My Chametz and Me – A Long Distance Relationship

Rabbi Donneal Epstein

With our ever-shrinking globe, a question that was once rare is now very common.  If you are spending Pesach in a different time zone from your home base, how must you deal with selling your chametz back home?  Does it matter if you go to a destination where Pesach begins earlier than where your home and chametz are or if Pesach begins and ends later?

In order to answer these questions we need to explain why chametz is sold.  The Torah prohibits us to own or possess chametz on Pesach.  There are three mitzvot associated with this: 1) The positive mitzvah of Tashbitu – to destroy your chametz prior to the afternoon of Erev Pesach; 2) Ba’al Yira’eh – not seeing chametz; 3) Ba’al Yimatzeh – not finding – i.e. not possessing chametz.

According to Biblical Law, one would be able to fulfill these mitzvot (at least the latter two) by performing the verbal declaration called Bitul Chametz – nullifying chametz.  However the Rabbis were concerned that human nature being what it is, a person may make this declaration half-heartedly and actually intend to keep his chametz, thereby violating the halacha; as such, they instituted an obligation to search for and destroy all chametz.

If one has large amounts of chametz, one may sell his chametz to a non-Jew prior to the onset of the prohibited time for retaining chametz.  Selling chametz is actually mentioned in the Gemara.  However, it was not until relatively recently that the universal custom has become to appoint your rabbi as the agent to sell your chametz and having it returned following the holiday.

Getting back to our original question, the answer depends upon the following debate: Does the prohibition of owning chametz depend upon where you are – or where your chametz is. Translated into the Brisk methodology – is prohibition an issur cheftzah (object-centric) or an issur gavrah (person-centric)?

The Chesed L’Avraham rules that the prohibition depends upon the owner, the location of the chametz is irrelevant.  However, the Teshuvot Oneg Yom Tov contests this and rules that where the chametz is located is the only consideration. (See Igros Moshe O.C.IV 94 and Emek Hateshuvah  I:79 who rule in accordance with the former opinion that the physical location of the owner is the only consideration.)

Current custom is to be stringent in accordance with both opinions.

For example; if you live in New York and travel to Israel for Pesach, many US rabbis will arrange a special early Mechirat Chametz so that the Chametz is out of your possession when the holiday starts in Israel. If you’ve sold through an Israeli-based rabbi instruct him to not repossess your Chametz until the holiday is over in NY (seven hours after Israel).

If you would travel from your home in NY to spend Pesach in California, the prohibition for the Chametz begins earlier than it does for you, the owner. Therefore, you should have your chametz sold by a New York rabbi, and purchased back for you only after Pesach ends in California (PST).

We eagerly anticipate the entire nation of Israel celebrating together in one time zone, with the final exodus and redemption.