Bo: Two Reasons for Matzah - or One?

This shiur provided courtesy of The Tanach Study Center In memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag

Ask anyone - why do we eat matzah on Pesach?  Invariably you will hear one of the two following answers:

  • To remind us of the 'poor man's bread' that we ate when we were slaves in Egypt ['lechem oni']; [As we say in the Haggada - "ha lachma anya..."]
  • Because we left Egypt in haste and our dough didn't have time to rise ['chipazon']. [As we say in the Haggada - "Matza - al shum ma?  al shum she-lo hispik betzeikam le-hachmitz..."]

So, which reason is correct?

In the following shiur, we uncover the biblical roots of these two reasons in Parshat Bo - in an attempt to better understand and appreciate why we eat matza on Pesach.


In Parshat Bo, we find two Biblical commands that relate to eating matza:

  • In relation to korban Pesach, we are instructed to eat matza & maror together with the meat of this offering. [See Shmot 12:8.]
  • In relation to "chag hamatzot", we are instructed to eat matza (and not eat chametz) for seven days.  [See Shmot 12:15-20 and 13:3-8.]

In Part One of our shiur, we study these two sources to show how (and why) each of these two mitzvot stems from a totally different reason.

In Part Two, we study the intricate manner of the Torah's presentation of these two mitzvot - and together with some historical considerations, we will explore an underlying theme that may tie these two separate reasons together.

Part One - Remembering Slavery or Remembering Freedom

In the middle of Parshat Bo (right before the story of the Tenth Plague), God instructs Moshe concerning several mitzvot that Bnei Yisrael must keep - more specifically, the laws of the korban Pesach (see 12:3-14) and a commandment to eat matza for seven days (see 12:15-20).

[This section (12:1-20) is better know as "Parshat HaChodesh", as it is read on the shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nisan.]

As both of these mitzvot relate in some manner to eating matza, we begin our shiur by reviewing their definitions in regard to how they are to be kept in future generations:

The KORBAN PESACH - An Offering of Thanksgiving

Definition: Each year we are commanded to offer a special korban on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, and eat the korban on that evening, together with matza & maror; while thanking God for our deliverance from 'makkat bechorot'. (See 12:24-27, based on 12:8-14)

Reason: Because God 'passed over' the houses of Bnei Yisrael on that evening when He smote the Egyptians (see 12:26-27).  As we eat the korban, we are supposed to explain this reason to our children.

CHAG HA-MATZOT- A Holiday to commemorate the Exodus

Definition: To eat matza (& NOT to eat chametz, own it, or even see it) for seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of Nisan. (See Shmot 13:3-8, based on 12:15-20.)

Reason: To remember the events (and their miraculous nature) by which God took Am Yisrael out of Egypt.  (See Shmot 12:17 and 13:8.)

Even though these holidays 'overlap' on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan and both holidays include eating matza; each holiday serves a different purpose.  By offering the korban Pesach we thank God for saving us from the Tenth Plague.  In contrast, on Chag Ha-matzot we remember leaving Egypt into the desert, and hence our freedom from slavery.

[Note that each holiday has ample reason to stand alone.]

Matzah - A Primary or Secondary Mitzvah

With this background, let's examine the purpose for eating matza in each mitzvah.  Clearly, on "chag ha-matzot"  [the name for the holiday when we eat matza for seven days] - eating matza for seven days is presented as the primary mitzvah:

"Seven days you shall eat MATZA, even on the first day you shall rid yourselves from any unleaven in your houses..." (Shemot 12:15, see also 13:2-8).

As we shall soon explain, by eating matza (and not eating 'chametz') during those seven days, we remind ourselves of how God helped us when we left Egypt.

In contrast, eating matza with the korban Pesach is presented in a secondary manner, while the primary mitzvah is to eat the meat of the korban:

"And you shall eat the meat on this night, roasted on fire with MATZOT, together with bitter herbs..." (Shemot 12:8). [Review from 12:3-13, noting how most of these pesukim deal with how the korban is to be eaten, while matza is presented in a very secondary manner.]

Unfortunately, the Torah is not very specific in regard to WHY the Korban Pesach should be eaten with matza. It simply states in 12:8 to eat the meat roasted, together with matza & maror, without explaining why.

On the other hand, in regard to eating matza for the seven days of chag ha-matzot, the Torah is much more explicit:

"And you shall keep the (laws regarding) MATZOT, for on this very day I have taken your hosts out of the land of Egypt..." (see Shmot 12:17, see also 13:3!).

This pasuk suggests that eating matza for seven days will cause us to remember that God took us out of Egypt.  But why should eating matza cause us to remember those events?

To understand why, we must return to the story of the Exodus in Chumash, and follow the narrative very carefully to show why 'eating matza' would remind Bnei Yisrael of the Exodus.

The Common 'Experience'

Contrary to the popular understanding, Bnei Yisrael had plenty of time to prepare for the Exodus.  After all, already two weeks before the Tenth Plague, Bnei Yisrael had already received early warning (see Shmot 12:1-13).  Furthermore, Moshe had already advised them to be ready to 'borrow' from their Egyptian neighbors the necessary gold & silver and clothing for their journey (see 11:1-3!).  However, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, they were also in no special hurry to leave on the evening of the 15th of Nisan.  In fact, Bnei Yisrael were under a specific directive to remain in their homes that entire evening:

"And Moshe told the leaders of Israel: Everyone should take a lamb... and none of you shall leave the entrance of your houses UNTIL THE MORNING" (see Shmot 12:21-22).

Hence, Bnei Yisrael most likely assumed that they would not be leaving Egypt until sometime the next morning.  Considering that they were planning to embark on a long journey into the desert (see 11:1-3, read carefully), the people most probably prepared large amounts of dough on the previous day, with the intention of baking it early on the morning of the 15th of Nisan (before their departure).  [The fresher the bread, the better!]

However, due to the sudden nature of the events that transpired that evening, these original plans changed.  Recall how the Egyptians (after realizing the calamity of the Tenth Plague), rushed the Hebrews out of their homes.  Pharaoh demanded that Moshe lead his nation out to worship their God (see 12:29-32), in hope that the sooner they would worship their God, the sooner the Plague would stop, see 12:33 /and 5:3!).  The Egyptians were so eager for them to leave that they willingly lent their belongings.

It was because of this 'rush' that Bnei Yisrael didn't have time to bake their 'fresh bread' as planned.  Instead, they quickly packed their bags and took their dough ('and ran'):

"[So] Bnei Yisrael carried their DOUGH before it had time to rise ['terem yechmatz'], as they wrapped with their garments and carried it over their shoulders. [See Shmot 12:34.]

Two pesukim later, the Torah tells exactly what Bnei Yisrael did with this dough.  After setting up camp in Sukkot, on their way towards the desert (see 12:37-38), we are told:

"And Bnei Yisrael baked their DOUGH that they took out of Egypt as MATZOT, for it had not risen ['ki lo CHAMETZ'], for they were EXPELLED from Egypt, and they could not wait [in the their home to bake the dough properly], nor had they prepared any other provisions [and hence the only bread they had to eat was from this dough]" (see 12:39).

[This seems to be the simplest translation of this pasuk (see JPS).  Note, however, that Ramban explains this pasuk in a different manner.

In this manner, everyone who left Egypt shared a common experience.  As they set up camp on their way to the desert (the first time as a free nation) everyone shared the common predicament of: no bread; 'lots of dough'; and only makeshift methods for baking it.  Therefore everyone improvised by baking their dough as thin matzot on makeshift 'hot-plates'.

This background explains the first instruction that Moshe Rabbeinu commanded Bnei Yisrael on that momentous day:

"And Moshe said to the people: REMEMBER THIS DAY that you have LEFT EGYPT from slavery, for God has taken you out with an outstretched hand - you shall not eat CHAMETZ.  You are leaving in the month of the spring [therefore] when you come in the Promised Land... on this month EAT MATZA FOR SEVEN DAYS... you shall not see or own CHAMETZ in all your borders.  And you shall tell you children on that day, it was for the sake of this [MATZA] that God took us out of Egypt..." (see Shmot 13:3-8, read carefully!).

In other words, the next year, by eating matza (and not owning any chametz) this generation would remember this special experience together with the miraculous events of the Exodus.  To preserve this tradition (and its message), the Torah commands all future generations as well to eat matza for seven days, while telling over these events to their children (see again Shmot 13:8).

In a shorter form, this is more or less the reason that we cite in the Haggada when we explain why we eat matza:

"MATZA... AL SHUM MA?  This matza that we eat, for what reason (do we eat it)? - For the dough of our forefathers did not have time to become leaven when God the King of all kings revealed Himself and redeemed us, as it is stated (followed by the quote of Shmot 12:39)."

This certainly provides us with a logical reason for the commandment to eat matza for the seven days of "chag ha-matzot", but it certainly doesn't explain why Bnei Yisrael were first commanded to eat matza with the Korban Pesach BEFORE they left Egypt (see again 12:1-8).  It simply wouldn't make sense for God to command Bnei Yisrael to eat matza in Egypt with the korban - to remember how they left Egypt!

Therefore, there must be an independent reason for eating matza with the korban Pesach, unrelated to the events that transpired when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt.

To find that reason, we must return to Parshat HaChodesh, and consider the thematic connection between the mitzva to eat matza and all of the other mitzvot that accompany the Korban Pesach.

Pesach Mitzrayim - A Family Affair

Certainly, the primary purpose of offering the Korban Pesach in Egypt was to sprinkle its blood on the doorposts to save Bnei Yisrael from the Tenth Plague (see 12:12-13).  However, this commandment also included several other special laws that focus primarily on how this offering was to be eaten by its owners.

This in itself is noteworthy, for one would expect that a korban (an offering) set aside for God would be forbidden for human consumption, as is the case in an OLAH offering.] Yet, in regard to the Korban Pesach, eating this korban seems to be no less important than the sprinkling of its blood (see 12:3-11).  Let's take a closer look at these special laws.

First of all, note how it was necessary to carefully plan this 'dinner' in advance:

"Speak unto all the congregation of Israel -On the tenth day of this month everyone must take a lamb, according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household be too little for a lamb, then shall he and his neighbor next to him shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to every man's eating you shall count them for the lamb... (see Shemot 12:3-4)

Clearly, this was supposed to be a 'family meal' (see 12:3), and planned well in advance. Now, let's consider the cuisine.

" And they shall eat its meat on that night:

  • roasted over the fire
  • with MATZA
  • with MAROR (bitter herbs)
  • Do not eat it raw (uncooked)
  • [nor can you eat it] cooked in water
  • eat it only roasted,
  • its head, legs, and entrails, (together)
  • No 'leftovers', anything left over must be burnt."

"And this is how you should it eat it:

  •  your loins girded
  • your shoes on your feet
  • your staff in your hand
  • and you shall eat it in haste [CHIPAZON]

it is a PESACH [offering] for God."  (Shemot 12:7-11)

As you review these psukim, note once again how eating matza is only one of many other instructions that go along with how this korban is to be eaten.  Let's begin our discussion with some of the 'other' laws; afterward we'll return to the matza.

No Leftovers

The law that no meat can be left over relates once again to the special a