SPECIAL PRE-PESACH EDITION
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
Toirah so early in the week? What’s pshat? The bottom line: the heylige Ois know that many of you are off to Florida and other destinations spots to celebrate the great festival of freedom. Many of you are taking flights today, tomorrow and even Friday morning. To provide some entertainment and give you a few minutes of freedom from your significant other while in flight, now is a good time to read and re-read this week’s special edition.
Oy vey…we are quickly running out of time to sell the chometz lest we violate a major prohibition in the heylige Toirah and incur the wrath of the RBSO. We previously covered the ganzte mechiras chometz gisheft (sale of) back in 2012; it’s back by popular demand with a few additions to make it look as if it were written this week. Shoin, the heylige Ois is very busy this week; give me a break! First time readers will mamish enjoy. Those who have been following the weekly posts for more than two years, have already forgotten; you and they too can enjoy.
Shoin! Because neither Eliyohu nor the Moshiach made an appearance this entire year -some say they were homebound due to covid concerns- and though we half-hearted invited Eliyohu at last year’s seder but would likely not have let him in without his mask, and would not believe he was Eliyohu anyway- and avada the Moshiach doesn’t need an invitation, in a few days we’ll be sitting down to break a few dozen matzos and to retell one of the oldest stories, that of Yitzyas Mitzrayim (freedom from slavery). Why didn’t Eliyohu come, ver veyst? Did we not make him feel welcome or wanted? Did we not pour him a nice cup of wine? We did! In fact, we used the largest big-ass becher we have in the house. Did we not wholeheartedly sing l’shono habo b’yirusholayim (next year in Jerusalem)? We did! Ober again, as in the last few thousand years, he was a no-show. Will he come next year? Ver veyst? Mistama not if he’s waiting for the Yiddin to stop speaking loshoin horo or keep shabbis for two consecutive weeks. And because we remain in golus (diaspora), we must celebrate Pesach and observe the myriad laws connected to this holiday. Moreover, because most of us will be traveling to Orlando and surrounds, and not to Yirusholayim, a full three days of celebration lies ahead as the heylige shabbis precedes Yom Tov this year. Yikes!
Just last night the Ois entered into a shtikel transaction in which he sold his chometz to an unsuspecting goy; hopefully he won’t find out, write about it in the NY Times, call the authorities or even worse, demand delivery, or entry into the house. A business transaction was entered into, chometz was sold but no chometz was delivered. Did you give your local rabbi the keys to your house or liquor cabinet? Not! Did he ask for a key? Not! Did the goy ask for a key? Also not! Nor was there a hava-mina (first thought) for a closing to take place and/ or for chometz ever to be delivered. Oy vey! Ober not to worry; seemingly the sale is kosher lechol hadayos (according to all opinions) because money did change hands and the deal was papered. In legal jargon, consideration was paid. Money taka changed hands ober the seller (me) didn’t see one red cent. Epes, a middleman made off with the cash. How all this works, ver veyst but when it comes to making money, don’t sell our clergy short. Though primarily trained in the heylige Toirah, Mishna, Gemora and halocho, money is the great equalizer. Not just didn’t I receive money from the sale, it cost money to make the sale. In plain English: the transaction was a money loser. What’s pshat? Have you ever made a sale where instead of collecting, you had to pay? Mistama not! Back in business 1.1, you were zicher taught that the seller receives and the buyer pays. In other words: the buyer needs to come with some consideration in order to purchase the assets he wishes to acquire. Ober that was business school and this myne teyirer chaverim (my good friends) is yiddishe gisheft (Jewish business). In yiddishe gisheft, everything is possible and it’s also therefore logical for the seller to have to pay for the privilege of selling his chometz to the goy who has no money, no intention of every buying the chometz and mistama hasn’t a clue as to what’s going on except that the rabbi told him to sign here. Shoin, when the goy sees the white hankie come out of the rabbi’s pocket and the rabbi says to pick it up, what’s he supposed to do? What if the rabbi decided to call immigration? And were the goy to show up over Pesach and announce that he’s here to pick up the chometz he purchased through the rabbi, your agent, would you let him and mamish let him walk off with your chometz? A nectiger tug (fugetaboutit)!
Moreover, when the goy does his books and the accountant asks him for his COGS (costs of goods sold), he can, with a straight face, taka say zero. He paid nothing but did for eight days walk around like a multimillionaire. He was controlling liquid assets worth millions in neighborhoods worth billions. What could be better?
Grada (so happens) that it’s difficult to imagine any other transaction or sale scenario so lopsided, yet as mentioned above, is still somehow approved, ratified, certified and supervised by none other than the heylige Gemora and many rabbis who have over the years made a few substantive changes to the business model and today, enjoy a much improved business with metrics pointing to continued and steady growth for years to come. Only one thing could kill the entire business: the arrival of the Moshiach. Thankfully for the rabbis in the business and mamish thousands of other Toirah inspired entrepreneurs, his appearance is not imminent. Ober was it always like this? Is this what the heylige Toirah had in mind when it commanded us not to possess or see any chometz during the entire Pesach yom tov? Mistama not!
The Oisvorfer still has long memories dating back to his childhood when he accompanied der tata (his father) to the rebbe, where der tata signed his name alongside many others, lifted the rebbe’s dirty handkerchief, slipped him a few dollars (typically in cash) and shoin: like the Ace in the Three Card Monte trick – magic mamish- all the chometz we had in the house was suddenly no longer ours. And then eight days later, in David Copperfield fashion, an hour or so after Yom Tov, we opened the door to the chometz closet and mamish a modern day neys-min-hoshomayim took place before our very eyes: the same chometz we sold to the goy for X dollars and for which we received Y dollars (Y=$0) and for which we paid the selling broker (the rebbe) Z dollars, was there just where we left it. Nu, could there be a bigger miracle than that? Avada nisht. How did all this start and is this glatt kosher? Nu, let’s see.
The heylige Gemora’s discussion of Pesach begins with a Mishne (Pesachim 2a) which details how far into one’s wine cellar one must go in order to seek and eliminate all traces of chometz (leaven) from our midst. Toisfis quoted by the Gemora (30b) describes a case where two friends went boating, one Yid and his friend the goy. It’s mamish just before Pesach and the Yid has no opportunity to rid himself of his chometz. Shoin, not to worry. He may sell it to the goy, even while stipulating that after Pesach the goy will return the chometz to him. And says Toisfis: This is deemed permissible despite the apparent trickery involved. It appears that the Yid never really intended to sell his chometz, he only wished to avoid any technical ownership. And based on this scenario, many other heavyweights jumped into the fray to argue and discuss under what conditions a Jew may or may not make a sale or sham sale to a goy in order to rid himself of his chometz.
Ober we’ll skip that for now and begin instead with some historical background. Pesach is, after all, about history. The practice of selling chometz to remove it from Jewish ownership on Pesach, as dictated by the RBSO, has gone through four historical stages. Four is taka a number associated with Pesach as we have the four cups of wine, the four sons, the four questions and when it comes to the second day of yom tov and the seder, we of course ask, what for? Ober when Al Gore- remember him- invented the internet, he set the stage for a 5th iteration and this latest twist on chometz sales. His invention has sent shivers down the spines of the establishment. It’s mamish the battle of the brick and mortar – the rabbis- vs. the virtual internet and while this revolutionary idea was first commercialized by the very forward thinking and enterprising members of Chabad, the establishment, including yeshivas and other disseminators of Toirah have caught on. Competition is heating up.
Says Reb Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Homoiadim Behalocho ch.4) azoy: way back when, individuals taka permanently sold their chometz to goyim (gentiles) – they either delivered the chometz or the goy picked it up- and avada this seems to be a glatt kosher way of observing this mitzvah. It was a real sale. Let’s call this stage one. The Yiddin weren’t too happy with this method but halocho is halocho and they kept it.
Eventually the Yiddin started acquiring more goods including spirits (read: scotch and other fine drinks) and quickly figured out that this sale before Pesach was a losing proposition and epes Pesach didn’t feel all that right with the goy making money off their backs after the Yiddin had slaved for 400 years. What to do? Enter stage two: in this iteration of chometz selling, the Yiddin taka sold their chometz and then repurchased the chometz after Yom Tov. And said Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (aka: the Bach) azoy: one is permitted to sell his liquor without removing it from its premises. Ober how? By simply renting the storage space where the liquor was housed to the unsuspecting goy, along with the sale of the other chometz products. Even though the sale would be reversed after Pesach, the Bach held that it was nonetheless an effective and legal sale. Taka it doesn’t sound all that different than does stage one ober Raboyseyee, it is. Back then in both stages, the seller (the Yiddin) sold and delivered the sold goods to the goy. The goy paid and received goods, mamish the way a real contract should work. Ober the Yiddin soon tired of packing up and schlepping chometz to the goy’s house and then having to schlep it all home again. Besides, how can they trust that the goy didn’t dilute the scotch with some water or use our special dishes for himself for his Palm Sunday or Easter meals? What to do? Introducing stage three.
In this stage, the Yiddin sold their chometz without removing it from their own homes. Yes, I sold it to you Mr. Goy but I think I’ll just hold onto it. Of course, you are more than welcome to come by anytime and retrieve it: Not!! Nu, when the Yiddin saw that this stage was working out to their advantage – no more schlepping- they went out and perfected what we now call stage four and in this stage we authorize our local Rabbi to conduct the entire sale and repurchase the chometz on behalf of the gantze kihila (entire community). As you can only imagine, each stage was quite controversial and wasn’t adapted universally, but with time each new look of chometz selling took hold with the support of major halachic authorities who avada also enjoyed their commissions for arranging the sale/buyback. And taka why not? Isn’t life supposed to get easier?
Grada this easy form of ridding one’s house of chometz, has dominated for over a century. Individuals appoint (read: pay) their rabbi as an agent to sell the chometz. Agents do not work for free! Each individual is technically the seller but the rabbi, having been empowered by you touching his handkerchief or otherwise making a kinyan, if you chap, serves as an agent for many people and conducts one communal sale on behalf of all those who appointed him. Shoin, got all that? Let’s go veyter.
As you can imagine these last two stages weren’t without controversy ober what in our beautiful tradition isn’t? Some were quite upset about a sale where goods never left the possession of the seller. In other words: it doesn’t epes have the feel of a real sale. In plain English: is this efsher maybe a sham transaction? And even with money as the great driver, the fourth stage — the communal sale by the rabbi, didn’t sit well by all. If one is not even selling the chometz directly to the poor unsuspecting goy, there is a greater chance that one (I mean you) may not really intend to sell it and that one (you) is just performing a ritual. Is this what the RBSO wants from us? Is this how we repay the RBSO for performing all these miracles for our mishpocho? Seemingly the answer is yes.
And like everything else in life, over the past decade, we have witnessed a new development, the sale of our chometz over the internet. Welcome to ‘click and sell,’ a technological breakthrough. This latest iteration entails the seller entering his/her address and other information on a web form and clicking on a button to appoint a rabbi — sometimes unspecified — as an agent to sell chometz. Without seeing or even speaking to the rabbi performing the sale, the seller is even further removed from the transaction. The seller doesn’t have to visit the rabbi, chap him, have him chap you, do the kinyan, schmooze, wait on line, make small talk and, above all, hand over large sums of money, typically in a white envelope. Does this work? Seemingly yes and many are quite happy but zicher not all rabbis. And avada now you can chap why rabbis are trying to ban the gantze internet. They don’t care about bochurim (young teenagers) watching naketa mydlich (naked girls) on the internet, or that the boys and girls are i-chatting, facetiming, what ‘sapping, sending tantalizing messages, streaming inappropriate videos and ich veys vus (whatever): what they do care about is profits, and internet sales of chometz are zicher and avada cutting into their profits. And when it comes to putting your hands into the rabbi’s pockets, you can rest assured that somewhere a plot is unfolding to find a halachic reason to ban the gantze farshtunkine and tumidikke Internet. On the other hand, some rabbis the Ois encountered growing up didn’t at all mind sticking their hand into our pockets, if you chap, which they did, nebech. Were they looking for chometz, ver veyst? Shoin, efsher they were just strictly adhering to halocho which teaches us that when it comes to chometz, one must reach ad-sheyodi-maseges- (as far as the hand reaches, if you chap.) Oy vey!
And taka how does the Internet sale take place? Is this sale kosher? Nu, let’s see. Says the Shulchan Oruch, Choishen Mishpot 182:1 azoy: Technically, one may appoint an agent merely by stating that you are appointing him. Ober says the RambaM (Mishneh Toirah, Hilchos Mechirah 5:12-13): there’s taka a minhag (custom) to solidify an appointment of an agent by making a kinyan sudar, performing a symbolic act of acquisition which demonstrates the transfer of authority. As we stated above, typically this was accomplished by lifting the rabbi’s handkerchief or pen and telling the rabbi that you were appointing him. Nowadays, a few contemporary rabbis have introduced new and fun items to hold, each meant to convey the spirit of you, the seller appointing the rabbi as your agent to conduct this so called sale where nothing ever leaves your possession except the cash that does leave your hands and never comes back. Ober says the Rambam: this ceremonial lifting does make clear that you truly want to appoint this agent to act on your behalf. Ober bazman hazeh (in our modern times), one can also just lift his/her mobile device, or, if at home on a desktop, maybe even the keyboard or mouse and ceremoniously appoint the internet rabbi through this new type of Kinyan. The bottom line: inadvertently, all major credit card companies and other payment systems to include Venmo, and PayPal, are in the Pesach gisheft making a living off our holidays.
Shoin, the Oisvorfer is – for the first time- off to Orlando where he will join another 80-90,000 Yiddin and to check out the chometz poolside, and maybe to do some bidika, if you chap. He looks forward to sharing his observations. Until then, wishing all a chag kosher v’somayach-
A gittin Shabbis and Yom Tov
The Oisvorfer Ruv