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The Holiday of Passover and the Holiday of Matzot

Harav Yaakov Medan
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Translated by David Strauss


In Rabbinic Hebrew, the festival of Matzot is also called the festival of Passover, but in the Torah they are two separate festivals:[1]

On the fourteenth day of the first month towards evening is the Lord's Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord: seven days you must eat unleavened bread. (Vayikra 23:5-6)

The festival of Passover is on the fourteenth of the month, a one-day holiday. The festival of Matzot lasts for seven days, from the fifteenth of the month to the twenty-first.

But the festival of Passover does not begin at the beginning of the night of the fourteenth in the manner of all the other holidays; rather, it commences at noon of the fourteenth of Nisan, when the time for bringing the Paschal offering according to Torah law begins:

And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall slaughter it towards evening (bein ha-arbayim). (Shemot 12:6)

There you shall sacrifice the Passover at evening, at the going down of the sun, at the time when you came out of Egypt. (Devarim 16:6)

Chazal taught by tradition that the words "at the going down of the sun" refer to the beginning of the going down of the sun, that is, noon (or half an hour after that), and this is also bein ha-arbayim, between the beginning of the going down of the sun and the end of the going down of the sun.

The festival of Passover ends, according to the plain meaning of the text, in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, after half a day, at midnight. At midnight, the time of the Paschal offering and of the matza that is eaten with it comes to an end:

The Paschal offering defiles one's hands after midnight. This proves that from midnight it is notar (leftovers from a sacrifice which may no longer be eaten). Which Tanna [holds thus]? Rav Yosef said: It is Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya. For it was taught: "And they shall eat the flesh in that night." Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: "In that night" is stated here, while elsewhere it is stated: "For I will go through the land of Egypt in that night." Just as there it means midnight, so here too [they may eat the Paschal offering] until midnight. (Pesachim 120b)

The festival of Passover has unusual features the likes of which we find nowhere else. It extends for half a day – from noon (on the 14th) to the following midnight. Beyond the length of the festival, even the time at which it begins is exceptional, as it does not start at the beginning of the day, i.e., at sunset or at the time when the stars appear, but at the middle of the day.

So, too, we don't find anywhere else that a quarter of a day, about six hours, from the time the stars appear on the night of the fifteenth and until midnight, belongs to two different days. This quarter of a day is part of the festival of Passover, as a continuation of the fourteenth of Nisan, and it is also the beginning of the festival of Matzot – which begins on the fifteenth at night and continues until the end of the twenty-first of Nisan, seven days.

Perhaps this is the tension between reclining – the manner in which we sit on the night of the fifteenth, the night of our freedom, the day of the exodus from Egypt – and the manner in which we eat the Paschal offering that belongs to the continuation of the day of the fourteenth after noon, the day of Passover, regarding which our forefathers were commanded: "And thus you shall eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in our hand" (12:11),[2] which is the total opposite of eating in a reclining position on mats and pillows. The continuation of the day of Passover (the fourteenth after noon) rubs against the day of the exodus from Egypt (the fifteenth) for six hours.

Perhaps this exceptional "day," the day of Passover, stems from an unexpected and unnatural change in the times of the day due to a cosmic occurrence. It is possible that the sun set suddenly at noon and rose at midnight, immediately after the plague striking the firstborns and after Pharaoh called upon the people of Israel to leave Egypt. We will never know precisely what happened there and how it happened. This alone we know: that the exodus from Egypt involved the direct intervention of God and was a clearly unnatural occurrence. There are allusions in the words of the prophets to an event similar to the one I am proposing in their descriptions of "the day of the Lord." All the prophets who related to this describe the day of the Lord as being like the day of the exodus from Egypt. See, for example, the prophet Yoel’s allusions to the exodus:

Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation. That which the cutting locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and that which the swarming locust has left, the hopping locust has eaten; and that which the hopping locust has left, the destroying locust has eaten. (1:3-4)

A day of darkness and of gloom, a day of clouds and of thick darkness. Like twilight spread over the mountains… (2:2)

The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. (2:10)

And I will exhibit wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and the terrible day of the Lord. (3:3-4)

Egypt shall be a desolation… for the violence done to the children of Yehuda, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. (4:19)

Let us consider the description of the day of the Lord in the book of Amos:

For, lo, He that forms the mountains, and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, that makes the morning darkness, and treads upon the high places of the earth. (4:13)

He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deepest darkness into morning, and makes the day darken into night: that calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the face of the earth. (5:8)

Woe to you that desire the day of the Lord! why would you have this day of the Lord; it is darkness, and not light… Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? Even very dark, and no brightness in it? (5:18-20)

Shall not the land tremble for this, and everyone mourn that dwells in it? And it shall all rise up like the River; and it shall overflow and sink down like the river of Egypt. And it shall come to pass on that day, says the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. (8:8-9)

It is possible that the prophets were familiar with sudden darkness, when the sun disappears in the middle of the day, from the day of the Lord as it occurred in Egypt, the day of Passover.

The aforementioned tension caused by the day of Passover's rubbing against the day of the exodus from Egypt is also the tension between the cosmic and supernatural miracle of the day of Passover – namely, the plague brought down upon the firstborns and the saving of the firstborns of Israel – and the "natural" and political miracle, namely, Pharaoh's consenting to release the people of Israel. This tension causes a disruption in the sequence of the days with regard to the question of what is "the morrow after the Passover."

And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover the children of Israel went out with a high hand in the sight of all Egypt. (Bemidbar 33:3)

And they did eat of the corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn, that very day. (Yehoshua 5:11)

In the verse in the book of Bemidbar, "the morrow after the Passover" is the fifteenth of Nisan, the day of the exodus, whereas in the verse in the book of Yehoshua, "the morrow after the Passover" is the sixteenth of Nisan, the day when one may eat of the new grain in the land of Israel. This difficulty was already pointed out by Ibn Ezra and the Tosafot:

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra raised a difficulty: Why do we say that "the morrow after the Passover" here is the sixteenth of Nisan, when the omer offering is brought? Perhaps "the morrow after the Passover" means the morrow after the slaughtering of the Paschal offering, i.e., the fifteenth of Nisan, when the omer offering was not yet brought. For so too we find in Parashat Mas'ei it is written: "On the morrow after the Passover, the children of Israel left," and they left on the fifteenth. (Tosafot, s.v. mi-macharat, Kiddushin 37b)

In my humble opinion, it is possible that "the day of the Passover" in the Torah means the day on which the Paschal offering is brought, and that is primarily on the fourteenth. But the context of the verse in the book of Yehoshua is the eating of the Paschal offering, and thus it stands to reason that we are dealing with the day of the eating (not sacrificing) of the Paschal offering; and the Paschal offering is eaten after sunset and after the stars have appeared, on the fifteenth of Nisan.[3]

The disruption of the calendar, that is, the intermingling of the fourteenth and the fifteenth of Nisan and of the concepts connected to them (e.g., "the morrow after the Passover"), is the small price that we pay for the intermingling of the world of miracle and the world of nature on the day of Passover, the day of the exodus from Egypt.



[1] I heard the gist of this shiur in my youth from my revered teacher, Rav Yoel Bin-Nun.

[2] In great measure this is the way that the Paschal offering was eaten in later generations in the streets of Jerusalem. The eaters presumably ate of it in their traveling clothes, as they arrived in Jerusalem from afar and would leave for the return journey at the end of the fifteenth of Nisan, so that even while they were in Jerusalem, they were there as wayfarers.

[3] Tosafot cites the resolution suggested by Rabbeinu Tam, who solves the difficulty in a different manner.

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