Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the mitzvah of "tashbisu"

Time to start getting geared up for Pesach! One of the many notable issues the Minchas Chinuch delves into in his discussion of Pesach is defining the nature of the mitzvah of “tashbisu” (#9 in the Chinuch’s count). Is it a positive mitzvah to actually go out and burn chameitz, just like the mitzvah to eat matzah or pick up a lulav, or is the mitzvah to simply passively be in a state of not possessing chameitz, like the mitzvas aseh of “shabason” which we keep by not doing work on Shabbos? Briskers would phrase the same issue somewhat differently – is the mitzvah a “chovas hagavra”, i.e. the person is obligated to eliminate chameitz, or a “chovas hacheftza”, a din that chameitz itself, if possessed, must be eliminated?

The simplest nafka minah in this chakira is whether a person who owns no chameitz on Erev Pesach fulfills the mitzvah of tashbisu. If there is a chovas hagavra to go out and eliminate chameitz, one needs to get chameitz and destroy it, even if that means buying a loaf of bread just to burn it. But if the mitzvah is simply to be in a state of not possessing chameitz, one need not take any action if one does not have any chameitz to destroy. The Minchas Chinuch suggests a few more creative nafka minos: 1) With respect to the din of “chotef mitzvah”, i.e. someone is not permitted to seize a mitzvah you are about to do. If someone burns the chameitz you were planning to eliminate, have they stolen your mitzvah? The answer is “yes” only if you assume the mitzvah is the act of eliminating chameitz; if the mitzvah is simply being in a state of not owning chameitz, the process of burning or destroying the chameitz is just a means to an end but not the mitzvah itself. 2) With respect to “mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah”. If you find chameitz on Pesach and eat it (which is certainly a valid way to get rid of chamietz), has one fulfilled the mitzvah of “tashbisu”? True, one has also violated an issur in the process, but “mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira” may only be a derabbanan consideration (Tosfos Sukkah 9a); strange as it may sound, perhaps one gets some credit for fulfilling an aseh in this case. The kiyum mitzvah only counts, however, if the act of eliminating the chameitz is a mitzvah. If the process is just a means to an end, one gets no credit at all – only an issur of having ingested chameitz.

This issue may boil down to a debate among Rishonim – more to come, bl”n.


  1. Mahloqet Rambam vs. Tosafot?

  2. I am not clear on whether the Rambam's view is muchrach like one way or the other. What do you think and why?

  3. Rambam's concept of Bittul seems like more of a positive expression of the repudiation of hametz than simply a mechanism for ensuring one does not possess it.