Last Sunday I was a paid cooperative at the Weaver’s way Coop. For those of you that do not know a paid cooperative is a member of the Co-op who is paid to work and I’m guessing it’s because the store did not get any members to volunteer for a particular shift. It’s pretty chilled work and working there is kind of cool especially after a long week or day of rabbinical school. My shift started at 7:30 in the morning about an hour and half before the store opened. I was assigned to bakery duty. They ordered a ton of bread that day and my job was to sort it, price it and put it in it’s proper place. As I was putting rolls, bagels, baguettes and buns in their proper places it dawned on me that next Sunday will be Pesach.
This got me to thinking, if they call me next Sunday morning to work and they want me to work in the bakery, can I? The over whelming answer that I found was no. So the mere handling of chametz is also forbidden?
The Torah commandments regarding chametz are:
- To remove all chametz from one’s home, including things made with chametz, before the first day of Passover. (Exodus 12:15).
- To refrain from eating chametz or mixtures containing chametz during Passover. (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 12:20, Deuteronomy 16:3).
- Not to possess chametz in one’s domain (i.e. home, office, car, etc.) during Passover (Exodus 12:19, Deuteronomy 16:4).
This is something that I had not thought of before. One of the reasons that I work at the Co-op is for spending money. The money I make there will not make me rich, it will not pay my bills, but every time I work there I get cash and it keeps me from going into my own bank account. As I started putting the bread away I wondered what if this were my real Job or your real job and I was just an hourly employee with no paid vacation time, no union and basically could not afford to take a week off from work? What would I do? What would you do?
I started to wonder if these laws really work in today’s society. I have never been one of those Jews that was worried about my food. I mean, sure I refrain from eating chametz but for me, I had always thought about Passover being about freedom and redemption not about chametz being near me.
I talked to a rabbi friend of mine and she told me to look at the prosbul. To me this initially sounded like some kind of sporting event. The Torah mandates a Sabbatical year, known as Shmita, every seventh year. During the Shmita year all debts are cancelled. This is one of the many laws in the Torah meant to protect the poor and disadvantaged, affording them a chance to escape from eternal debt. In chapter 15 of D’varim the Torah teaches us that part of the observance of the sabbatical year must include forgiveness of loans made to fellow Jews. And G-d also warns us that, as this year approaches, we should not refuse loans to our poor brothers and sisters because this would be viewed by God as a sin. The wealthy refused to loan money during the latter years of the seven year cycle refusing the poor even a temporary opportunity to make ends meet. The rabbis, under the guidance of Hillel created a legal loophole in Jewish law. The Rabbis enacted a rabbinic exception to Jewish Law in which a loans were to be transferred to the courts as the law of remission does not apply to loans within the public domain, and lenders knew their money was safe even following the Sabbatical year, and they were likely to loan to the poor.
Could we do this today? Why? Why not? I ask because Pesach for many families creates additional burdens, and families incur additional cost and my concern is with how the custom of worrying about food changes the experience of Pesach from what the Torah envisioned both practically and ideologically. In this country, most Ashkenazi Jews are forced to change their purchasing patterns to a much greater extent than the original law required. For example, high fructose corn syrup, because this ingredient is in so many products many Jews buy special forms, of products at extra cost, that without this custom could be permitted in their usual forms. I wonder have we changed the experience of Pesach from what God ordained in the desert and if the rabbis could change one Torah law, to benefit the poor can we change another law that is mandated in the Torah?
***Update: I worked at the Co-op last night and was on bakery duty