Taking Judaism Seriously
Over Pesach, my view of a certain Modern Orthodox rabbi was radically transformed. This was a person that I never really knew much about, except that twenty years ago, when I was a diehard charedi yeshivah student, I came across an essay of his about akeidas Yitzchak. The rabbi posited that Avraham Avinu had actually failed the akeidah; he was supposed to have challenged God as to the injustice of the command. At the time, I ridiculed this as making no sense as an explanation of the chumash, as well as being entirely inconsistent with Jewish tradition. This gave me the perfect excuse to utterly disqualify the author as a serious rabbi.
Twenty years later, I still feel that his suggestion regarding akeidas Yitzchak does not work on a textual level in the chumash, and I still feel that it is entirely inconsistent with Jewish tradition. However, I now feel that the traditional understanding of the akeidah is indeed problematic (see this post that I wrote on it). In addition, I no longer feel that one mistaken essay is reason to disqualify someone. Finally, this Pesach, I learned that this rabbi is indeed a serious person, with regard to a particular Pesach matter that had long bothered me.
Selling chametz always seems like a bit of a sham (see this discussion at Hirhurim). It's a way to observe the letter of law without the spirit of the law, like glatt kosher factory farmed meat, or glamorous sheitels. And even with regard to the letter of the law, is it really a valid sale? Do people really think that the gentile is taking ownership of it?
Well, this rabbi is in charge of selling chametz for his large community, and he takes it very seriously indeed. First of all, he strongly encourages everyone to dispose of any genuine chametz. This is not because he feels that the sale is not genuine; as we shall see, he certainly does make a genuine sale. But it's because the idea of Pesach is to destroy your chametz.
With regard to the actual sale, this rabbi does something extraordinary. During the chag, he goes with the gentile purchaser to some randomly selected homes of those who have sold the chametz, and the gentile actually takes it! I heard of a similar situation in another community, where in one case the homeowner, who was losing a very expensive collection of drinks, vociferously protested, but the rabbi was firm. A sale is a sale. Everyone who sells the chametz with this rabbi has come to understand that they are really selling it.
I heard several fascinating and inspiring stories from this rabbi, which I might relate on another occasion. I don't want to name him, because it might distract people from the point of the post. The message to take home is that there are many ways to take Judaism seriously.