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Halakhot of Pesach -
Lesson 23

The Link Between Matza and Maror and the Story of the Exodus

Rav Yair Kahn
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"While Matza and Marror are Placed Before You" 

  1. The Link Between "Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim" and Pesach, Matza and Marror 

"'And you will tell your son on that day, saying, it is because that which the Eternal did for me when I went out of Egypt' - Perhaps this obligation begins from Rosh Chodesh, thus it says: 'on that day.' One may think that 'on that day' (ba-yom ha-hu) refers to the daytime; therefore it states: 'because of this' (ba'avur zeh), because of this - refers to while matza and marror are in front of you."

This famous passage (quoted in the Haggada) links the commandment of remembering the redemption of Egypt with the commandments to eat pesach, matza, and marror on the seder night. Let us investigate whether or not this linkage reveals an inherent connection between them, and if so, what is the significance of this connection?

The gemara in the tenth chapter of Pesachim states:

"They brought before him matza and horseradish (chazeret) and charoset and two cooked foods... they poured him the second cup of wine and here the son asks..."

Rishonim disagree as to the reason behind the bringing of the seder plate before the start of the Haggada. Rabbenu David (114a s.v. Heivi'u) explains: "When the second cup is poured they bring before him matza and chazeret and charoset and the pesach offering [at the time of the Temple], so that he will tell the story of the departure from Egypt from the time that matza and marror are placed before him." In other words, having matza and marror in front of him is a prerequisite for the mitzva of retelling the story of the departure from Egypt.

Tosafot (114a s.v Heivi'u lefanav; see also 116a s.v. Va'amartem) explain the Mishna differently: "As soon as the table is removed, it is returned before him, with the matza and marror on it, for it is necessary to recite from the Haggada 'this matza...' (matza zu), 'this marror' (marror zeh), etc." It seems that Tosafot argue with Rabbenu David - Tosafot do not require that one have matza and marror before him during the recital of the entire Haggada, but rather only at one specific point.

The Minchat Chinukh (mitzva 21) argues outright with Rabbenu David, stating "The notion of 'at the time matza and marror are in front of you' refers to the time frame in which there is a commandment to eat the matza and marror. This is obvious since not having the matza in front of you during the reading of the Haggada does not detract from your fulfillment of the mitzva, nor have we found the notion that the mitzva of reciting the Haggada is dependent on the [presence of] matza or marror." As opposed to Rabbenu David, the Minchat Chinukh states that there is no such relationship between the mitzvot and the story, and therefore the aforementioned law of having the matza and marror in front of you is slated for the time of their mitzva alone.

The gemara (36a) records Shmuel's famous statement: "[Matza is called] 'lechem oni' because it is 'lechem she-onim alav devarim harbeh' - bread over which many things are recited." Rashi explains: "Many things are recited - namely, Hallel and the Haggada." Rabbenu Channanel (115b), on the other hand, limits the scope of the halakha: "It refers to the words 'This matza which we eat...'" (see also Tosafot 114a s.v. Heivi'u lefanav). It would seem that these two interpretations of Shmuel's halakha are contingent upon our inquiry - is it necessary to recite the whole Haggada in front of the matza, or is one required to reveal the matza only when reciting the words 'This matza...'?

Thus we have thus seen two basic approaches:1. Recital of the story of exodus from Egypt (sippur yetziat mitzrayim) is a separate mitzva not related directly to eating the pesach, matza and marror.2. There is an intrinsic link between sippur yetziat mitzrayim and pesach, matza, and marror. It appears that the fulfillment of the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim is complete only in the actual presence of the pesach, matza, and marror.


II. Lifting the Seder Plate as a Kiyyum of "Sippur"


The gemara (116b) cites Rava's ruling that "One is required to lift the matza and the marror. Meat does not have to be lifted; not only is it not required, but if he does, it appears as if he is eating sanctified food outside of the Temple." Rashbam explains that Rava's requirement "to lift the food at the time when one states, 'This matza... this marror...,' is in order to show the matza to those participating at the seder, and thus, the mitzva will be cherished all the more." Many rishonim follow this explanation.

There exists another approach among the rishonim which at first glance seems puzzling. This opinion posits that Rava is referring to the lifting of the seder plate before the son's recital of 'Ma nishtana' (see the siddur of Rav Yosef Tuv Elem, the Sefer Hamikhtam, and the Mordekhai). This position requires clarification, since the lifting of the seder plate before the son's questions is a tactic to intrigue the children so that they should ask about the strange customs of the day, as the gemara (115b) states. If that is the case, why not lift the meat as well as the matza and marror? These are the words of the Rashbam (115b s.v. Ve-ein):

"The mitzva is to remove the table so that the children will recognize the difference... Some have the custom to raise the plate and remove the meat from the plate, but this is not necessary, since the gemara which states that meat should not be lifted refers to the recital of 'Pesach that our forefathers...' It is not permitted to say 'Pesach that our forefathers' while lifting the meat, since it would look like he is sanctifying (outside of the Temple)... But when he raises the plate so that the children will ask, how does it appear as if he is sanctifying kodshim (sacred items)? Therefore there is no need to remove the meat from the plate. The raising of the meat is also without purpose since there is no recognition on the part of the children; rather, one should uproot the plate entirely..."

Perhaps we can explain the opinion rejected by the Rashbam as follows: this position does not maintain that raising the matza expresses "one's love for the mitzva," as the Rashbam claimed. Rather it seems to suggest that this lifting reflects the fulfillment of "sippur yetziat mitzrayim" at the time when the "pesach, matza and marror are in front of you."

Similarly, the Shibbolei Haleket states (siman 218): "'Rabban Gamliel used to say anyone who did not say these three things on Pesach did not conclusively fulfill his responsibility.' With the words 'Pesach, matza, and marror' we respond to the questions of 'Ma nishtana' ... The mitzva of Haggada is focused on these three things, as it says 'Because of this - at the time when this is lying in front of you'... As Rabba says, matza and marror require lifting because of the responsibility of 'And you shall tell your son' ... but meat does not require lifting since it might appear as if this meat is the Pesach sacrifice which is being eaten as kodshim outside the Temple." In other words, raising the matza and marror is a kiyyum (fulfillment) of the requirement to recite the Haggada - at the time when matza and marror are lying in front of you. However, the Shibolei Haleket feels that the central aspect of sippur yetziat mitzrayim is limited to the specific lines, 'This matza, etc.,' whereas the opinion rejected by the Rashbam maintains that this requirement is extended to the four questions as well.

This opinion is also found in Rabbenu Yerucham (5:4): "Meat in our day need not be raised when saying 'Pesach which our forefathers ate.' Some have the custom, because of this, to altogether remove the meat from the plate when reciting the Haggada." It would seem that the custom cited by Rabbenu Yerucham is based on our previously mentioned law that one should ideally fulfill sippur yetziat mitzrayim when matza and marror are lying in front of him. Thewe can infer that if one recited "sippur yetziat mitzrayim" with the meat in front of him, it might appear as if he were sacrificing outside of the Temple.

With a minor adjustment, we apply this idea to lifting tat the time of the son's questions, and thereby interpret the opinion which puzzled the Rashbam. We may posit that law of "at the time matza and marror are placed in front of you" applies to the four questions as well. Therefore, at the time of the four questions, one should remove the meat from the plate for the reason stated above. All of these opinions are based upon the assumption that there exists an intrinsic connection between sippur yetziat mitzrayim on the one hand, and, pesach, matza and marror on the other. Thus, the requirement to recount the Haggada must be done specifically when matza and marror are actually before you.

There is an additional gemara (116b) which seems to be based upon this assumption:

"Rav Acha bar Yaakov says a blind man is exempt from reciting the Haggada... But didn't Maremar say: They asked the rabbis of the house of Rav Yosef, Who says the Haggada in Rav Yosef's house? They responded, Rav Yosef. Who recites the Haggada in Rav Sheshet's house? They said, Rav Shehshet. [Since both Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet were blind and therefore exempt from Haggada, how did the others at the table fulfill their requirement of reciting the Haggada?] They believe that the mitzva of matza these days is only rabbinic in nature."

From a simple understanding of the gemara, if one maintains that matza in our time is a rabbinic mitzva, then sippur yetziat mitzrayim is also rabbinic. Thus pesach, matza and marror are necessary conditions in the fulfillment of the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim, and without them one does not fulfill one's requirement. (See Tosafot Megilla 19a s.v. Ve-Ri; one may challenge this conclusion, but that is beyond the scope of this shiur.)


III. Whoever Did Not Mention these Three Ideas


After clarifying the fact that there exists a correlation between reciting the Haggada and eating the pesach, matza, and marror, we can attempt to define the significance of this link. In order to illustrate this point, we need to analyze the words of Rabban Gamliel - "Anyone who does not recite these three ideas on Pesach does not fulfill his requirement." The rishonim vary in the interpretation of this idea. According to the Rambam (7:5), the explanations of these mitzvot, which are focal points of the seder night, comprise an integral part of sippur yetziat mitzrayim. It is not enough to simply recount the stories of the exodus and the related miracles; one must integrate the commandments of the holiday into one's recital. As we witnessed in the Shiblolei Haleket, the mitzvot are the essential part of the story. Accordingly, it is evident why the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim can be fulfilled only when the matza and marror are placed in front of you.

The Ramban (Milchamot Hashem, beginning of Berachot), on the other hand, explains that Rabban Gamliel's law does not refer to the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim, but rather to the mitzva of eating the pesach, matza and marror. He interprets the phrase "does not fulfill" merely as the optimal mode of fulfillment. Therefore, if one forgets to mention these sentences, he does not have to repeat the consumption of pesach, matza, and marror. From this we can deduce that the Ramban viewed R. Gamliel's law as qualifying the mitzva of eating and not "sippur." This interpretation assumes that the mitzva of eating pesach, matza and marror is not limited to the physical action of ingesting food within the allotted time period, but rather consists of eating while fully appreciating the purpose of the mitzvot.

According to this view, one can accept the ruling of the Rosh (siman 20) that not leaning prevents a person from fulfilling the mitzva of matza, since part of the mitzva of eating matza is to reflect upon the freedom which the matza represents. (The Rambam disagrees.) Based on this idea, we can understand Rava's opinion (115b): "If one swallowed matza [without tasting it] - he fulfills his requirement; if one swallowed marror, he does not fulfill." Why does he not fulfill the mitzva of eating marror? Because the mitzva of eating marror includes tasting the bitterness, i.e. what marror represents. Thus, without tasting the bitterness, one cannot appreciate the mitzva of marror.

It would stand to reason that in order to truly fulfill the mitzvot of matza and marror, one must understand what it is that they symbolize. Therefore, claims the Ramban, if one does not explain and appreciate the three key terms - pesach, matza, and marror - one does not fulfill the mitzva of eating in the ideal manner.

This notion that pesach, matza, and marror require an appreciation of their meaning and not just physical acts of eating, leads us to another approach with regard to the intrinsic connection between sippur yetziat mitzrayim and pesach, matza, and marror. This view maintains that the primary mitzva is eating the matza; reciting the story of the exodus acts as a complement to the specific actions of eating. This seems to be the position the Ramban takes in his comments on the Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvot. In discussing the counting of the blessings on the Torah (birkat ha-torah) as a separate mitzva, Ramban states: "It is clear from what I have said that this blessing is of biblical origin, and one should not count them (learning Torah, and reciting the blessing on Torah) as one mitzva. So too, the bringing of the first fruits (bikkurim) is not counted as one mitzva along with the recital of mikra bikkurim; so too the reading of the story of yetziat mitzrayim with the eating of the pesach sacrifice."

The Ramban claims that the relationship of sippur yetziat mitzrayim to eating the pesach is commensurate with the relationship of the blessing on the Torah to its actual learning, as well as the reciting of the blessing on the first fruits with the actual bringing of them. It would seem from the Ramban's formulation that the principal mitzva is the action of eating the pesach, bringing the fruit and learning Torah, while the reciting of the story (similar to the blessings and mikra bikkurim) plays an ancillary role. According to the Ramban, it is clear that the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim is a requirement only when the matza and marror are placed in front of him.

There exist, then, two approaches in defining the relationship between the mitzva of sippur yetziat mitzrayim and that of pesach, matza, and marror. 1. Part (perhaps the primary aspect) of reciting the story is to explain the mitzvot of seder night and their objectives. Essentially, one is required to recall the story of the exodus through the prism of the symbolism in pesach, matza, and marror. The fundamental component is the story, where the pesach, matza, and marror, play leading roles. 2. The principal mitzva is the eating of the pesach, matza, and marror, whereas the recital of the story of yetziat mitzrayim plays a subordinate role. In order to fully appreciate the mitzvot of eating, one must understand their true significance.


IV. Two Basic Approaches to Seder Night


Perhaps these two approaches - one which focuses on the story as the main factor, and the other which stresses the actions of eating as central - are dependent upon two perspectives on the seder night. The main aspect of the seder night is to transmit the moral, educational, and religious lessons which are embedded in the story of Pesach. Every generation is required to perpetuate this living tradition, the principles of faith which were manifest to all at the time of the redemption from Egypt.

These are the famous words of the Ramban (Shemot 13:16):

"... The great signs and miracles are a testament to belief in God and in the entire Torah. Since God will not perform this sign or miracle in every generation to refute the evil sinner or rebel, we are commanded to make a continuous remembrance and sign to that which our eyes have seen, and to impart it to our children and children's children... to the last generation."

If the is the preeminent part of the seder, then it seems obvious that the main factor is the transmission of this information to others, teach, and to impart the princples of faith. According to the Rambam's Hag(HiChametz U-matza 7:6), "In every generation one is required to SHOW himself as if he just left Egypt" - he must show to others. One must transmit this tradition not only through verbally retelling the story, but also through acting out the story via the pesach, matza and marror.

On the other hand, we mentioned the approach which emphasizes the mitzvot, not just the recounting of the story. According to this notion, the idea of transmitting data to others is downplayed. "Even if we are all wise... it is incumbent upon us to tell the story" - even when there is no additional information to relay. The emphasis, according to this approach, is on one's intimate personal experience. "Lir'ot atzmo" - "One must see himself (as opposed to 'show himself') as if he were leaving Egypt." Through our personal act of eating the marror, we re-experience the horror of the enslavement. By eating the matza we relive the suddenness and excitement of the redemption. With the pesach we re-experience the Divine revelation. In every generation one must experience anew the idea of the redemption from Egypt. "Ve-otanu hotzi misham" - "And He took us out from there (Egypt)" - one must internalize those experiences upon which the foundation of faith was built. In his commentary to the verse, "Behold I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud in order that the nation shall hear My speaking to you, and that they will also believe in you (Moshe) forever" (Shemot 19:9), the Ramban writes:

"The seed of Abraham will never doubt prophecy, for they believed in it from their forefathers... It seems to me that the words 'in order that the nation should hear' teach us that they will themselves become prophets of My words, not merely that they will believe it on the testimony of others... And if a prophet or dreamer should arise among them possessing words contrary to your words, they will reject him immediately, since they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears that you have reached the highest levels of prophecy."

Thus, the revelation at Mount Sinai was not to impart to Israel a knowledge that they did not previously have, but rather to raise that knowledge to a personal experience that could not be undermined. "Therefore, if the prophet stands and performs great wonders and miracles and wishes to deny the prophecy of Moses, we do not listen to him... because the prophecy of Moses... we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears, just as he did. To what is this case similar? To witnesses who testified to an individual about something about which he saw with his eyes: [if their testimony is] contrary to what the individual witnessed personally, he will not heed them. He will be positive that they are perjurous witnesses" (Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 8:3). We can also discern this from the answer the Torah gives to the question of the wise son in Parashat Va'etchanan: "And you shall say to your son: We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and God took us out from Egypt with a strong hand. God gave us signs and great miracles which were perpetrated on the Egyptians, on Pharaoh, and his whole house, to our eyes. and we were taken out from there..." (Devarim 6:21-25). This is the true understanding of the words of the Ramban we mentioned earlier, with regard to yetziat mitzrayim (Shemot 13:16): "The signs and miracles are a true testament to faith... that we were commanded to make a remembrance and a sign to what our eyes have seen and we should transmit this idea to our children... to the last generation."

It would appear that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. These two views of the seder - one which requires outer-transmission to others, one which asks us to internalize the experience - do not contradict (see the Tosafot Rosh 24:2). The synthesis of these two perspectives, that in every generation one must see himself AND show others the experience of leaving Egypt, creates a bi-directional connection between reciting the story of Exodus on the one hand, and pesach, matza, and marror, on the other:A. defining the content of the story;B. the story which presents content and significance to the actions.

 "'Because of this' - at the time when matza and marror are lying in front of you."


[Translated by Avi and Hadley Baumol. This article originally appeared in Daf Kesher vol. 5, p. 98.]

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