Jonathan Muskat
Jonathan Muskat

Pesach — a time of stringency or leniency?

I often am asked if someone must continue to observe a particular stringency even if it may not be meaningful to him or her.  I think that there are a number of legitimate reasons to maintain stringent positions.  Those are, a sense of Kavod haRav and deference to a minority position in halacha,  a recognition of our own weaknesses and a desire to place a fence around ourselves to prevent us from sinning, and a desire to passionately elevate ourselves to come even closer to God.

As an example, someone asked me around Purim time what I thought about zoom Megilla readings.  He was asking me because his son was only comfortable hearing the megillah from him because of COVID restrictions and the son was planning to drive an hour each way on Purim night and Purim day so that he would hear the megillah from the father.  The father thought that this was excessive and the son could simply listen to the megillah on Zoom.  I told him that there are different positions amongst the Poskim about whether you can fulfill your obligation by a microphone and by extension, on Zoom, based on their understanding of why you cannot fulfill the obligation of the mitzvah of shofar if you hear the echo of the shofar.  As an example, Rav Moshe Feinstein believed that the problem with an echo is that it is a weak sound.  For this reason, he was open to the possibility of fulfilling the mitzvah of megillah with a microphone and the same logic would hold true for a Zoom megillah reading.  However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach felt that hearing a megillah through a microphone is not considered hearing the actual sound of the megillah and therefore, such a megillah reading was invalid.

I told this person that I thought it was completely legitimate for his son to want to fulfill his obligation according to all halachic positions.  This is something he felt strongly about and he was not imposing his stringency on anyone else.  (I would assume that his wife gladly agreed with the plan.)  In fact, I tried to push those who asked me to try to hear the megillah live, either by borrowing a megillah and reading it along by tape or having someone come to his or her house but stay at a safe distance away from the person while reading the megillah.  Of course, many people were still very nervous and that is understandable, but I felt that it was worthwhile to strategize with people to see if we could create a feasible solution to fulfill the mitzvah of megillah according to all opinions.

When it comes to Pesach preparation, I take a decidedly different position.  I am aware of the many strictures associated with the holiday of Pesach.  After all, even the smallest amount of chametz is forbidden on Pesach and we are forbidden from even owning chametz.  At the same time, there have been a number of Pesach preparation practices that people have taken on thinking that they are the only legitimate halachic position when, in fact, there are more legitimate lenient views.

Let me share two of them with you.  First, it is true that on Pesach we may not eat even a crumb of chametz, but most Rishonim rule that one need not destroy chametz that is less than a kzayit. The Mishna Berura rules that the custom is to be stringent and destroy less than a kzayit of chametz; however, he does not write whether one is required to search for chametz that is less than a kzayit. The Chayei Adam and Chazon Ish are stringent to search for even small crumbs of chametz, but many poskim are lenient in this regard. In his Sefer, Peninei Halakha, Rav Melamed rules that since the mitzvah to search for chametz is only a Rabbinic mitzvah, we can be lenient and not search for crumbs.

Secondly, for years many people have mistakenly assumed that the only legitimate halachic position is that we cannot kasher plastic.  This indeed was the position of Rav Moshe Feinstein.   However, other Poskim disagreed and the position of the CRC is that one may kasher plastic for Pesach and the position of the OU Rabbanim is that one may kasher plastic in case of need.  This position may impact whether we can kasher certain countertops and dishwashers for Pesach, although these are complex issues.

Those who wish to be stringent regarding bedikat chametz and kashering plastic are certainly welcome to do so.  Indeed, I have found a number of people who are excited to prepare for Pesach and do so with a love for these mitzvot.  However, I have found many people who are simply exhausted from the challenging preparation and as hard as they try, the preparation has the potential to affect their mood towards the Chag and can impact their Simchat Yom Tov.  Now I don’t for one minute suggest that we can simply do away with halacha and we shouldn’t at times strive to perform mitzvot and observe halacha in its most preferred manner because it doesn’t make us happy.   And in many areas of our lives I feel we need to constantly push ourselves even beyond minimal halachic requirements when the payoff is great, like, for example, Talmud Torah, Tefillah b’tzibbur, etc.

However, Pesach is such a particularly challenging time for many of us.  We feel caught in the struggle to keep the very intricate halachot, but also approach the Yom Tov with simcha.  How do we “do it right” without feeling so burdened that we can’t enter the seder in a good mood?  I think there is room in this area of great halachic strictness to truly ask ourselves, which of the rules are the consensus halachic position, and which of the rules are in fact stringencies?  When respected lenient positions do exist, such as those that I outlined above, I suggest that perhaps we should take advantage of the lenient positions for the sake of our Simchat Yom Tov and peace of mind heading into this very special Chag.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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