The Chometz Conspiracy



         Who would believe this?  Who could entertain the possibility of such an occurrence happening to any devout Jew let alone one who was widely recognized to be a Tzadik (saint) and a Talmud Chochom (scholar).  How did it happen that Sinai Steiner, the Av Beis Din of Ulanów, an ardent Chossid and close associate of the venerable SanzerRebbe  and author of Sefer Har Sinai, an impressive collection of original commentaries, did not sell his chometz (bread) for Pesach?
         The barrage of endless preparations required for Pesach has relegated the selling of one's chometz to assume the appearance of being a technicality that is accomplished with relative ease.  To Sinai Steiner, living in a nineteenth century Polish shtetl, selling his chometz turned into an ordeal that challenged the very depths of his being.
         The relationship between a Jew and his countrymen during the bleak protracted Polish golus (exile) was a tenuous one that would erupt with monotonous frequency into a crisis.  Sinai Steiner, like many of his contemporaries was a whisky dealer, a common Jewish trade that was carefully regulated and licensed by the Polish authorities.  It is not known whether the conspiracy was born out of malice, mockery or mere mischievous intent-- but one Pesach,Sinai could not  find anyone who would consent to buy his chometz.  Pesach was rapidly approaching and the prospect of being in possession of his chometz filled him with insurmountable dread.  There was only one thing that he could do!
         Sinai left the doors to his whisky establishment wide open, proclaimed the entire contents public domain and quickly left town.  He would bask in the resplendent sanctity of Pesach with a serenity that regarded his financial ruin with impervious disdain.
         Sinai returned to his town after Pesach expecting to find his property in a shambles and his inventory completely depleted.  He was amazed to find everything in perfect order.
         When the Commissar heard that Steiner had fled the town he assumed it was because he owed the townspeople money.  When he unearthed the conspiracy that made Sinai a fugitive in his own home, the Commissar took charge and protected his property for the entire Pesach.
         From which impregnable crucible of strength did this precious Jew summon the ability to face complete financial disaster and the derisive judgment of those around him in order to fulfill a technicality of his precious Laws?
         Then again this was the same man who had once faced imprisonment and a death sentence with equanimity and  bitochon (trust, faith).  When he was finally declared innocent and released from prison, the entire town came to greet him.  The Sanzer Rebbe headed the jubilant delegation and asked Steiner how he was able to endure the threat of a death penalty.  This precious Jew explained that he was too concerned thinking about a particularly difficult Rambam (Biblical scholar) to think about the impending death penalty.
         The same imponderable spirit that animated Sinai Steiner's life was evident decades later when his grandson and namesake, Sinai Gruner, jumped into a raging fire in order to rescue the life of a retarded boy.  The same impregnable crucible of strength enable his great-great-grandson, another Sinai Gruner, to perish in the Holocaust Al Kiddush Hashem (Holy Martyr), with a soul unblemished by the horrors around him.
         So dear readers, if the task of preparing for the Pesach is too challenging, if you feel as though every crumb that  must be unearthed from the crevices and shadows of your possessions is a chometz conspiracy that taxes your strength  and possibly your sanity, let your burden become a joy.  Let us appreciate the luxury of being able to sell our chometz with relative ease.
         I am indebted to Aaron Yosef Rosen, a descendant of Sinai Steiner for preserving the story of the Chometz Conspiracy in order that it will inspire the lives of those who today still draw their courage from the same immutable crucible of eternal strength.

                                              Dvorah Stone

This story was published in the London and New York Jewish Tribune, April 1996.  It has been reprinted
here with the kind permission of Dvorah Stone, the author.


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