David Fine

How best not to sell your chametz

While the dangers of the Internet and the digital age have been widely written about over the years, the blessings that the internet offers to the Torah world have not been noted enough. The advent of the Internet and the digital age have been a great blessing to the world of Torah observance and mitzvot. The opportunities they provide for Torah study on a mass scale are unprecedented. Being able to find any book or any ritual item and have it on one’s doorstep the next morning is a blessing. Using social media to mobilize large groups to bring about important change is useful. The Torah world has a lot for which to be thankful.

The last few days have seen the usual annual influx of text messages and emails announcing the sale of chametz online. The sale of chametz throughout the generations was done by those who go to the rabbi and legally authorize the rabbi to sell the chametz. On the face of it, this innovation of an internal sale seems to be another blessing for which to be thankful. Not only are observant people able to avoid the need to find the time to see the rabbi physically, but now, using the halachic concept of “Mezakeh et HaRabim (bring public benefit)”, multitudes of non-mitzvot observant people are able to sell their chametz easily. What could be bad? In fact, it was a rabbinic organization itself that was originally behind the digital selling of chametz becoming a successful initiative.

For many years before making aliyah, I served as a pulpit rabbi in two small Jewish communities in the American Midwest. In contrast to the homogeneity of Orthodox communities on the coasts and other large cities, the Orthodox communities I served were quite heterogeneous. They included many people who do not observe Halacha as well as people who rarely come to synagogue regularly. Why people of this type choose to belong to an Orthodox synagogue is a topic for another article but suffice it to say that I served all kinds of people. What I found about selling chametz was telling. Many people who came to the synagogue only 3 days a year sought me out to sell their chametz. They connected to Pesach and wanted to show it in ways in addition to sitting at the Seder. It was during these one-on-one meetings, brief as they were, that I could connect with my congregants and strengthen my bond with them. It was good for me, and I hope, it was good for them too.

And it wasn’t just 3 times a year Jews. Whether it was people who came to synagogue 3 times a year, every shabbat or 3 times daily, they craved and needed a human connection to a real living Rabbi and not just a computer screen. This meeting between the rabbi and community member was, traditionally, perhaps the only time of the year when a rabbi was one-on-one with a certain audience.

The Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, which I lead, works every day to strengthen the relationship between the rabbi and the members of his congregation. Sometimes we have no choice. Many people simply do not intend to come to the synagogue to sell their chametz and therefore we must provide the internet option.  But we must try very hard to encourage those who would do it personally to actually do it. In all too many places, the internet option is offered as a “Lechatchila” when it should be a “Bedieved”.  As great as the internet is people still need and will always still need personal connection. Certainly, after the Corona pandemic – the more personal contact we can make, especially during these challenging days, the better it will be for us personally and for all the people of Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi David Fine is the Founder and Dean of the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics in Modiin, Israel. He was a pulpit rabbi in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Overland Park, Kansas before making Aliyah in 2008.
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