“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open”-Alexander Graham Bell
After years of eating Matzah on Pesach, I am starting to have second thoughts. No, not second thoughts about fulfilling this mitzvah of eating matzah- but second thoughts about the commonly known reason for eating matzah.
We are told in the Haggadah, that the reason we eat matzah is because the Jewish people did not have time to wait for the bread to rise[i]. If indeed this is really the reason, why is it that the Jewish people ate matzah on the first Passover night ever? After all, the Jewish people had been commanded to eat matzah on the fifteenth of Nisan-the night before the Exodus- even before the reason of “leaving in haste” has ever become applicable.
Furthermore, if indeed the reason for eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is to remember the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt, one can only wonder why we are commanded to eat matzah Pesach night. Why not eat matzah when haste was in place, on the fifteenth of Nisan-the morning of Pesach?
The Mystery of the Matzah
When describing why the Jews ate Matzah when they were leaving Egypt, the Torah states: “They baked the dough which they had taken out of Egypt, for it had not become leavened. For they were driven out of Egypt and were not able to tarry and had not prepared provisions for the journey.” Exodus 12:39.
From the preceding verse, it clearly appears that eating matzah during the Exodus was a matter of duress and not choice. The Jews were compelled to eat Matzah because the Egyptians in their frenzy to drive them out of Egypt would not wait until the dough of the Hebrews became leavened. If that is correct, then the Matzah appears to be a symbol of degradation. The helpless condition of the Jews allowed them to be driven out and forced them to eat the poorest of all breads; that which was unleavened. It was the food of slaves.
Nevertheless, the Torah established the Matzah as one of the bases of the celebration of Pesach:
Seven days you shall eat Matzah as you eliminate all leavening from your homes. . . Anyone eating leavening (Chametz), his soul will be cut off, from the first day to the seventh day. Exodus 12: 14-15;
In addition it states, “You are to watch over the Matzot for in the midst of that day (of the Exodus) I (God) took your multitudes out of the Land of Egypt.” Exodus 12: 17. In his commentary on this verse, Rashi makes no mention of the Matzah, but he does comment on the Maror. “They were commanded to eat Maror as a memory (of the verse) ‘and they (The Egyptians) embittered their (The Jews’) lives.’”
Pharaoh pleaded with Moshe to remove the frogs. Moshe agrees to pray for their removal at a time to be determined by Pharaoh. An interlocutor asks whether Moshe’s response is politically savvy. Would it not be more effective if he had told Pharaoh that the frogs would disappear after the Jews left Egypt? By agreeing to intercede before his demands were met, Moshe enables Pharaoh to renege once relief is obtained.
The question presupposes that Moshe is acting on his own, and not on divine instruction. This premise does not, in itself, disqualify the question. The Torah does not explicitly state that Moshe’s response was dictated by G-d, and some commentators, notably Abarbanel, hold that Moshe acted on his own initiative when he promised to pray. Moreover, if he was obeying G-d’s command, this would merely shift the question from Moshe to G-d: It would be G-d who would forego His advantage by letting Pharaoh off the hook.
On Pesach, we recall Egypt’s malicious persecution of the Jewish people and the suffering the Egyptians experienced, presumably as a punishment for their evil behavior. Significantly, both the persecution and the servitude were predicted at the Brit Bein ha-Betarim (Bereishit 15:13).
Rambam (Hilchot Teshuva 6:5) asked how the Egyptians could be punished for persecuting the Jewish people if G-d already told Avraham of the occurrence.1 Rambam explains that no particular Egyptian was forced to sin. While slavery was a certainty, each individual actor’s role remained undetermined and therefore free. Ra’avad rejects Rambam’s solution with the following question: “If G-d were to say to those who strayed, ‘Why did you stray; I did not designate you?’ they would respond, ‘Upon whom was Your decree made, on those that did not stray? If so, Your decree would not be fulfilled.’”2
What is the difference between the daily mitzvah to remember our redemption from Egypt and the annual mitzvah, which we observe on the evening of the 15th of Nissan? Acharonim offer a range of answers. We sill survey a few of them.
R. Chaim Soloveitchik argues that the daily mitzvah is a subcategory of reciting shema, while the annual mitzvah is its own independent mitzvah. He bases this approach on the Rambam’s omission of the daily mitzvah from his Sefer haMitzvos and from the headings of Yad haChazakah. This omission indicates that the daily obligation is not an independent category. Additionally, R. Chaim bases his approach on the Rambam’s codification of the daily mitzvah within the laws of Shema, which further indicates that it is a subcategory of Shema.
“U’shmartem es hamatzos” (Shemos 12:17) teaches that there is a requirement for matzah to be guarded/watched (Pesachim 38b). Rashi (ibid.) explains that this watching (shmirah) has two parts. First, one must watch the matzah to ensure that it does not become chometz. Second, the shmirah itself needs to be for the sake of matzah shel mitzvah. I would like to elaborate on these two elements.
Regarding the first element, although there is a general principle to guard oneself from sinning, such as guarding one’s tongue from speaking lashon harah, there is a specific halacha that matzah must be watched so that it does not become chometz. Based on this halacha, Rabbi Eliezer forbids eating matzah made by a Kusi (those who converted in a questionable manner in the times of the King of Ashur.) Kusim are not aware of the halachah that matzah must be guarded from becoming chometz. Thus, their matzah are not suitable for Pesach (Chulin 4a).
The Gemara in Pesachim (102a-b), amidst a lengthy discussion of the various laws of Kiddush and Berachos, quotes the following Beraissa: Our Rabbis taught, members of a group who were reclining and Shabbos began while they were still involved in their meal — Rebi Yehudah says, we bring a cup of wine and say Kiddush over it. Rebi Yosi says, the group may continue eating after dark. When they finish, they should say Birchas HaMazon on one cup of wine, and then Kedushas HaYom on another. The Gemara asks, why is it necessary to make Birchas HaMazon and Kiddush on two separate cups of wine? Let the mevareich say both on one! Rav Sheishes cryptically responds, because we do not say two kedushos on one cup. The Gemara asks, what is the reason, to which Rav Nachman responds: ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos — we do not make miztvos into bundles.
The Gemara in Sotah (8a) quotes a beraissa as the source for this principle: We don’t make two Sotos drink the mei sotah at once; we don’t purify two metzora’im at once; we don’t pierce the ears of two avadim at once; nor do do we break the neck of two calves at once, since we don’t make mitzvos chavilos chavilos.