There is a well-known and widely used technique to free oneself from violating the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach — selling one’s chametz to a gentile.
Famously, the Vilna Gaon was against this practice. However, mechiras chametz has found widespread acceptance in the general community. Still, there are some individuals who follow the Vilna Gaon and do not sell their chametz.
On the other hand, Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, said that even if one does not own any chametz, he should still arrange a mechirah. This is a hiddur mitzvah to ensure that even minute amounts of chametz will not be owned by the pious individual over Pesach.
Since owning chametz on Pesach involves a Torah prohibition, some individuals do not sell bona fide chametz, such as Cheerios and noodles. However, these individuals may purchase chametz from a Jewish store that relied on such a mechirah. Even if the sale for whatever reason was not valid, on a Biblical level one may eat chametz after Pesach that was owned by a Jew on Pesach, r’l. However, there is a rabbinic restriction against doing so. Therefore, even if one is stringent not to rely on mechiras chametz to evade a Torah prohibition, he may rely on the mechirah to avoid violating the rabbinic prohibition of chametz she’avar alav ha’Pesach, consuming chametz after Pesach that was owned by a Jew during Pesach.
Still, there are certain righteous individuals who are stringent even on this last point. They do not rely on the mechirah even in terms of purchasing chametz from a store that relied on the mechirah. HaRav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, observes this practice. One year, a student of his was walking him home on Friday morning. Pesach that year had ended the day before, on Thursday. The local bakery was fully stocked with challos. Rav Dovid walked into the bakery and purchased challos. His student was very surprised. He said to his rebbe, “Pesach just ended yesterday. How could the bakery have so many freshly baked challos? It is clear that this bakery had ready formed challos and froze them over Pesach. These were then sold to a gentile. While this is halachically fine, I thought that Rebbe has a chumrah not to purchase chametz from a store that relies on the mechirah?”
Rav Dovid answered, “This woman closed her store for nine days and I shouldn’t give her parnassah?!”Rav Dovid explained that in a small community where a local store is dependent on the small number of residents, it is not proper to be machmir on someone else’s dime. In a large community, one can choose to be personally machmir without affecting anyone else.
There is a fascinating wrinkle when it comes to mechiras chametz based on our daf in Avodah Zara (63b). The Gemara questions whether or not one may accept a job destroying avodah zarah. The reason it might be prohibited is because one wants the idols to exist until he starts destroying them. If the idols break apart by themselves he will not have a job. This violates a fascinating esoteric prohibition of wanting something that one may not benefit from — the avodah zara — to exist. In the end, the Gemara concludes that it is permitted to accept the job because for the sake of destroying idols, the sages were lenient. The implication is that one cannot put himself into a situation where he wants something that he may not benefit from to exist. It is only regarding avodah zarah that the sages were lenient.
The Shulchan Aruch rules that one may not rent a brand new pot to a gentile over Pesach that is intended to be used with chametz. The Mishnah Berurah explains that although the Jew will not own the chametz, one will be indirectly benefiting from the chametz of a gentile. Therefore, one violates this dictum of wanting something that one may not benefit from — i.e., chametz on Pesach — to exist.
Potentially, one should not be allowed to sell any chametz to a goy, because although the chametz is owned by a goy, he still wants the chametz to exist. However, this usually is not a problem because the Jew selling his chametz ultimately does not care if the chametz exists or not. He would be just as happy with cash. The Jew who sold his chametz would be happy to receive cash or the chametz after Pesach from the gentile.
However, the Arugas HaBosem said that if one has “shirayim” of a loaf of bread from a Rebbe that he considers holy, he should not sell it with his chametz. He should eat it before Pesach. This is due to the fact that the chassidishe seller would most certainly not want the few dollars that his shirayim is worth. The chametz has intangible and spiritual value to him. Therefore, he wants the actual chametz to exist, which is prohibited.
However, the Makor Chaim disagrees. He says that in terms of chametz, one can want chametz to exist as long as one does not benefit from it over Pesach. In the Shulchan Aruch’s example of renting a utensil to a goy over Pesach, one is profiting off the rental on Pesach. However, the chassid does not profit from his shirayim over Pesach. Likewise, a baker that prepares unbaked loaves for sale after Pesach wants specifically those unbaked loaves to sell to his customers. Still, this is fine, since the bakery is not profiting in any way from his loaves over Pesach.
The Shevet HaLevi, zt’l, says that, nevertheless, a baker should not rely on this leniency if there is an alternative. However, often there is no other option, such as when Pesach ends on a Thursday.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.