4 Ways of Understanding Negating Chometz and 16 Ways of Negating the Yetzer Harah


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

This article is dedicated in honor of the 15th yahrtzeit of Rav Henoch Liebowtz zatzal which is tonight – the 10th of Nissan.  

Every year at this time, we negate the Chometz.  But what is it, exactly, that we are doing?

Our great Roshei Yeshiva have always taught us that we must look at everything that happens in the world through a Torah lens.  And yet, sometimes, we just plow through life and the fulfillment of our precious Torah rituals, customs, and Tefilos, without really thinking about things.

This is a mistake.

We need to wonder and ponder about our Tefilos and customs too.  And we need to look at them through the eyes of the Rishonim and Acharonim.  As we say in davening, “Ki Haim Chayeinu” – for these constitute our lives.”


Perhaps, somewhat shockingly, there actually seem to be four different understandings of this particular term – “the Bitul of the Chometz.” And, if we further explore these varied opinions we can gain a deeper insight and more appreciation of what it is.


An unscientific straw poll indicated that most people believe that the declaration of Bitul is essentially declaring it ownerless – or hefker.  This, in fact, is the opinion of Tosfos (Psachim 2a “Mide’oraisah) and the Rosh (1:9).


The Ramban, however, challenges the view of Tosfos on several grounds:

If it is a mere declaration of ownerlessness (not sure if that is a word), then why did Chazal use the particular term bitul – negation and not use the term ownerlessness? (The Hebrew is less bulky – hefker).

Whatever happened to the idea that ownerlessness declarations have to be done before three people? These declarations are done by oneself, alone and at home.

Whereever do we ever find that the terminology of “shall be considered like the dust of the earth” is ever effective to declare something ownerless?

Don’t we say that “Dvarim sh’b’laiv ainam dvarim – things left unsaid by mouth but said internally are invalid?

The Gemorah (Psachim 7a) says that you can do it on Shabbos – and making something hefker on Shabbos is forbidden!

The Ramban (basing himself on the Sifrei – lo yira-eh lecha – to you) concludes that the Bitul is a revelation,a gilui daas, that he does not care a twit about that Chometz he had owned previously. “It is nothing in my eyes – I don’t care about it!”  This, in essence, undoes the “the Torah made it as if it is back in his possession.”


The Ran’s view appears to be some sort of synthesis of the two aforementioned views.  He writes that the revelation that he cares not a twit – leads to an automatic reassessment of the ownership status and now places the said item of Chometz in a legal status of hefker – ownerlessness.


And then there is the fourth view.  Both Rashi (Psachim 2a “b’bitul”) and the Rambam (Hilchos Chometz uMatzah 2:2) indicate that this negation is a form of destruction – tashbisu.

There is, of course, much to explore here.  How do the Baalei Tosfos defend themselves against the Ran?  How do the Ramban and the Ran differ exactly? Why did’nt the Ramban and the Ran not agree to the suppositions of Rashi and the Rambam that it is a form of Tashbisu – destruction of Chometz?  Wherein does the Machlokes lie?

Someone recently inquired as to what really goes on in the world of the Yeshivos.  The answer is actually two-fold.  The first is the Torah learning aspect of things.  These ideas presented above are an example of what is explored in the great Yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and in America.  These are the contents of the shiurim that our wonderful Roshei Yeshiva provide to our precious boys in Yeshivos.


The Nesivos Shalom states that Chometz represents not just Chometz but also the Yetzer Harah.  This upcoming Shabbos, Shabbos HaGadol the 10th of Nissan is the 15th yahrtzeit of Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l.  His dedication to Klal Yisroel, his penetrating approach to both mussar and Gemorah learning, and his inculcating his remarkable values within his students are sorely missed by all of his Talmidim and continue to serve as a source of constant inspiration to them.

Presented here below are 16 ways of being Mevatel (negating) the Yetzer Harah, based upon the thoughts and sayings of Rav Henoch Leibowitz zatzal’s  .

  1. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah, by furthering our knowledge of Hashem. This means to walk in His ways. This means to emulate Him in acts of kindness, in seeking just solutions, and in the performance of truly charitable acts.
  2. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by seeking inspiration from the example of others – just so that we can awaken ourselves to perform a difficult task with joy.
  3. When trying to impart a lesson to others, we can help them be mevatel the Yetzer Harah more effectively when we try to have them figure out the lesson themselves.
  4. Sometimes the motivating force to do the right thing and be mevatel the Yetzer Harah when faced with difficulty is the very absence of anyone else present who is willing to do it.
  5. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by talking over and reviewing something deeply with a friend. This allows for greater examination of an issue and helps one see the truth.
  6. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by thinking over and pondering the gravity of our responsibility.
  7. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by never despairing. The awful power of despair can warp and destroy the power of the mind.
  8. Even the greatest of people are susceptible of giving up hope. Realizing this can help us be mevatel the Yetzer Harah.
  9. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by always making the effort – even when the chances look slim. And if we need a miracle, the effort will make it easier. We must always make the effort to remain calm, cool, and collected – even when we are involved in earth-shattering matters.
  10. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by never “Losing it.” – Doing so is a sin.
  11. What is the definition of a “sucker?” To people who are far removed from the concept of chessed it is often it is a pejorative term for a “baal chessed.”
  12. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by performing acts of kindness each day, aside from being obligatory, is a means to acquire the character trait of loving others like oneself – step-by-step.
  13. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by being careful not to join with evil people, even for a worthy goal, because it appears as if we agree with their decisions. The issue is complex and requires consultation with the greatest of Torah leaders.
  14. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by realizing that embedded within the soul of man is a natural tendency toward goodness and fulfilling Hashem’s will. Without this, the soul cannot be truly happy, just like a princess who marries a commoner does not find true happiness.
  15. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by realizing that Humility is not the negation of the true state of affairs – rather it is the recognition of one’s faults and qualities together, with the true and deep realization that all talent comes to us solely by the grace of the Creator.
  16. We can be mevatel the Yetzer Harah by realizing that we cannot achieve a state of wholeness merely by focusing on Mitzvos between man and G-d. One must perfect relationships and fulfill all Mitzvos between man and each other as well, in order to achieve the desired shleimus that we must all reach.


Rav Leibowitz was the only son of his saintly father, Rav Dovid Leibowitz, zt’l, founder of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yisroel Meir HaCohen, commonly known as Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim. The yeshiva was first established in 1933 by Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz, a nephew of the Chofetz Chaim. On December 7, 1941, Rav Dovid Leibowitz passed away, and his son would take over at the helm of the yeshiva.

Rav Henoch Leibowitz molded the yeshiva in the image of the great yeshiva of his father’s rebbi, the Alter of Slabodka. Indeed, Rav Mordechai Shulman, zt’l, a rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael who had intimate knowledge of the Slabodka Yeshiva, commented, “Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim is Slabodka.”

Slowly but surely, Rav Henoch Leibowitz shaped and molded his talmidim to be talmidei chachamim as well as mentchen. He imbued them with a sense of mission to do and work for Klal Yisrael. The greatest achievement for one of his talmidim was to merit to be a marbitz Torah in Klal Yisrael.

And harbatzas Torah they did. Rav Henoch Leibowitz’s talmidim opened up high schools across the nation and beyond—in Miami, Los Angeles, Rochester, Milwaukee, and Ottawa, to name just a few. Rav Leibowitz nurtured his talmidim and the mosdos they set up. Soon, Chofetz Chaim became a major force in American Judaism. Entire Torah communities were to spring up around the Chofetz Chaim branches. These communities yielded fruit. Many graduates of the Chofetz Chaim schools entered harbatzas Torah themselves, in every capacity. The attitude of Rav Henoch’s talmidim created a major turning point and shift in the field and in the public perception of Jewish education, which affected all other yeshivos, as well. A career of harbatzas Torah became a lofty profession, something that the elite should aspire to achieve.

Rav Leibowitz focused his efforts on developing his students in three major areas.

He felt that mechanchim—indeed, everyone—should strive to achieve the highest level of iyun (in-depth study) possible. Toward this end, Rav Leibowitz spent countless hours with his students, teaching them how to unfold the latent processes of reasoning in a Talmudic text. He taught them to highly esteem the words of the Maharsha and to home in on the essence of an argument between the Maharam and the Maharsha. And he taught his talmidim to appreciate the words of the Acharonim, too.

He taught them to focus very closely on the shift between a text’s initial supposition and the turning point in its final conclusion. “What is the shift between the havah amina and the maskana?” was a question he often asked. Most importantly, he taught his students the notion of “muchrach”ism, that each and every piece of Torah they spoke had to be both textually and logically compelling. He eschewed the methodologies of baseless chakiros (logical inquiry and differentiation) and the standard use of “reid” when understanding Torah texts. The yeshiva was well known for the thorough manner in which the talmidim examined the texts they were learning. Shiurim were not just heard once; they were worked on for days and sometimes weeks, so as to understand and appreciate every nuance. (This slow pace, however, was limited to the morning iyun seder. Indeed, for the afternoon and evening bekiyus sedarim, the rosh yeshiva instituted a quota system, where a minimum number of blatt had to be learned each week.)

The second area in which Rav Leibowitz “grew” his talmidim was in the area of mussar thought and texts. Talmidim were taught how to develop a genuine mussar insight, either in psychology or midos or some other area of Torah growth. Such insight, of course, also had to be logically and textually compelling. The true “Slabodka shmuess” was not a d’rush-filled exposition of any Torah thought that comes into the talmid chacham’s mind; no—it had to be derived from a previous Torah text: a Ramban, a Seforno, a Rashi, a Midrash. Otherwise, the integrity of Torah could be compromised, if people’s own ideas were read into the text and represented to the world as Torah.

Thirdly, Rav Leibowitz imbued his students with a sense of mission toward Klal Yisrael. His talmidim were in the forefront of chinuch and the revitalization of Torah throughout North America. His students opened Torah institutions and branches in many cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, St. Louis, Cherry Hill and Manalapan (New Jersey), Cedarhurst, Huntington, Monsey, New York City, Vancouver, Ottowa, Phoenix, and Dallas—and in places in Eretz Yisrael, too.

He personified the midah of emes, as well. Once, for example, a wealthy individual gave a $10,000 donation that was doubled by his corporation’s matching-funds program. The problem was that the donor’s check did not clear. Rav Leibowitz promptly refunded the corporation’s money. Any behavior otherwise was sheer anathema to him. He was a genuine Torah sage in every way, and he would never countenance any form of dishonesty, chalilah.

Rav Leibowitz had a warmth and a smile that conveyed his love for each member of Klal Yisrael. He also had a great sense of humor, which he utilized to connect with talmidim, baalei batim, and other members of Klal Yisrael. Once, when my mother, aleha ha’shalom, met him, she asked him to compile the Kabbalistic writings of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. For the next four weeks, he playfully teased me about it, but it was a loving, playful tease that served to connect. When I, a boy from California with no family in New York, had surgery during my first year in yeshiva, he and his rebbetzin put me up in their house to recover. His rebbetzin, zt’l, served me her nurturing kasha, chicken soup, and kosher jello, and Rav Leibowitz patiently sat and learned with me.

Rav Leibowitz personified the idea of sensitivity toward others and making sure that people realized what it means to cause anxiety to others. A typical shmuess of Rav Leibowitz involved examining Rashi’s comments regarding the person who cursed the name of Hashem, found at the end of Parashas Emor. The pasuk says, “Vayanichuhu ba’mishmar,” they placed him under guard. Rashi comments: “Alone—and they did not leave the person who gathered [sticks] with him.” Why? Rashi explains that even though they both committed their sins during the same time period, one of them, the gatherer of sticks, incurred the death penalty; they just did not know which particular death penalty. But regarding the one who cursed G-d, they did not know what his punishment was to be at all.

Rav Leibowitz asked, how does this difference explain why these two prisoners were housed separately? He answered that they were placed in separate locations to avoid the additional anxiety that the one who cursed G-d would feel if he observed that they housed him with someone who incurred the death penalty. How sensitive we must be to each tzelem Elokim, if even a criminal deserves this sensitivity. The lesson is even more profound when we examine the words of the Da’as Zekeinim. From there we see how particularly heinous the blasphemer who cursed Hashem actually was. And yet we see that we should be sensitive to his anxieties.

Rav Leibowitz, zt’l, was one of the gedolei ha’dor who personified the highest ideals of the Torah—in his words, deeds, teachings, and actions. His impact on Torah in America will be felt for centuries to come.


The author can be reached at [email protected]