively.[9] Thus, we are asking, “For how long will we remain in exile where Your love [arm-tefillin] and supervision [head-tefillin] of Your people are suppressed? Bring the final redemption so that they may both be revealed to all!”

With this in mind, he explains why the four sections of the head tefillin are in four separate compartments, while those of the arm tefillin are all written together on the same parchment. The Rambam writes that when it comes to hashgachah, not all Jews receive the same measure of Divine supervision, rather, it depends on the level of the person.[10] Hence, the head tefillin are divided into four separate compartments, representing the four categories of Jew described by the Midrash: those who have Torah learning, those who have good deeds, those who have both and those who have neither.[11] By contrast, the four paragraphs in the arm tefillin are all written on the same parchment and placed in the same compartment. For that tefillin represents Hashem’s love for His people, which is constant and uniform, regardless of their level.

[1] See e.g. commentaries of Rashi and Ran to the opening Mishnah of Maseches Pesachim.

[2] Pesachim 7b.

[3] Bereishis 44:12.

[4] 13:7.

[5] Pesachim 8a.

[6] The Meshech Chochmah concludes his comment with the words, “So it appears to me from a standpoint of pshat.” The background to these concluding words is that the Gemara (Pesachim 5b, referenced by the Meshech Chochmah in the course of his discussion), identifies a gezeirah shavah between the prohibitions of “shall not be found” and “shall not be seen,” deriving thereby various laws from one to the other. Nonetheless, the Meshech Chochmah notes that, alongside the Gemara pooling certain laws between the two prohibitions, the extent to which each one remains distinct, as indicated by its specific phraseology, can still inform us of (halachic!) differences between the two from a standpoint of pshat.

[7] See Berachos 6a.

[8] Melachim I 9:3.

[9] See Berachos ibid. and Bava Basra 60b.

[10] See Moreh Nevuchim 3:18.

[11] See Vayikra Rabbah 30:12.