Matza: Symbol of Servitude, Redemption, or Both?

  • Rav Yair Kahn

Translated by David Strauss

 

 

I. When During the Meal is the Matza Eaten?

 

You might think that one can fulfill his obligation [of eating matza] with the loaves of the thanksgiving-offering and the wafers of a nazirite. Therefore it is stated: "And you shall guard the unleavened bread" (Shemot 12:17), teaching [that it must be] matza which is guarded for the sake of [fulfilling the obligation of eating] matza, ad thus excluding this which is guarded not for the sake of matza but for the sake of a sacrifice. (Pesachim 38b)

 

            The Rishonim learned from this halakhic midrash that in order to fulfill the obligation of eating matza on Pesach, one must eat an olive-sized piece of matza that had been guarded for the sake of matza. They disagree about the law governing a person who has only one olive-sized piece of matza shemura (guarded matza). According to the Rif (Pesachim 27a in his pagination), at the beginning of the meal he should recite only the "ha-motzi" blessing, and eat matza that is not shemura. Only at the end of the meal, when we ordinarily eat the afikoman, should he recite the "Al akhilat matza" blessing, and eat the olive-sized piece of shemura matza. The Rif adduces proof for his position from the Tosefta (Pesachim 2:13) which states: "One cannot fulfill his obligation with chalut (a paste made of boiling water poured over flour), or with me'isa (a paste made of flour poured over boiling water), or with sponge cakes, or with honey cakes, or with paste balls, but he may fill his stomach with them, provided that he eats an olive-sized [piece of] matza at the end."

 

            The Rosh (Pesachim 10:35) rejects this proof:

 

It seems that the beraita [that speaks] of honey cakes is dealing with the time of the Temple [when the Pesach offering is eaten]. Therefore one must eat an olive-sized piece of matza shemura at the end [of the meal, in the course of consuming the Pesach offering] in order to fulfill: “With unleavened bread and bitter herbs he shall eat it” (Shemot 12:8). But in our time when the obligation of matza is only from: “In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread…” (Shemot 12:18), it is better that one should eat it at the beginning with an appetite."

 

We see, then, that the Rif and the Rosh disagree about the time of the primary fulfillment of the mitzva to eat matza in our time. According to the Rif, the primary fulfillment of the mitzva occurs even today with the final piece of matza eaten, whereas according to the Rosh, it takes place with the matza eaten at the beginning of the meal.

 

            In truth, this question was already the subject of a disagreement between Rashi and Tosafot. According to Rashi, the primary fulfillment of the mitzva of matza is with the olive-sized piece of matza eaten at the end of the meal (like the Rif). He writes as follows (119b, s.v. ein maftirin): "Matza must be eaten at the end of the meal as a remembrance of the matza eaten together with the Pesach sacrifice. This is the broken matza that we eat at the end for the sake of the obligation of matza, that which is [eaten] after the meal." But Tosafot (120a, s.v. ba-acharona) say: "The primary [fulfillment of the mitzva of] matza is the first one which is eaten with an appetite."

 

II. When is the "Al Akhilat Matza" Blessing Recited?

 

            The question arises: If, according to Rashi and the Rif, the primary fulfillment of the mitzva of matza is at the end of the meal, why is the blessing over the mitzva ("al akhilat matza") recited at the beginning of the meal?

 

            It stands to reason that the source for reciting this blessing at an early stage is the passage dealing with the issue whether or not "mitzvot require intention" (114b). There Rav Chisda establishes that if someone eats maror as karpas for the first dipping, because he has no other vegetable, he should recite the "Al akhilat maror" blessing at the time of the first dipping. He explains: "After filling his stomach with it, should he go back and recite a blessing over it!?" (115a). That is to say, even though with the first dipping he discharges his obligation of karpas, and not that of maror, if he eats maror for karpas, he must recite the "Al akhilat maror" blessing over it, since it would be impossible to recite the blessing later after having already eaten maror as karpas. The same applies to the "Al akhilat matza" blessing, according to Rashi and the Rif: Even if the mitzva will only be fulfilled at the end of the meal, the blessing should be recited over the first matza that is eaten.

 

            However, this is only true about a person who eats matza shemura both at the beginning and at the end of the meal. But if someone only has one olive-sized piece of shemura matza, and he is saving it for the afikoman, he should recite the blessing over the matza at the end of the meal, as argued by the Rif.

 

            Yet, this ruling of Rav Chisda requires explanation. Why should one recite the blessing over the mitzva at the time of the first eating, if he fulfills the mitzva only at the time of the second eating?

 

            Tosafot compare this law to the mitzva of shofar on Rosh Hashana, where we recite the blessing over the first set of blasts (teki'ot di-meyushav), even though the primary fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar is with the second set of blasts (teki'ot di-me'umad), together with the blessings of the Amida prayer. An examination of this model might elucidate the law of Rav Chisda.

 

            It is clear that someone who heard only teki'ot di-meyushav has fulfilled his obligation of shofar blowing, even though Tosafot maintain that the optimal fulfillment of the mitzva of shofar is achieved when the shofar is sounded together with the blessings of the Amida prayer. For we learned in tractate Rosh ha-Shana (34b):

 

It is a greater mitzva to hear the shofar than to say the blessings. Hence, if there are two towns in one of which the shofar is being blown and in the other of which the blessings are being said, one should go rather to the place where they are blowing than to the place where they are saying the blessings.

 

            It is clear then that one fulfills the mitzva of shofar even without the blessings. In light of this it stands to reason that the blessing recited before the teki'ot di-meyushav stems from the fact that he who hears them fulfills the mitzva of shofar, at least in partial manner. According to this explanation, it would seem that the same should apply to one who fulfills a mitzva without intention, e.g., one who eats matza or maror without intending to fulfill the mitzva. This seems to be the case despite the fact that according to those who maintain that mitzvot require intention, a person does not discharge his obligation at all without intention, and Tosafot (ibid.) understand that this is the position of Rav Chisda.

 

This can be inferred from the wording of Tosafot (Pesachim 120a, s.v. acharona):

 

Even if the primary fulfillment of the mitzva is in the final eating, it is not astonishing that we recite the blessing over the first eating, in order to exempt the matza in the end. For the blessing cannot be recited over the last eating because it is after he has filled his stomach [with matza]. But he can recite the blessing over the first eating, and thereby exempt the final eating, which is the primary [fulfillment of the] mitzva, as was explained above according to Rav Chisda.

 

            The implication is that the primary fulfillment of the mitzva is with the final piece of matza eaten, but that there is a certain fulfillment of the mitzva with the first piece as well.

 

            Indeed, the Ittur (Hilkhot Matza u-Maror) rules that a person who has only one olive-sized piece of matza shemura, should eat it at the end of the meal, but the "al akhilat matza" blessing he should recite already with the first piece of matza eaten, even though it is not shemura. He cites as the source of this rule the statement of Rav Chisda cited above.

 

            The Bach (OC 482) raised an objection against the Ittur: how is it possible to recite the blessing over matza that is not shemura, which cannot be used to discharge one's obligation?

 

            Let us try to explain the Ittur's viewpoint through a clarification of the aforementioned opinion of Rashi regarding the view of Rav Chisda. What is the partial fulfillment of the mitzva with the piece of matza eaten at the beginning of the meal, which allows the blessing to be recited at that time, and what is the optimal fulfillment of the mitzva with the piece of matza eaten at the end of the meal, which Rashi refers to as the eating done "for the sake of eating matza."

 

III. The Taste of Matza

 

Rava said: One who swallows matza fulfills his obligation; one who swallows maror does not fulfill his obligation. One who swallows matza and maror [together] fulfills the obligation of matza, [but] not the obligation of maror. (Pesachim 115b)

 

Rashi explains this as follows:

 

If he swallows matza and maror – together, and he hadn't yet eaten of either, he fulfills his obligation of matza, which does not need to be tasted; but he does not fulfill his obligation of maror - since he does not chew it, and he eats matza with it, it has no taste.

 

            That is to say, as opposed to maror, regarding which there is a mitzva to experience its bitter taste, with respect to matza there is a mitzva to eat it, but there is no need to taste it. The Rashbam (ad loc. s.v. bala matza) explains why it is necessary to taste the maror:

 

For this reason the Torah insists on embittering the mouth of the eater, in commemoration of "And they made their lives bitter" (Shemot 1:14).

 

            However, this straightforward explanation is apparently contradicted by a Gemara in Berakhot (38b). The Gemara there states that boiled matza is disqualified "because we require the taste of matza and this is absent." It seems clear from here that there is a requirement to taste the matza. The Magen Avraham (475:11) explains that the problem with boiled matza is not the absence of the taste of matza, but rather that the boiling removes it from the category of matza. That is to say, according to the Magen Avraham, there is in fact no requirement to taste the matza. But boiled matza is unacceptable because the boiling process removes it from the category of matza.

 

            In fact, the Rashbam himself suggests a resolution of the contradiction between the two passages. Regarding the Gemara in Pesachim 115b, which states that one who swallows matza fulfills his obligation, the Rashbam writes (s.v. bala matza):

 

Nevertheless, lekhattechila, preferably, the taste of matza is required [in order to fulfill the mitzva].

 

            The Rashbam seems to learn that the taste of matza is necessary lekhattechila from the Gemara in Berakhot which states that boiled matza is unfit, "because we require the taste of matza and this is absent." In other words, by Torah law, lekhattechila one must taste the matza, and therefore the matza that the Torah says is fit for the fulfillment of the mitzva is matza that could be used to fulfill the mitzva in the optimal manner. Hence, boiled matza, which does not have the taste of matza, is disqualified, following the rule that "regarding anything that is unfit for mixing, mixing is indispensable" (kol she-eino ra'ui le-bila, bila me'akevet bo) (see also Rabbeinu Mano'ach's commentary to the Rambam's Hilkhot Chametz u-Matza 6:2).

 

            It turns out that according to the Rashbam, in order to fulfill the mitzva of matza in the optimal manner, mere eating does not suffice. Lekhattechila, by Torah law, the mitzva requires tasting the matza. Accordingly, boiled matza that lacks the taste of matza is unfit by Torah law for the fulfillment of the mitzva, because it is unfit for the fulfillment of the mitzva in the optimal manner. But a certain difficultly still remains: What is the source in the Torah for an obligation to taste the matza?

 

IV. The Showbread (Lechem Ha-panim)

 

            Before addressing the source of the requirement to taste matza, let us turn to the question of the source for a Torah obligation to eat matza nowadays (absent the Pesach sacrifice). At the end of Arvei Pesachim (Pesachim 120a), the Gemara cites a beraita that supports the position of Rava, who maintains that eating matza nowadays is required by Torah law:

 

It was taught in accordance with Rava’s view: "'Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God' (Devarim 16:8) – just as [on] the seventh day [the eating of matza] is voluntary, so [on] the six days it is voluntary. What is the reason? Because it is ‘something which was included in the general law and then singled out from the general law, in order to teach [regarding other cases], [which means that] it was singled out not in order to teach regarding itself [the law in its own case], but in order to teach regarding the general law.’ You might think that on the first night too it [consuming matza] is [merely] voluntary; therefore it is stated: 'They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.' I know this only when the Temple is in existence; from where do we know it when the Temple is not in existence? From the verse: 'At evening you shall eat matza' – thus the Torah established it as an [independent] obligation."

 

            There are two ways to understand the derivation from the verse: "At evening you shall eat matza." One possibility is that the verse teaches us that the same mitzva that is derived from "They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs," continues today, even when there is no Pesach offering. (There is a precedent for this understanding in the case of a person who was ritually impure or at a distance from the Temple, who was obligated to eat matza and maror by Torah law, based on the verse: "They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs," even though he could not eat the Pesach offering.)

 

            A second possibility is that the obligation to eat matza because of "They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" does not apply nowadays, for there is no Pesach offering. Rather, the verse, "in the evening you shall eat matza" comes to teach a different obligation regarding eating matza.

 

            There is a well-known question raised by the commentators, why did the Torah command in Egypt to eat the Pesach sacrifice "roast with fire, and matza; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it" (Shemot 12:8). Surely we eat matza because their dough did not have a chance to rise, something that happened the next morning, and not at the time of the eating of the Pesach offering, prior to the exodus. Why then was it necessary to eat matza already in Egypt?

 

            It seems that that matza eaten together with the Pesach sacrifice is not eaten in commemoration of the fact that the dough of those who left Egypt did not have a chance to rise.

 

            Rather, the reason for eating matza together with the Pesach sacrifice is alluded to in a different verse (Devarim 16:2-3):

 

You shall therefore sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God… seven days shall you eat unleavened bread with it, the bread of affliction.

 

Rashi explains as follows (ad loc.):

 

Bread of affliction – bread that is reminiscent of the affliction that they experienced in Egypt.

 

            We see, then, that the matza eaten with the Pesach offering is not the bread of redemption that did not have a chance to rise when our forefathers left Egypt, but rather the bread of affliction that brings to mind the affliction of the servitude.

 

            Thus the obligation to eat the Pesach offering together with matza and maror stems from an obligation to consume the Pesach offering together with the signs of servitude (bread of affliction, bitter herbs). The obligation to eat the bread of redemption which did not have a chance to rise is then a separate obligation, derived from the verse, "In the evening you shall eat matza."

 

            It stands to reason that the two obligations will apply differently with respect to the need to experience the taste of the matza. The requirement that "In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread" necessitates an act of eating, but does not require one to experience the taste of the matza. The requirement of "With matza and bitter herbs he shall eat it," on the other hand, which serves as a reminder of the affliction of the servitude, necessitates tasting the matza, like the maror, which serves as a reminder of the bitterness of slavery.

 

Based on this understanding, we understand why tasting the matza is proper lekhattechila by Torah law, but one fulfills one's obligation even without tasting the matza. One who eats the matza without tasting it fulfills the mitzva of eating the bread of redemption, but as long as he has not experienced the taste of the bread of slavery, he is missing a component and thus has not fulfilled the mitzva in the optimal manner. As such, we can understand the Rashbam, who said that lekhattechila one must taste the matza, and that matza that cannot be tasted is invalid based on the rule that "regarding anything that is not fit for mixing, mixing is indispensable."

 

            Having established this principle, let us now reexamine the words of Rashi cited above (Pesachim 119b, s.v. ein maftirin):

 

Matza must be eaten at the end of the meal as a remembrance of the matza eaten together with the Pesach sacrifice. This is the broken matza that we eat at the end for the sake of the obligation of matza, that which is [eaten] after the meal.

 

            According to what we have said, we can explain the view that the primary fulfillment of the mitzva is performed with the matza eaten at the end of the meal. The optimal fulfillment of the mitzva of matza is accomplished through a consumption which serves as a fulfillment of both aspects, namely, of eating the bread of servitude as well as the bread of redemption. The first time one consumes matza, at the beginning of the meal, one fulfills only the aspect of the bread of redemption, for the matza is not eaten together with maror. It is only when one arrives at the final consumption, when the matza is meant to be eaten together with the Pesach offering and maror, that there a fulfillment of both the aspect of the bread of redemption and that of the bread of servitude.

 

It seems that according to Rashi, in our time as well, even though we do not bring the Pesach sacrifice, and the final piece of matza is not eaten together with the Pesach offering and maror, nevertheless, since this consumption was instituted as a reminder of that act, it constitutes the optimal fulfillment, of combining the bread of redemption with the bread of servitude.

 

Yet, since in the initial consumption fulfills the aspect of the bread of redemption, based on the law of "in the evening you shall eat unleavened bread," the blessing can be recited over the first piece of matza eaten.

 

Based on this explanation, we can also understand the viewpoint of the Ittur, that if someone has only one olive-sized piece of matza shemura, he should eat it at the end of the meal, but nevertheless the blessing of "al akhilat matza" should be recited over the first piece of matza eaten. It is possible that the obligation that the matza be guarded (shemura) for the sake of the matza of mitzva, which is derived from the verse, "And you shall guard (u-shemartem) the matzot" (Shemot 12:17), only applies to the bread of redemption that is derived from the very next verse, "In the evening you shall eat unleavened bread" (ibid. v. 18). This bread - like the Pesach offering, regarding which there is a requirement that it be offered with the proper intent, namely, that it be brought for the sake of the Pesach offering (Zevachim 2a) - must also be made for the sake of the matza of mitzva. In contrast stands the bread of affliction, which is bread of servitude, which, like maror, need not be prepared for the sake of the mitzva.

 

The Ittur, it would seem, disagrees with Rashi, and according to him, the matza that is eaten at the beginning of the meal is the bread of servitude, whereas the matza that is eaten at the end of the meal, together with the Pesach offering, constitutes a fulfillment both of the bread of affliction and the bread of redemption. This being the case, the matza that is eaten at the beginning of the meal, as the bread of affliction, need not be made for the sake of the matza of mitzva, whereas the matza that is eaten at the end of the meal, which serves also as bread of redemption, must be prepared specifically for the sake of the mitzva. The blessing, however, is recited at the beginning, for a certain fulfillment, that of eating the bread of servitude, is fulfilled already in the consumption at the beginning of the meal.

 

V. "I Have Surely Seen the Affliction of My People"

 

            We have seen, then, that the mitzva of eating matza involves the eating of both the bread of servitude and the bread of redemption. This halakhic analysis gives rise to a more philosophic question: Why are there two foods to symbolize the redemption – matza and the Pesach offering; and why are there two foods to symbolize the servitude – matza and maror? Furthermore, we must explain how it is possible that matza can symbolize these two opposites – servitude and redemption.

 

            The Gemara in Berakhot 4b explains that Rabbi Yochanan requires the juxtaposition of redemption [the final blessing of Keri'at Shema] to prayer [the Shemona Esrei] even at night, because he maintains that the redemption from Egypt started at night. This is despite the fact that he agrees that "full redemption" came only in the morning. That is to say, even though at midnight God smote the firstborns of Egypt and passed over the houses of our forefathers, Israel's redemption from slavery to freedom took place only in the morning. All night the people of Israel were barred from leaving their houses, for Moshe had commanded them saying: "And none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning" (Shemot 12:22).

 

            We see, then, that there were two stages to the redemption, a beginning of the redemption that took place at night and the completion of the redemption that took place in the morning. In this context it should be noted that it is matza, and not the Pesach sacrifice, that symbolizes the redemption of the morning, the culminating phase of the exodus from Egypt:

 

[We eat] matza – because our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt (Mishna Pesachim 10:5)

 

            The Pesach sacrifice does not mark the redemption, but rather the revelation of the Shekhina, Divine Presence, when God Himself passed over and protected the houses of our forefathers in Egypt, and did not grant the Destroyer permission to harm them. Thus, there is no redundancy in the Pesach sacrifice and the matza as symbols for redemption, for each relates to a different element of "the night of watching," clearly differentiated – both substantively and chronologically.

 

            Taking a step back, the affliction and the bitterness of the enslavement in Egypt are described at the beginning of the book of Shemot (1:11-14):

 

Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, namely Pitom and Ra'amses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were mortified on account of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel serve with rigor; and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of bondage in the field: all their bondage, wherein they made them serve, was with rigor.

 

            At the Covenant between the Parts (Berit bein ha-betarim), God distinguished between two aspects of exile, servitude and affliction: "And they shall serve them, and they shall afflict them" (Bereishit 15:33). The servitude led to bitterness, as it is written: "And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of bondage in the field" (Shemot 1:14). But unlike bitterness, affliction is an expression of a deep experience of mental hurt, where one person injures his fellow. Hard bondage in the field can lead to a feeling of bitterness, but only the Egyptians themselves could afflict the people of Israel, as it is written: "Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens… But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (Shemot 1:11-12).

 

            The affliction that reaches the innermost parts of the individual and the nation, as opposed to bitterness, is ultimately what would lead to a cry that would rise up from the soul and which would bring about the redemption. This can be seen in the following statement made by God at the burning bush: "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I shall come down to deliver them out of the hand of Egypt" (Shemot 3:7-8). A similar progression can be found with Hagar: "And when Saray afflicted her, she fled from her face. And the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur… And the angel of the Lord said to her, Behold you are with child, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Yishmael; because the Lord has heard your affliction" (Bereishit 16:6-11). The Torah establishes a similar link between these factors with respect to the orphan and the widow: "You shall not afflict any widow, or orphan. If you shall afflict them, and they cry to me, I will surely hear their cry" (Shemot 22:21-22)

 

            It may be argued then that maror symbolizes the bitterness as opposed to matza which symbolizes the affliction, and that there is no redundancy between these two symbols either.

 

            All the years of their servitude, the people of Israel ate bread that reminded them of the experience of affliction in their servitude. On that very day, when Israel left Egypt, when they carried their dough that did not have a chance to rise and they baked cakes of unleavened bread because they were expelled from Egypt and could not tarry (Shemot 12:34, 39), they suddenly realized that the bread that symbolizes the redemption that suddenly came upon them, is none other than the bread that they identified all those years with affliction. Only then did they understand the mystery of "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Only then did they understand that it was the affliction that led to the cry that brought about the redemption.

 

            We see, then, that that the matza that is eaten together with the Pesach sacrifice constitutes a joining of the bread of affliction with the bread of redemption.