Saturday, January 28, 2012

A bit of Torah.

I know this is early as a Pesach post, but this idea struck me in shul today so I figured I'd put it out there. I mixed some Hebrew in, so I'll see if the cut and paste still works.

One of the central acts of the seder is the eating of matzah. The Torah is very clear about the requirement to eat matzah on Pesach. However, the actual reason behind eating matzah is not nearly as obvious. From a young age, we are taught that the symbolic value of matzah is in its cooking speed – we were chased out of Egypt during the exodus and the dough which had prepared did not have time to rise. Thus, the matzah serves to remind us the actual leaving of Egypt and escape from servitude. Except that this is not exactly the case.

There are actually two presentations of matzah, one which applied to the people in Egypt (Pesach Mitzrayim) and one which is applicable to future generations (Pesach Dorot). The matzah of the leaving applies to us, to recollect the process by which we came to be a people. But bnei yisroel were commanded to make matzot well before they left Mitzrayim. In pasuk 8 of perek 12 in parshat Bo, Hashem tells bnei yisroel to prepare the meat from their Pascal sacrifice and eat it with bitter herbs and “matzot” so the flat, unleavened product was the intentional end, not an accidental end result of speeding out. With that in mind, it is more difficult to associate the later matzah with anything unintended. The people knew how to make matzah and had done so recently! I believe that the reason behind both appearances of matzah, and its use in the seder actually run deeper and explain a linguistic and presentational oddity in the text of the Haggadah.

At the beginning of Maggid, the prolonged recitation of the background story of Pesach, celebrants recite the Ha Lachma Anya (This is the Bread of our Poverty) which introduces the lechem oni (commonly, Bread of Affliction), the matzah which, according to the paragraph, is what our ancestors ate while they were still in Egypt. One could then explain that the marker of our suffering, the matzah, is being elevated to sacramental status as an analogue to us as a people – though we were in the depths of impurity and suffering, Hashem transformed us into a Chosen People. But this still associates the matzah with our presence IN Egypt, not the exodus out of Egypt. One minhag associated with this section of the seder is traced back to the Haggadah codified by Rambam (Hilchot Chametz Umatzah). He includes that we should say “בבהילו יצאנו ממצריים” which is often translated as “in haste we left Egypt.” This phrase is traced (in the Haggadah of Rabbi Elyashiv, page 75) to the Aramaic translation of Onkelos on Shmot 12:11. The Hebrew reads “v’achaltem oto b’chipazon” (you shall eat it in haste) and the Onkelos reads “v’teichlun yatei bivhilu.” Rabbi Elyashiv adds in that an early manuscript of the Rambam has in the Ha Lachma Anyad’nafku mimitzrayim” (when we left Egypt) instead of “b’ar’a dmitzrayim” (in the land of Egypt). So the idea of exiting is present and a central aspect of the matzah.

 This speed/exiting component of the symbolic role of the matzah would fit in with the explanation which the Haggadah, itself, provides the following explanation “שלא הספיק בצקם של אבותינו להחמיץ” (Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened). The textual support is Shmot 12:39 which reads (in part) “ויאפו את הבצק אשר הוציאו ממצריים, עוגות מצות--כי לא חמץ:  כי גורשו ממצריים, ולא יכלו להתמהמה” (They baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt as unleavened cakes, for it had not leavened, for they were driven out of Egypt, and they could not delay). The text clearly says that the matzah symbolizes that speed and the exodus, ignoring the initial appearance of the matzah as part of the ceremonial meal which was demanded while bnei yisroel were still in Egypt.

This concern becomes even more apparent when one looks at where the explanation for matzah is found in the Haggadah. This section, towards the end of Maggid, presents explanations for the three essential elements of the seder, the Pesach (Pascal offering), the matzah and the maror (the bitter herb). These three are a unit because of the commandment in pasuk 8, so the connections made to provide explanation should be connected with the logic of and events surrounding that pasuk. Both the Pesach offering and the maror share two important characteristics. Each on is connected to events which occurred while the people were still in Egypt (the sacrifice which took place in Egypt and the suffering of the people while in Egypt), and each is connected linguistically to some aspect (the Pesach both to the Pesach offering and that “Hashem Pasach,” passed over the houses of bnei yisroel while killing the Egyptian firstborn, and the maror to the notion of bitterness of servitude). However, the matzah seems to be connected to the events AFTER the time in Egypt, and seems to lack the linguistic connection to anything other than the specific name of the food eaten on the road. Thus, the matzah explanation seems to lack a parallel structure and source when compared to the two other foods demanded in the same pasuk and explained here.

It seems appropriate to go back to the beginning and examine a strange word there – the Rambam’s Haggadah required the mention of the word “bivhilu” as a reminder of the pasuk which said “chipazon.” The word chipazon is only used 3 times in Tanach, all three when it has to do with leaving Egypt (and the Aramaic for each is related to “bivhilu”).  The connected ch-p-z root meaning “hurried” is used in nine other places, but Aramaic is NOT from the b-h-l root! It seems that the “haste’ of the exodus was somehow different. The b-h-l root, used in both Hebrew and Aramaic words in the Tanach does NOT mean necessarily with speed, but with “dread” (pachad). Rashi points to this when he explains the word “chipazon” in 12:11 as “לשון בהלה ומהירות” (a term indicating behala and speed). Rashi sees chipazon as having two separate parts – the haste/speed and the behala which is dread. When we make the declaration of the Rambam, it appears that we are accentuating the dread, not saying “bimhirut yatzanu” with speed we left, but bivhilu, with dread we left.

So we are left with a new question – what was the nature of this dread? We had just been saved from plagues and servitude by overt miracles! Where we that afraid of the Egyptians who were chasing us out? And how would the matzah symbolize that dread? Is it simply because it was a by-product of the speed of our departure?

The answer might be in the placement of the matzah in that pasuk 8! That pasuk is noteworthy as it falls in the first section of the chumash to present laws to the bnei yisroel. This baked food was one of the first 3 mitzvot given to bnei yisroel. To follow the many laws of making proper matzah was one of the initial challenges of accepting ol malchut shamayim, the yoke of heaven. The dread which fell on them while they were making and eating this matzah was the yir’at shamayim – the fear of heaven which imbues actions with spiritual and religious significance. We left Egypt not just with speed but with a new responsibility to act with a fear of heaven. This is the fear, the pachad of bivhilu that is absent in other cases of simple rushing. But then how does this explain the justification of the maztah in the paragraph of matzah zu sh’anu ochlim (this matzah that we eat)? Doesn’t it refer to a pasuk which connects matzah only to the speed of the exodus? Possibly not, if we remember that the other two foods are justified through a linguistic twist, which is apparently absent here. Pointing out that twist would make this paragraph fall in line with the others.

What is interesting is that the matzah is not simply called “matzot” in 12:39 (which is cited here), the way it is in 12:8, but is called “עוגות מצותugot matzot (cakes of matzah). Why wouldn’t the text use any other appearance of “matzot” on its own to make its point? It could be that THIS is the linguistic trick/connection which ties this all together. The food were are to eat are the ugot, the cakes (the apparently extra word) and the other word has another use. The text has made connections between Pesach and Pasach, and Maror and Mer’ru. Couldn’t it be making the same connection between matzot (מצות) and mitzvot (מִצְווֹת)? These are not just “matzot” but ugot mitzvot, cakes which were commanded (thus connecting to the dread). The connection now has a linguistic connection and a chronological one which mirror the methodology used to support the other two foods from 12:8, and this recognition of the commanded idea explains the otherwise strange idea of using the b-h-l root when a word indicating simple haste would have sufficed for both the Onkelos and the Rambam.

The lechem oni indicates our spiritual poverty – we were a people who needed to be brought closer to Hashem through his mitzvot. When we ate matzah in Egypt, it was because that was what we had. But that first Pesach, the mundane was elevated because we were commanded to take that common practice and follow rigid rules and create something for a greater purpose. The matzot mitzvah enriched us and made our bread of affliction a symbol of our new connection to the divine, and invoked the proper mindset of pachad, dread, not of the Egyptians, but of the awesome presence of the Shechina.

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