Converting Hametz on Shabbat

This is one of those special years.

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Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin,

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Arutz 7
This is one of those special years when the day directly preceding Passover (the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan) falls on Shabbat. During ordinary times and under ordinary circumstances, the day preceding Passover is by far the most hectic of our entire Jewish calendar year: the evening before is the final search with a candlelight to ferret out any bit of leavening (hametz) which may still remain in the house; a portion of hametz is then put away
In what manner is the hametz to be destroyed?
for the following morning meal, which must be concluded by the end of the fourth hour of the day; and then comes the final act of the burning of hametz as the symbol of the destruction of evil. Hametz is, after all, fermented and puffed up matzah, thereby serving as a symbol of pride, materialism and hedonism, which can readily lead to sin.

But what do we do this year, when the day before Passover falls on Shabbat? When do we eat our last hametz meal and when do we burn the hametz? The Bible prescribes, "but on the day preceding Passover, you must destroy (tashbitu) the leaven from your homes." (Exodus 12:16)

In what manner is the hametz to be destroyed? The Mishna teaches: "Rabbi Yehudah says that there is no destruction of hametz except by burning. And the sages say that you can even destroy the hametz by crumbling it and scattering it to the winds or by casting it into the sea." (Mishna Pesachim 2,1)

Let us now examine the Mishna (Pesachim 3,8) which specifically deals with our question: "When the fourteenth day of Nissan falls out on the Sabbath, all the hametz is to be destroyed before the Sabbath [that is, on Friday], says Rabbi Meir. The sages say that the hametz is to be destroyed at the proper time [which means on Shabbat]."

Logic would dictate that the difference of opinion between the sages and Rabbi Meir is similar to the difference of opinion we have previously cited between the sages and Rabbi Yehudah; since Rabbi Meir agrees with Rabbi Yehudah that the hametz must be destroyed by fire, this destruction is forbidden on Shabbat, and so the hametz must be burnt on Friday. The sages, on the other hand, who believe that hametz can also be destroyed by casting it to the winds or by throwing it into the sea, can very well have us destroy the hametz on Shabbat; all you really have to do is flush it down the toilet. We would therefore expect that normative practice follows the sages and that the last hametz meal, along with its destruction, take place on Shabbat before the end of the fourth hour.

However, the great scholar and codifier Maimonides does not see it this way. He rules ("Laws of Hametz and Matzah" 3,3) that, indeed, the search for hametz this year must take place on Thursday evening; on Friday morning the hametz must be burnt. Sufficient hametz - or rather sufficient bread for 'hamotzi' for the two Sabbath meals - must be set aside and eaten apart from the "Passoverized" dining area. He would suggest that four hallot (or rolls or pitas) be placed in a porch area or any suitable separate room which will prevent the hametz from coming into contact with the "Passoverized" food. In other words, the 'motzi' bread must be eaten separately and apart from the main "Passoverized" Sabbath meals. The last bit of hametz must be eaten before the end of the fourth hour on Shabbat morning.

One would now expect Maimonides to rule that some last remaining hametz be destroyed by casting it to the winds or by flushing it down the toilet, in order to fulfill the commandment of destroying hametz. However, Maimonides insists that no hametz be physically destroyed on Shabbat. He insists that some hametz is to be burned on Friday and that, if there still remains hametz on Shabbat morning, a covering must be placed over it so that it cannot be seen and it must be burnt at the conclusion of the first day.

Now why is Maimonides so insistent that the hametz not be destroyed on the Sabbath? After all, normative law should follow the sages, and they maintain that hametz can be destroyed by casting it to the seas or - in our
Why is Maimonides so insistent that the hametz not be destroyed on the Sabbath?
terminology - by flushing it down the toilet. Should we not physically destroy it on Shabbat and thereby fulfill the command of destroying hametz at its proper time on the fourteenth day of Nissan?

My teacher and mentor, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, provides a marvelous explanation based on the concept that hametz symbolizes evil. He explains that there are two ways to destroy evil, or to destroy Amalek, who represents evil: either by physically destroying him or by converting him to our side. After all, if Amalek were to accept the seven Noahide laws of morality, he would no longer be Amalek, the symbol of evil. The festival of Passover tells us to destroy the hametz physically because, at the dawn of our history, we were not strong enough to influence evil to accept our ethical world view. Rosh Hashanah, which comes seven months later, is the festival which teaches us that our ultimate and highest goal is to perfect the world under the kingship of G-d and to influence Amalek to repent. The Sabbath represents this higher ideal of converting Amalek rather than destroying him. Therefore, on the Sabbath we can never destroy hametz, not even by casting it to the winds or flushing it down the toilet. On Shabbat morning we can eat the hametz - and therefore utilize it to strengthen ourselves - but we dare not destroy it. Our goal is not to destroy, but rather to convert and uplift - even evil.