Passover: The Holiday of Stringencies

April 9, 2015

Pesach – Yom Sheni – 5775

Definitely the important sermon for these days of Yom Tov was given yesterday.

Had few ideas for today – liked one about being thankful for what we have not focused on what we lack –  but what you will actually hear as this morning’s “sermon” came as accident while preparing my sedarim, amongst the many papers from past sedarim I led was a fun second day drasha from 5761 (14 years ago –time of great turmoil at Beth El  and a year before Rabbi Harris selected)  but still relevant I think especially to second day Pesach crowd (more observant and more exhausted)  Must have been bashert. Added to it from other readings and hopefully somewhat appropriate.

A common theme of my chag sermons has been one of the more troublesome and irritating issues in Jewish religious life today. The issue is the continual move to the right that produces halachic decisions that keep raising the bar and raising the feelings of illegitimacy or “why bother” among growing numbers of Jews. I alluded to this problem in a siyyum teaching back in the day, arguing for the Talmudic principle “A decree should not be imposed upon the community unless the majority of the community can follow it.”  The stringencies (chumras)(vs. kulas which are leniencies) that we are seeing more and more often fly in the face of that principle, to the detriment of the majority. Just look on your box of perfectly pareve pretzels and wonder why there is an OU D. That’s just one little chumra from 14 years ago, and they abound.

What I want to offer today is in most ways a satire on the chumra fever that is gripping the religious world.  Some creative minds, courtesy of the Internet, have proposed some new Chumra’s(stringencies) for Pesach, the holiday of chumras,  and they are a delight. A delight because they are not meant to be taken seriously, though there will be some who will want to. And, if nothing else, you will brush up on your halachic vocabulary.  These imaginary chumras will be followed by a nice reflection on a key Pesach ritual  and one final little Pesach story coming out of England.

And now to the Chumra’s, ones you have never thought of I am sure – unless you have an excellent memory.   They “come from” Rabbi Yisroel Grundfliegel SHLITA”H, a totally fictitious Self-Described Halachik Authority and Successful Lower East Side Real Estate Developer. Here are his halachik issues and decisions:

  1. Braces (as in teeth): Those people who normally wear braces while consuming chametzdike food, must have their braces kashered for Pesach. I bet you never thought about that, but once you do, it’s obvious!? The preferred method is that of Libbun, which can be accomplished by crinkling your lips up to expose your teeth and then running a blow torch along the entire length of your braces. Some authorities are meikel/ lenient and permit kashering of braces by dunking your open mouth into a bowl of scalding hot water.
  2. Digestive System: While most people put all their efforts into ridding their homes and cars of Chametz, there is one place even more personal that is traditionally neglected during bedikat Chametz – your very own digestive system, including stomach, small intestine and large intestine (colon).  Those who have consumed Chametz during the 24-hour period prior to biyyur Chametz must spend the proper time in the bathroom prior to the time of issur Chametz/ no longer permitted to allow the elimination of any residual Chametz from their bodies.  Some halachik authorities also require the use of a laxative to assist in the elimination process.  [Note:  Some laxatives are Chametz and may not be used Erev Pesach.  Please consult your local rabbinical authority for which laxatives may be used.]
  3. Gebruchts: Baruch Hashem, many of us are very careful to not put any non-solid food on our matzah, lest the liquid combine with any unbaked flour and become Chametz. Call that gebruchts. But what about our saliva and digestive juices? Saliva contains water and could very well cause problems of gebruchts.  Until recently, it was felt that this problem was insurmountable, and thus, many poskim/ def were meikel on this issue.  But it has come to my attention [says R. Grundfliegel]  that it is common practice for drug dealers to smuggle their drugs inside a human courier, by having the person ingest the drugs inside a small rubber balloon or, chas v’sholom, prophylactic.   It would appear that this is also a perfect method for eating matzoh without worrying about the possibility of gebruchts.  So this year, one should try to be machmir/ def and put all matzah in small rubber balloons before swallowing it.  [Caution: none of this is to be taken literally, please G-d]
  4. Shiur of Matzah (amount): As you may be aware, the issue of shiurim is one that has been discussed at length. This year, I  (Rabbi Grundfliegel)  decided to reexamine the whole issue in the hopes of settling it conclusively, using my own opinion, and I was astonished by what I found.  As you know, we are all required to eat a “kezayit“/olive’s worth of matzah.  But how much is a “kezayit“?  Obviously olives in the time of the Torah were not the size of today’s puny olives!  To determine the exact size of Torah olives, I went to the pasuk [see Zahler Door Frame etchings by Tamar] (Deut. 8:8 – describes Promised Land)”Eretz Chitah U’Se’orah V’Gefen U’T’einah V’Reemon, Eretz Zeyt Shemen U’dvash/ a land of wheat and oats, vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”  It occurred to me that this pasuk lists the seven species IN SIZE ORDER!  The pasuk starts with the tiny grains that are wheat and oats, continues with the slightly larger grape, and then the even larger fig, then there is a pomegranate, and then the olive and it ends with honey.  Thus, the size of an olive comes out to be somewhere between that of a pomegranate and that of a large jar of honey.  Being that achilat matzah/def  is a mitzvah d’oraitah/from the Torah, we must be machmir/stringent  by using the size of the jar of honey.  After checking with officials at the Golden Blossom Company, it turns out that the largest jar of honey sold commercially is 32 oz.  So, by taking into account the amount of flour that fits into a 32 oz. jar, we come up with the shiur kezayit/ def as being 4.7 round matzot, or 6.4 square matzot.  Please remember that this matzoh [6.4 square matzot and no less] must be consumed within the allowed time at the Sedarim which is 5 minutes!
  5. Water: Water contains many microorganisms, which, according to many poskim, fall under the category of shratzim/bugs. While this does not present a specific problem for Pesach, it can be a problem all year round.  I recommend using micro-bodek bottled water – guaranteed organism free.
  6. Soda: In addition to the problem of containing water (see #5), soda has the additional problem of containing bubbles, thus creating the possibility that it will be confused with beer, which is, of course, Chametz mamash/def.  Some rabbanim permit the use of soda on Pesach, though I personally wouldn’t eat in any of their homes.  On the subject of soda, let me quote an excerpt from the popular sequel to “Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchatah”, “Shmirat Pesach K’Hilchato”: “While use of soda and other carbonated beverages are permitted on Pesach, it is nonetheless desired to refrain from drinking them.  In fact, it is generally desired to refrain from ALL forms of permissible activity throughout the year, lest halachah not be seen as sufficiently burdensome and unpleasant.”  Let me repeat that sentence.  There, friends, is the ultimate chumra, but it has a perfect logic.
  7. Mechirat Chametz/selling the chametz to a gentile [last item here]: The question has come about whether a family where the wife doesn’t wear a sheital, or whose kids learn at a co-ed school, chas v’shalom, can be considered gentiles/goyim for purposes of Mechirat Chametz. The “Makat Mardut”, Rabbi Yechiel Getzel Grunblatt of Flatbush, deals with this question in his best-selling sefer/book on hilchot Pesach/laws of Pesach, “VaYichan Sham Neged HaHar: Spending Pesach in the Mountains” [great pun on Exod 19:2 there, but too hard to explain]: “Whereas many “Jewish” families are considered by frume Yidden to be gentiles [goyim],  l’chatchilah/before the fact, it’s better to sell your Chametz to a true church-going (duch gatribene) gentile.  However, one may keep such people (the Jews who aren’t religious enough)  in mind when reciting the brachah “shelo asani…” [too long to explain]

This concludes our issues for Pesach, says R. Grundfliegel.  Please look for upcoming halachah bulletin’s [he assures us] dealing with following issues:

  • Using happy tunes in kedushah during sefirah
  • Wearing light-colored suits during the summer
  • Has your wall-to-wall carpeting been shatnez tested?
  • Wishing you a happy and kosher l’mehadrin min hamehadrin min hamehadrin
  • Pesach/ most stringent of the most stringent and hopeful that this year will see the coming of the Mashiach.

Rabbi Yisroel Grundfliegel

Let me share some words from my colleague R. Diane Cohen (Colonia NJ), in remarks she made a few years back:

Every year, I swear I’ll never do it again. Every year,  it gets more and more  difficult.

It used to be, I was surrounded by small children, dogs and hamsters. There

was help, someone to bring the dishes in from the garage, someone to help take them out again. I worked late into the night and I was tired, but the context was family and somehow I was all right.

Then I left [ I believe she is divorced and the kids by now grown up] and everything changed overnight.

I left the kids and the dogs and the hamsters and the support. And [then] my mother  left  me. Inone summer,  my  history disappeared.

Or so I thought.

So I’m standing here on my stepstool, going through the motions again. Except unlike the old days, in the house in the suburbs, I carry in and carry out by myself. There are fewer dishes, and fewer people to feed.

And unlike the old days in the suburbs, I have beautiful  etched glass    stemware and silverplated tableware and ancient ceramic dishes that serve only four (and even then missing a tea cup) – all my mother’s legacy. There’s the little brown teapot with the handpainted  flowers. And the honey  pot.  And the strawberry jar.

And I realize that my history isn’t gone at all.

So while I tape the paper over the hametzdik glasses and cups to hide them,

and wonder why I keep doing this, I reflect on the quiet pleasure I find each year when I unpack the glass compote set and the matching glasses – all the vestiges of my childhood when everything seemed, to me at least, so simple and so safe. These are all old friends. It’s wonderful  to greet them  every year.   [slow]

Passover isn’t an event. It’s a process. It’s the unfolding of memories, the rediscovering of old friends.

The liberation of Passover, that happens over and over again each year, is

the liberation from the bondage of the pain that is wrapped around each memory. How easy it would be to put the dishes and glasses and stemware away, never look, never be reminded of the sweet times I remember. The walnuts and hazelnuts floating in Manischewitz concord grape, not during the seder but watching TV two days later. The taste of my mother’s sponge cake with Swee-Touch-Nee Tea. The gefilte fish and carrot slices, icy cold and freshly made the day before. And the warmth and security I took for granted.

I am free now to remember without too many tears. And the tears are from happiness as much as they are from sadness – for they are the tears of one blessed to have had those memories. I was lucky then and I am lucky now, to have the memories to unpack with my mother’s things every Passover.

So I will continue to pack them away and unpack them  again, and  rediscover these old friends, friends I would take for granted if they were with me every day of the year. And I will be grateful for the tears I shed when I see them each spring, for the freedom to choose to bring them  out again, [ slow]  for the freedom to choose my  burdens, and  for the freedom to love my  burdens.

 And now to conclude with a little story from England.  Robert Winston was the son of a town mayor, his grandfather was a rabbi.  He became a world-renowned gynecologist, TV personality and member of the British House of Lords. His mother once told a friend of a rabbi friend of mine that every year her aunts would come to them for Seder and make a thorough inspection of the house [looking for chometz]. Imagine the chutzpah, but they did it anyway.  One year, on the day before Pesach, just before inspection time the bowl in the toilet cracked and water poured out everywhere, and they had to call in workmen to install a new one.  And of course the aunts arrived in the middle of everything.  They were absolutely amazed: “Ruth, they said to his Mom, do you mean to say that you change THAT for Pesach as well?!”  To which she replied with a straight face, “Of course! Don’t you?”

Let me stop here. I never promised you a rose garden, or even a teeball field, just a light look at one of the issues in Jewish religious life today. While humor is good for a day like today where sleepiness during sermons is a problem, the issue is not really a laughing matter. The mitzvoth are to live by. As the zealots move the bar higher and higher, the chumra of the week as we call it, I fear that more and more numbers of our people who are motivated to be observant, but want to have a bit of a life too, will be shut out. Our movement stands in the best place of any to combat this issue. But we can maintain the moral high ground on halachah and be a force for sanity only as long as we ourselves take seriously the system of mitzvoth itself, and live by it. That’s our big challenge, and I know you are not the ones who need to hear this. But you are here, and you’ll tell your friends that I said so, and come next Pesach – I am certain there will be new chumras about which to pull out our hair, or at least scrape our braces.  Amen


Rabbi Bill Rudolph
Congregation Beth El
Second Day Passover 5775