Today we will continue our discussion about the difficult verse in Sefer Shemot that tells of Benei Yisrael baking their unleavened dough after leaving Egypt at the time of the Exodus: “They baked the dough which they had brought from Egypt as unleavened cakes, rather than leaven, because they were rushed from Egypt and could not delay…” (Shemot 12:39). The verse seems to say that Benei Yisrael were compelled to bake “ugot matzot” – unleavened products – because they were hastily driven from Egypt. Indeed, the Haggadah cites this verse as the source for its statement that we eat matza on Pesach because “the dough of our forefathers did not have a chance to ferment before the King of kings appeared to them and redeemed them.” The clear indication is that Benei Yisrael were compelled to bake matzot because the Egyptians frantically drove them from their land, such that their dough did not have time to rise to allow the baking of regular, leavened bread. As we noted, however, the verse clearly states that Benei Yisrael baked the dough only after their left Egypt, once they were no longer any under any sort of pressure. While we understand why the dough they brought from Egypt was unleavened, why did they then need to bake matzot, rather than waiting for the dough to rise before baking it?
The Ritva, in his commentary to the Haggadah, implicitly answers this question by offering a startling reading of this verse. He writes that Benei Yisrael did, in fact, bake leavened bread after leaving Egypt. In his view, the Torah in this verse means that the dough which Benei Yisrael had taken from Egypt in an unleavened condition was now baked as chametz. We eat matza to commemorate the unleavened state of the dough at the time of Benei Yisrael’s departure, not what they produced from that dough when they finally had an opportunity to bake it – because they in fact baked ordinary bread, and not matza, as the dough leavened by the time Benei Yisrael got around to baking. (It should be noted that the Ritva says that the dough became chametz by the time Benei Yisrael arrived in “Refidim.” This is certainly an error, as Benei Yisrael arrived in Refidim much later, after crossing the sea and journeying through the wilderness. Presumably, the Ritva meant Sukkot, the place where, as implied in the verse, the dough was baked.)
The obvious difficulty that arises is how to read the verse according to the Ritva’s theory. The verse states that the people “baked the dough which they had taken from Egypt, unleavened cakes [ugot matzot].” If the Torah tells that the people baked “ugot matzot,” how can the Ritva claim that they baked ordinary bread?
Apparently (as explained in Rav Mordechai Dermer’s Mor Deror – Moadim, p. 22), the Ritva understood the expression “ugot matzot” as referring not to baked matzot, but rather to unleavened dough. Although the term “ugot” is commonly used to refer to baked products (as in Bereishit 18:6), there is at least one source which suggests that it can also be used to refer to raw batter. The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (75a) teaches that the manna that fell in the wilderness came in different forms for different groups of people. Whereas the especially righteous received manna in the form of readymade food, others received the manna in the form of “ugot,” as mentioned by the Torah in Sefer Bamidbar (11:8). Rashi explains that the word “ugot” means “dough,” and thus indicates that this group received manna in the form of dough that needed baking. It appears that the Ritva similarly understood the term “ugot matzot” in Sefer Shemot as referring to the unleavened state of the dough at the time of the Exodus, rather than the food prepared by Benei Yisrael with that dough.
The difficulty with the Ritva’s reading, however, is that it fails to account for the Torah’s elaborate emphasis in this verse on the fact that Benei Yisrael’s dough was unleavened at the time they left Egypt. This point was already made several verses earlier (12:34), where we read that because the Egyptians pressured the people to leave, they ended up carrying their dough before it rose. It seems unnecessary to repeat this point again several verses later when telling that Benei Yisrael baked this dough. If, as the Ritva suggests, the dough was baked normally, producing ordinary bread, why would the Torah emphasize that the dough was unleavened at the time the people left Egypt? This point does not seem worthy of such accentuation if in the end the dough was used to produce ordinary bread.