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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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This week I deviate from offering a Rashi interpretation to deal with a familiar question about Pesach.

The parsha (chapter 12) speaks of the Karban Pesach, the Pascal offering which was eaten on the eve of their redemption from Egypt. There is a difficulty here.

The mitzvah of eating Matzos for a week is given to us in Ch.12: 15ff. But only later when the Jews actually fled to freedom are we told (12:39) "They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into matzos for it had not leavened because they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay neither had they prepared provisions for themselves."

So the reason they ate Matzos was because there was no time to let the dough leaven into bread. It was not because G-d had commanded them previously to eat matzos.

This is strange, to say the least. The Ramban offers a very reasonable explanation for the apparent contradiction. He says we have to read verse 39 as follows: "They baked the dough….because they were driven out of Egypt" - and they could not bake the matzos in Egypt before they left. This reading of the Ramban answers our question. It was not that they baked matzos and not bread; it was that they baked matzos on the run and did not bake them in Egypt as they had been commanded.

But we still have a question from the Haggadah. In the Haggadah which we read on Pesach night we say. "Why do we eat Matzos on Pesach ? It is because our fathers' dough did not have time to rise before the King of kings , the Holy One Blessed Be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them, as it says "They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into matzos for it had not leavened because they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay nor had they prepared provisions for themselves."

From this it seems that the reason why we eat Matzos on Pesach and the reason why our ancestors ate matzos when they went out was because there was no time for the dough to rise and become bread. Again our dilemma - but we were commanded to eat matzos even before we left Egypt.

I suggest the following:

If we take note of the various mitzvos connected with the first Pesach seder we find several unusual commandments.

  • Families should eat together everyone must have an invitation to where he will eat (verse 4)
  • The meat was eaten roasted on fire (verse 8)
  • It must not be eaten either raw or cooked in water (verse 9)
  • It was roasted as the lamb was whole (verse 10)
  • You should eat it with your loins girded (with a belt), shoes on your feet and your walking stick in hand (verse 11)
  • You should eat it in haste
  • Don't break a bone as you eat it (verse 46)
Commentaries (Rashbam, Bechore Shor) have pointed out that all these mitzvos have a common thread. Each mitzvah was helpful in eating the offering in haste ( e.g. eating the bones is an extra, time consuming act that slows down the meal.)

This was G-d's desire because He knew that in the end the Egyptians would be panic stricken and force the Jews out (See above 9: 35).

With this in mid we can answer our question. the mitzvah to make matzos for this meal was also because matzos bake quicker than bread. Which is appropriate for a meal that must be prepared and eaten in haste. It was given two weeks before the Exodus (while the other mitzvos were given right before Pesach) because matzos could be baked earlier and held in waiting til Pesach night. So G-d knowing that they would be rushed out asked them to make matzos and the other Pesach mitzvos so they'd be ready to leave when they had to.

But to the Jews' surprise the end came even faster than they had anticipated. So fast that they had to bake the matzos on the road. But in fact they were commanded to make matzos even earlier because it was part of G-d's "fast food" meal they were to eat on redemption night. So the Hagaddah is correct; they ate matzos because they had to leave In a hurry or better said: they ate matzos because Hashem commanded them to make a fast meal including matzos because He knew they would be rushed during that meal.

I hope you find this to be a satisfactory explanation to a puzzling question.

Shabbat Shalom
V'chag Somyach,
Avigdor Bonchek

Avigdor Bonchek has published a new book on Rashi called "Rashi: The Magic and the Mystery" published by Gefen. Look for it at Jewish book stores.

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