The Shoemaker’s Children
‘If One Can Eat, One Can Sell’
Several procedures are followed during the days preceding Pesach in order to clear our property of chametz. In addition to actually destroying our chametz, we nullify it and then sell it to a gentile, generally using the rav or gabbai of the shul as our agent.
When performing bitul, we declare our chametz to be ownerless and worthless, like the dust of the ground. But don’t our actions contradict our words? How can we claim that our chametz is worthless and then immediately afterward ask a rabbi to sell it on our behalf? If we’re selling our chametz for money in a formal contract, we obviously do not deem it ownerless or worthless.
Why Both Procedures?
In order to resolve this dilemma, we must first address a fundamental question. Why must we both nullify and sell our chametz? What is gained by doing both? According to halacha, nullifying our chametz and then leaving it at home, without destroying or selling it, is sufficient.
The Sages, however, do not rely on bitul alone for several reasons. First, a person might come across chametz in his house during Pesach and accidentally eat it. Second, since bitul depends upon the earnest resolution of one’s heart, the Sages feared that a person may nullify his chametz with less than complete sincerity and thus unintentionally violate the Torah prohibition of keeping chametz in one’s possession over Pesach (Mishnah Berurah 431:2). They thus required getting rid of one’s chametz in addition to nullifying it.
Selling one’s chametz seems to have begun in Europe where many Jews worked in the liquor business (since they couldn’t own land). Destroying their entire stock of liquor each year before Pesach would’ve been extremely detrimental to business. They therefore sold it to a gentile before Pesach and bought it back afterward (see Shaarei Teshuvah 448:3). After selling their chametz, Jews would nullify their chametz on the 14th of Nissan on the few crumbs that may have been overlooked during the bedikah.
In contemporary times, we follow the opposite order. We nullify our chametz on the night of the 14th, and then again in the morning, and only afterwards does the rabbi sell our chametz. We therefore return to our original question: How can we claim to make our chametz “worthless and ownerless” and then proceed to sell it?
This question was addressed by many of the most prominent poskim of recent generations. The sefer Mikra’ei Kodesh (p. 207) answers this question by explaining that when we appoint a rabbi to sell our chametz, we haven’t nullified it yet. At that point, our chametz is still “valuable and owned.” Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss terms of sale. And after we do nullify our chametz, it is the rabbi who tends to the sale; we’re removed from the picture. We do not show any personal interest in the “worthless and ownerless” chametz that the rabbi sells.
The Rabbi’s Chametz
This solution works very nicely for our chametz. What about the rabbi’s chametz, though? How can he sell his own chametz after nullifying it? He seems to fall into the category of the proverbial “shoemaker’s children who go barefoot.” To avoid this problem, some rabbis have the custom to nullify their chametz on the morning of the 14th, after they have sold the chametz (see Minchas Yitzchak VIII 41).