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25 Adar II, 5784 - April 4, 2024 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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"Chumros, Chumros...": A Look At Some Of Our Pesach Chumros And Their Sources — Or Lack Of Them

By Rabbi Zeev Steiner


Part I

For Part II of this series click here.


The following question, (which in fact had already been dealt with by the rishonim) was addressed to the RaDVa"Z (Shu"T 546). Why is chometz different from all the other things that the Torah prohibits?

The Torah itself forbids us to own or stock any chometz—we are commanded to search it out, burn it up and annul it. The Chachamim require us to look into every nook and cranny, cleaning it out from every place we can reach. They forbade its consumption even in the tiniest quantity—if it becomes mixed into other food, the whole mixture is forbidden...this degree of stringency is not found in any of the Torah's other prohibitions...

The RaDVa"z offers several answers, all of which he ultimately rejects in favor of the following idea: "I therefore base myself on what Chazal have said in the Midrash—that chometz on Pesach alludes to the yetzer hora, [which is termed] `the leaven in the dough.' A person must therefore completely drive out every trace from within himself, searching after it in every area of his thoughts. Even the tiniest amount of it cannot be ignored...this [explanation] is true and correct!"

Part One: The Tradition Of Stringency

Pshat And Remez Are One And The Same

In Simchas Haregel, the ChID"A enlarges upon the RaDVa"z's idea. Noting that the RaDVa"z had been unable to find a satisfactory reason for the extra stringency required about chometz based on a plain understanding of the laws and had therefore had to resort to the allusion to the yetzer hora, he concluded, "It turns out that the hint of the chometz is in fact the plain, simple meaning. The purpose of these stringencies is to awaken a person to the fact that he has to keep far away from the yetzer hora: searching all the chambers of his heart to see if a trace of it remains; hurrying to destroy it, consuming it in the fire of Torah; being watchful not to see it; after all that, maybe he'll be successful in escaping it."

Baking matzo in Rome

Further insight into this idea is provided by the RaDVa"z himself (in Metzudas Dovid). After detailing the lengths to which the Torah goes in prohibiting the slightest consumption of chometz, he advances an explanation that attributes this special caution to the fact that chometz represents the yetzer hora, the power which Chazal identify as being one and the same with the Satan and the mal'ach hamaves.

"That is why the Torah commands us to eradicate it from our homes at the time of year when Bnei Yisroel went out of Mitzrayim, so that it cannot act as a prosecutor in Shomayim and mar our joy. When it is completely wiped out from our homes in Olom Hazeh, all the peripheral forces ("cochos chitzoniyos") are wiped out from the Upper House in Shomayim, leaving it pure and cleansed from any tumah.

The Torah therefore requires all these stringencies in connection with chometz, to hint to us to `drive away utterly and completely' the chometz that alludes to our yetzer hora, searching it out from every chamber of our minds and entirely removing it from our ownership. Then the Upper House will be pure—there will be no prosecution against us and no mishap will befall us.


Only For Oneself?

Elsewhere, the ChID"A tells us that the RaDVa"z's explanation for the Torah's stringency over chometz also provides the rationale for the well-known tradition of individual acceptance of even stricter and more extensive stringencies in the laws of Pesach.

"It is well known that each individual accepts stringencies upon himself, adding fences and barriers [in addition to the halacha,] because of the severity of the prohibition of chometz, which is greater than that of any other Torah prohibition—as the RaDVa"z has explained in a teshuva. There is no question of false pride or incomprehensible behavior involved in this practice for everyone knows full well to what lengths people go to satisfy their own desires and there is no danger of casting aspersions on anyone's behavior.

"However, "wisdom is to be found amongst the unassuming." Each man should be as stringent as he wishes within the confines of his own home and as far as he can, should avoid revealing his practices to others. If he is qualified to rule for others, he should only follow the letter of the law." (Machazik Bracha #467)

The Munkatcher Rebbe on the other hand, writes that the RaDVa"z's words were taken as a directive to generally rule strictly concerning chometz. "Our teachers z'l, were strict in their rulings and customs, according to the traditions we have received and we follow them in giving practical rulings according to the stricter opinions, with redoubled stringency. [This is] despite the fact that in other areas of halacha they steered a middle course in their decisions, ruling leniently in many instances according to the well known principle that "the power to permit is preferable." (Nimukei Orach Chaim #443)

The extent to which the practice of chumros on Pesach is an independent and established aspect of the festival is brought home by this account which appears in the Tehilla LeMoshe, the sefer written by his grandson of the Yismach Moshe, documenting all his grandfather's customs.

The Yismach Moshe would observe all the various stringencies of Pesach that he came across in any of the seforim. The Tehilla LeMoshe notes that even when his grandfather was of the opinion that there were no grounds for being stringent and "even if he laughed at it," (!) he would nevertheless adopt the practice.

Minhag Yisroel Is Torah

A further aspect of this stringent attitude—which may perhaps be a direct consequence of the RaDVa"z's principle—is brought by the Pele Yo'etz.

"If it is correct to try and fulfill all the various opinions of the halachic authorities throughout the year, how much more so is this the case with chometz and matzo, which involve the koreis penalty R'l. There are tremendous gains for whoever takes special care, for it is written in the name of the Ari that whoever is careful to avoid chometz on Pesach, seeking to fulfill all the different assured of not sinning throughout the entire year. This is therefore something deserving the greatest caution for there is no greater reward than this...Happy are Yisroel—the womenfolk even more than the menfolk —over their concern to eradicate the chometz with the utmost care and their practice of being more stringent than is required— may all good blessings come upon them."

Mahora"tz MiDinov adduces a source for the Ari's famous assurance in the Zohar, (Ki Teitze #282:) which states, "Whoever guards himself from leaven and yeast, guards his body from the yetzer hora of the lower world."

The Kav Hayashar, (perek 89) has the following thoughts on the subject. "It is correct to instruct Beis Yisroel that when they expel and burn off all chometz from their utensils, they should direct their thoughts to Hashem destroying the yetzer hora and wickedness, which is the lili"s, from the world. We trust that Hashem will eradicate them from the world. It is Yisroel's custom —which has the status of Torah law—to scrape the tables, benches and walls because of the suspicion that there may be some chometz there.

The eyes of Hashem Yisborach are ever watchful of the deeds of Bnei Yisroel, the nation that is his treasure, all of whose labors are devoted to destroying chometz in the month of Nisan. May Hashem similarly peel away all the plagues that derive from the sitra achra and the prosecutors."

Elsewhere he adds, "I have a tradition that whoever puts himself to trouble in honor of the yom tov of Pesach when he is tired and exhausted from exertion, kills off all the damaging agents, which are called "nigei bnei adam," with his exertions."

The Mahora"tz MiDinov cautions against making fun of those who practice stringencies. "None of the stringencies that are practiced by the scrupulous are observed simply out of extra piety —they are required by the law itself. Those who shame them, mock them and speak derisively about how none of this was done in their parents' times, will be taken to account for it while those who are scrupulous in their observance will be protected from all troubles."

Everything Should Be As Strict As The Matzo

There are some amongst the acharonim who explain that the great emphasis laid on being stringent is solely to offset a possible argument being made out for not acting strictly, as quoted previously from the ChID"A in Machazik Bracha, lest one appear presumptuous and vain, assuming a higher level than one has truly attained.

The sefer, Shimusha Shel Torah goes even further in explaining the necessity for the Ari's special instruction to observe all the stringencies of Pesach. He also interprets the order found in the testament of Rabbi Shmuel Abohab, "to be take care over the stringencies of the mitzvos of Pesach," in the same way.

"The intention [of the Ari and Rav Abohab] is that in other areas, to be strict and practice stringency in a case where we do not find that the amoroim were stringent is akin to heresy and the gain is cancelled out by the loss (see the Pischei Teshuva, Yore Deah 116:10). With Pesach however (and also with the laws of Shabbos), which concerns suspicion of chometz it is correct to be strict, observing all the chumros, as far as possible."

The author of Raza De'uvda points out an interesting allusion to the chumros of Pesach in the words of the Mah Nishtanah. What is meant by the words "On this night there is only matzo"? Surely, he asks, matzo is not the only food we eat at the seder!

He answers that this particular phrase hints to us that all our other foods must also be prepared and guarded with the same stringency that we guard the matzos. In that respect, all our food should be like matzo.

HaRav Yehuda Leib Tzirelson, the Rabbi of Kishinev reached a similar conclusion in a teshuva (in line with the Munkatcher Rebbe's opinion that even rulings for the public should reflect the extra stringencies of Pesach). In reply to a question about the kashrus of sugar for use on Pesach, he writes that while basically the halacha permits it, "nevertheless, we are accustomed to abstain from it, due to the very elevated holiness of Pesach." (The teshuva is printed in his sefer, Atzei Levanon, siman 20.)

Many other questions have been asked, which seek to apply matzo-standard stringency to items such as glue, ink and dyeing materials. One such query concerned driving a car on Pesach! The author of the sefer, Cheilek Levi (#162) was asked about burning fuel "which contains twenty percent spirit—is it permitted to drive in such a car on Chol Hamoed with this fuel powering the car? Is this benefiting from chometz on Pesach?"

The conclusion reached by the Cheilek Levi is that one may use such fuel, since the chometz is unfit for a dog's consumption.

Heightening Tensions, Rising Tempers

A different aspect of the connection between chometz and the yetzer hora is stressed by the sifrei mussar, which strongly warn against the neglect of other areas of avodas Hashem due to preoccupation with the extra stringencies at this time of year. Pele Yo'etz, quoting the teachers of Kabbalah says: "Not only the prohibition against chometz is so severe during Pesach—all other aveiros are very serious, causing greater damage and repercussions if done during Pesach, than at any other time of year. One must be more watchful and vigilant than at any other time."

In fact, in the same way that the extra caution of Pesach must spill over into our performance of all other mitzvos during this season, the Raza De'uvda brings that there is room for Pesach stringency throughout the year: whoever is careful all year round, he writes, not to bring seforim to the table during mealtimes, fulfills the mitzva of remembering yetzias Mitzrayim every day of his life.

The seforim urge special caution concerning those extra stringencies in making the matzos that pressure the atmosphere, making friction and quarreling more likely. "Since all the labors of this holy Festival of Matzos should be carried out with love and joy, Klal Yisroel should guard themselves from feelings of annoyance, and how much more so from tensions and arguments amongst themselves."

This is the place to mention the well-known advice which Rabbi Yisroel Salanter gave his pupils when they asked him which special precautions they should take when baking the matzos. The main thing, he told them, is not to upset the feelings of the woman who kneads the dough and not to pressure her to finish her work quickly just to be stringent in performance of the mitzvah. She is a widow, whom the Torah specifically warns us not to oppress. Reb Yisroel added that the excellence of the kashrus of the matzos would determined by the strictness of their adherence, not only to the laws of Pesach but to the laws of Choshen Mishpat as well.

The Imrei Emes related the following story about the Chozeh MiLublin which also shows the extent to which consideration of others is a factor in the exacting standards of fulfillment of the mitzvos of Pesach. For the seder, it was the Chozeh's custom to take three matzos that had been baked in accordance with many special chumros and refinements.

Once it happened that a poor man arrived at his home and moaned to the Chozeh's wife about how he didn't even have money to buy matzos for the seder. She went to get him three ordinary matzos but mistakenly gave him those which her husband had prepared for his own seder. When the Chozeh returned from the beis haknesses, she told him about her blunder. The Chozeh calmly went to take three ordinary matzos, saying, "A trace of chometz is forbidden by the Rabbanan; a trace of anger is forbidden by the Torah!"

This lesson is even hinted at in the Torah, according to the Sifsei Kedoshim (parshas Ki Siso,) by the placing of the posuk, "Es chag hamatzos tishmor," straight after the posuk, "Elohai maseicha lo sa'aseh loch." He explains that, "It is common practice, during matzo baking, for ordinary people to grow angry with the workers who are not hurrying enough—and they permit themselves to do so. Growing angry however, is like worshiping avoda zara. That is why the Torah warns against making idols for ourselves and immediately follows by enjoining us to guard the Festival of Matzos properly... without resort to the coercive power of anger."

The next section of our account will focus on various customs whose purpose is to guard against any infringement on the prohibition of chometz, which have become widespread amongst sections of Klal Yisroel.


Part Two: The Minhagim

Garlic: Not The Slightest Reason

Here is the reaction of the Chayei Odom to the custom of not eating garlic on Pesach. "It is quite clear that the custom of not eating radishes or garlic has absolutely no basis at all and without reservation, one may permit [their consumption even by] those who observe this custom because there is certainly no element of a barrier [against transgression] involved here."

While the Pri Megadim was also unable to find a source for this practice, his conclusion is that "nevertheless, one should not act leniently in front of amei ho'oretz—in private, a talmid chochom need not be stringent."

Another unsuccessful search for the source of this custom is reported by the Sdei Chemed who writes that the Chemdas Moshe mentions his efforts to discover the origins of the minhag by asking several morei hora'ah, none of whom were able to tell him.

The Sdei Chemed reports a popular notion that the reason for this chumra is because the gentiles used to soak the garlic in liquor but continues that "his wise spirit is unsatisfied by this explanation because if that was the case, the poskim would not have omitted to mention it, for it is difficult to maintain that this suspicion has only originated in our own times." (Sdei Chemed, Maareches Chometz Umatzah, siman 6:9)

The author of Vayaged Moshe (siman 17,) proposes an interesting basis for the custom. He maintains that refraining from eating garlic and radishes has nothing to do with considerations of chometz; the true reason is something entirely different. "In my humble opinion, since there is a mitzvah of recounting the story of yetzias Mitzrayim and the mouth speaks of Hashem's miracles and wonders, it is correct to refrain from fouling the mouth with the odor of garlic and radishes—the Maggid rebuked the Beis Yosef on this account when he ate radish, as we find in Maggid Meishorim."

End of Part I

Next week: Potatoes, coffee and gebrochts


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