Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.
Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” — Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).

Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.

After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….

With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.

You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus
chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as “zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni‘ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

But there is one difference… Pesach, matzah, maror are in a different order – avodah (relating to G-d), Torah (self-refinement), then Gemilus Chassadim (in how we relate to others). Describing a flow downward.

First we connect to the Source of all good, by eating the qorban Pesach which shows our trust in Him and an inviation to “eat off His table”, so to speak. Then we eliminate all of our selfishness, our ulterior motives and other goals that could get in the way, as we can find modeled in our matzah. We make ourselves into conduits of that good to His Creatures. And finally we feel the pain of others in the taste of our maror and share what we received from G-d to help them through their suffering.

And more than that, we find that it’s maror that gets dipped in charoses.  Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is amitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

(The sweetness of charoses is discussed at more length in this earlier post.)

Charoses doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast. Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

Maror gets charoses because the ultimate purpose of life is not our self-refinement or our cleaving to the Divine, but our utilizing them to aid those in need. In fact, neither of these can be defined without knowing what a person’s function is, and therefore how we measure refinement, and what it is G-d does for creation that we can contribute to ourselves. It is through giving G-d’s Good to others that we cleave to Him, reflect His Perfection, and achieve our own.

Why the Middle Matzah?

So, I was asked in the middle of the second seder: Why do we break the middle matzah for Yachatz? Is there some significance to it being the middle matzah?

Here was my off-the-cuff answer, I wonder if it has any truth:

This thought leverages ideas I developed in two earlier posts Bilvavi part I, and part II. Then, I was exploring the question why so much of the Torah describes the Mishkan, which existed for such a short part of Jewish History. To summarize what I wrote then:

There are three aspects of the soul that comprise a person’s individuality: nefeshruach and neshamah. These ideas are developed in numerous ways, the following is that of the Vilna Gaon in his “Peirush al Kama Agados”, and leverages the Maharal’s understanding of the three pillars R’ Shimon haTzadiq identifies in Avos 1:2.

Nefesh: This is man’s connection to the physical world. Through it, we share that world with other people, and work together to address our needs. It is thus holds both the drive for physical comfort and pleasure as well as the ability to relate to other people.

Neshamah: A person’s presence in heaven, his connection to a higher calling, sanctity, and the A-lmighty Himself. If that calling is harnessed to serve some baser instinct, one is left with idolatry. On the other hand, as we say upon waking up in the morning, “My G-d, the neshamah which you placed within me is pure” — the neshamah itself is an image of the Divine, never sullied.

Ruach: People carry entire worlds in the space between their ears. In there they have models of what is going on outside of them, they plan and imagine outcomes and concepts. The ru’ach is the will that chooses between the conflicting callings and therefore also the egotism that is driven to see that desire be done.

Three aspects, each living in a different world, and enabling a different kind of relationship.

And similarly, the gemara in Yuma 72a (and explained by Rashi ad loc) identifies three crowns given at Sinai. Each is a perfection of one of these relationships, and each is represented by one of the crowned utensils in the Mishkan: The shulchan, the table with its showbread, sport the crown of kingship, organizing the interpersonal and showing the communal need to provide for everyone. The crown of Torah is “worn” by the aron, containing the luchos and with the manuscript of the Torah between its carrying rods. The golden mizbeich, upon which the incense was burned to provide its intangible offering had the crown of priesthood, of connection with the Divine.

The Mishkan and Beis haMiqdosh had three more, uncrowned, vessels. Outside was the kiyor (washing vessel), which was used to wash the dirt of this world off the kohein’s feet. Next to it, also outside the sanctuary building was  the larger Brass Mizbei’ach where most of the Avodah was performed. The menorah, like the aron, represents wisdom. “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.” (More detail in the posts specifically on this topic.) The uncrowned utensils represents navigating the challenges and opportunities of the three domains, while the crowned ones represent the ideal relationship each domain enables.

Notice that in both sets of three, the symbol of the nefesh is placed in a holier location than the other two. The shulchan and the golden mizbeiach are in the outer room, the aron — in the Holy of Holies. The kiyor and large mizbeiach are outdoors, the menorah — inside. Even though the neshamah is our presence in heaven, our spirituality, it is the ruach where our holiness truly resides. The neshamah is a recipient of holiness; the ruach, the will and power to consciously decide, which creates holiness in true imitation of G-d.

Perhaps we can say something similar in understanding the three matzvos. In is the ruach, torn between our spiritual and animal callings which is broken. Perhaps we can view the crack where the middle matzah is broken is where the two collide; Rav Dessler’s “battlefront” between conflicting desires which force the need for conscious deliberated. This is where free will truly resides. Hopefully, a person moves this front such that more and more good is beyond it, requiring no struggle to be performed.

And so we break the matzah into two uneven pieces, and use the bigger one for the afiqoman. Because our service should be with the middle matzah, that which makes us in the “image of the Divine”, and with the purest of our intentions, which we hope is the larger “half” of our selves.

Units of Measure

Pesach-time it’s common for people to start discussing how much matzah and wine one is obligated to eat, so why should I be any different?

What are we trying to compute?

The definition of eating in numerous contexts requires a minimum quantity of a kezayis (like [the volume of] an olive [including the pit]). This measure, like most halachic measures (shiurim), is halakhah leMoshe miSinai. Usually, that’s literal — “a law [given] to Moshe from Sinai”. Sometimes it’s more idiomatic, meaning more like “[as certain as] a law…”

Rav Chaim Volozhiner famously holds that the term is prescriptive — a kezayis is defined by the size of an olive as they are in your place and time. Which implies that there is something particular about olives that define what it means to eat.  Well, it’s one thing to say G-d gave us, or Chazal decided, a shiur that happens to be the volume of a typical Second Temple era olive. But if it’s actually tied to the drift in olives sizes, so that the point is related to the olive… In a society where olives are a staple, I could see saying that whatever your local olive is, that’s what you general consider “akhilah“. But why would this still hold in RCV’s 18th (or early 19th) cent Volozhin? So I’m stymied by the idea.

But it would help explain what most people remember as common practice, of taking far less matzah than the range of theoretically derived kezeisim. Unfortunately, there is another explanation…. In the 18th century, matzos got thinner. This is around when the Ashkneazi cracker-style matzah began. We decided it wasn’t safe to exclude kneading time from the 18 minutes — what if the person gets tired and pauses? So, the whole process got rushed, and we moved to a thinner, more quickly baked matzah. Then the matzah machine was introduced, even more thinning the matzah. Some point along the way, all that was left was crust — a cracker. But in any case, the eye gets fooled by this. Two very thin matzos will register to your eye as as “thin sheets”, but one could be twice as thick as the other, and it would a sheet of only half the area to make of the volume of a kezayis. So, it could be the matzos got thinner faster than the estimate of the kezayis kept up with it.

Another reason why even the Chazon Ish’s large kezeisim could be possible is that Israeli fruit shrank in size (and declined in quality) drastically in the late tannaitic era. Y-mi Pei’ah 7:3 33a would place it around the time of the Hadrianic persecutions. (Note this is not about their mythic past, nor all that different than Palestinian experience trying to farm the same land as Gush Katif did. It may be exaggerated, but it’s unlikely to simply be medrashic metaphor.) The kezayis was decided before the Temple was destroyed, and well before Hadrian harasha. With that in mind, even the CI’s shiurim are possible. Olive pits found at Masada or Betar wouldn’t reflect the huge olives we had at the time we started talking about kezayis.

The positions cited at the two ends of the normally discussed range of values for shiurim are products of very different approaches. The Chazon Ish, following the Noda biYhudah’s general approach, deals with the question in purely theoretical terms. If they reach empirically unrealistic conclusions, they quickly invoke the notion that breeding or nutrition changed the size of the average forearm, or the egg, or the olive. R’ Chaim Naeh also invokes theory, but his shiurim are typical values used in practice in the communities of Jerusalem in his day. This is similar to a difference of approach often pointed out between the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan. The Mishnah Berurah more often ends up in more stringent rulings because he considers all positions equally. The Arukh haShulchan, however, reads more as an explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of the rulings accepted in Lithuania in his day (with a few exceptions where the Arukh haShulchan disagreed with accepted practice).

Personally, I do not see any reason why today’s kezayis must necessarily be the same as chazal’s was, even if kezayis was descriptive of a particular set volume (and unlike RCV). I presume halakhah is constitutional; ie what those with legal authority interpret it to be. It is a process, it is supposed to evolve. (In an extreme case: Ezra and his court required tubes running into the altar to receive libations, meaning that in their era, Shelomo’s altar woudn’t have been kosher!) So perhaps a kezayis is what the theoreticians and common practice say is a kezayis, regardless of whether the historical measure was recaptured.

A New Way to Compute a Historical KeZayis

All that aside, here’s my own suggestion for how to compute a historical kezayis.

On one of the sides of the presumed Even Shesiyah, the rock under the Dome of the Rock, there are two holes 43.7 cm apart, and there is a niche in it that is 131 cm = 3 x 43.7 cm long. Two slabs of rock used in the eastern wall are 2.6 m long, six times 43.3 cm. And these, I am told, are only a few of many many examples. The repeated use of multiples of a particular unit suggests that it’s a standard unit of measure. Or, that an ammah is 43.5 cm +/- 2 mm.

At the end of Hizqiyahu’s Water tunnel, dug during the first Beis haMiqdah, is a plaque by the diggers telling us of the moment diggers from both ends met, “and the water flowed from the source to the pool for 1,200 ammos“. The actual length of the tunnel was given various values by archeologists, but with more recent tools (Gitt 2001), it was measured as 525m. Which comes to 1,207 of our even-shesiyah-amos long. (Well within rounding and measuring error. An amazingly on-target number, actually. Even the longest estimate I found, 537.6 m length given in 1870, would be within rounding to the nearest hundred.)

But, for much of the construction of the Second Temple, the ammah was overestimated by 1/2 etzba (see Pesachim 86a), ie by 25/24, as the workmen wanted to err on the side that would avoid accidentally short-changing the sacred (me’ilah). And in a small underground room under the north east corner of the current platform, the recurring unit of measure is 42.8 cm. If it weren’t for the Water Tunnel, it might have implied that the 43.5 cm length was the overestimate, not the ammah. As it is, I have no explanation. (Perhaps it was from a different era, with a different halachic ammah? Perhaps it’s because the rationale about me’ilah only applies to measures of construction material, and not the foundation on the rock?) Despite this problem, the convergence of both archeological indications of the ammah seems compelling to me.

Well, there is a way to convert from an ammah to the volume measures used in the seder.

An etzba is 1/24 ammah, and a revi’is, the measure of wine one’s cup must hold (and one must drink most of the cup), is 2 x 2 x 2.7 etzba’os, or 10.8 cubic etzba’os. So, we get an etzba is 1.81 cm, and a revi’is would be 64.3 cc (= 2.17 floz).

A kebeitzah is 2/3 of a revi’is, and a kezayis is either 1/2 or 1/3 of a kebeizah. So, a kezayis would come to either 14.2cc or 21.4 cc (.483 fl oz or 0.725 fl oz), depending on that dispute. Since matzah is deOraisa, it is customary to use the larger measure. Which you use for maror, which is rabbinic if there is no Pesach offering, is a matter for discussion with your rabbi.

Above I argued that perhaps the commonly cited range of values should be more halachically binding than historically determined ones. To give you an idea of where the values I just suggest sit in comparison to that range:

ComputedRambamR Chaim NaehArokh haShulchan*R Moshe FeinsteinChazon Ish
Ammah43.5 cm45.6 cm48.0 cm53.3 cm54.0 cm57.6 cm
Revi’is64.3 cc75 cc86.4 cc118.6 cc130.6 cc149.3 cc
Kezayis21.4 cc< 15 cc25.6 cc26.3 cc43.5 ml49.8 cc

(* The AhS’s measures are computed based on OC 16:4, which says that 3/4 ammah = 9 ווייערסקעס  (singular: вершо́к = vershok], for which Wikipedia says 1 vershok = 4.445 mm, combined with the AhS’s position of 2 kezeisim per kebeitzah. And the “o” in “Arokh” is intentional.)

So, while the Temple Mount based numbers are slightly lower than accepted range, they are not unrealistically so.

R’ Mordechai Willig reports that matzah weighs half of water, so that 21.4cc would weight 10.7 gm. This is much like the Sepharadi practice of using weight as a more accurate proxy for kezayis than guessing at volume of a thin sheet, but Sepharadim take the very conservative estimate of assuming matzah weighs as much by volume as water (1 cc weighs 1gm), when experimentally we find it’s about half.

I do not feel comfortable recommending anyone follow these numbers, though. It needs far more review by people who understand the archeology and posqim who understand the halakhah better than I do.

The Fourth Son

We can consider the rasha, the evil child, to be a failed chakham (the wise one). He is engaged with the laws of Pesach, but unlike the first child, he rejects them.

The third son, the tam, is usually defined simple in an unsophisticated or ignorant sense, as though his approach is inferior to the wise child’s. But when we find the word “tam” in the Torah, it is a complement. Yaaqov grows up to be an “ish tam yosheiv ohalim — a tam man, who dwelled in tents”. There is a kind of simplicity that is holy, positive — being of one mind, pursuing G-d without conflicting desires or motives.

And if the tam is someone who pursues Hashem on an experiential, desire, level, then the she’eino yode’ah lish’ol, the child who doesn’t even know to ask a question, is his failed counterpart. Just as the rasha is one who tries to encounter Judaism on the chakham‘s cerebral level but rejects what he finds, the she’eino yode’iah lish’ol fails on the experiential level, he finds nothing he can relate to.

And so we continue the Hagadah explaining why the mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus is limited to the night of the seder:

יָכוֹל מֵרֹאשׁ חֹדֶשׁ, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּיוֹם הַהוּא, אִי בַּיוֹם הַהוּא יָכוֹל מִבְּעוֹד יוֹם, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר בַּעֲבוּר זֶה – בַּעֲבוּר זֶה לֹא אָמַרְתִּי אֶלָא בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיֵשׁ מַצָה וּמָרוֹר מֻנָּחִים לְפָנֶיךָ.

I might have thought [the mitzvah applies] from the beginning of the month. Therefore we learn from what [the Torah] says, “on this day”. If it’s “on that day”, perhaps the mitzvah begins while it’s still daytime. Therefore we learn from what it says, “because of this” [-- "this", indicating something to point to]. “Because of this” I wouldn’t have said except at a time when matzah and maror are set out before you.

The mitzvah of telling the story cannot be cerebral teaching, from a book. It must be accompanied with the mitzvos of matzah and maror. An experiential education, an inculcation. This is the only way to reach the disaffected, the she’eino yode’a lish’ol.

And even the rasha requires this approach.  The thing that gets someone to reconsider their postulates and explore a different philosophy is the experience of (eg) a Shabbos or a Pesach seder. Otherwise, all the “proofs” in the world fall on deaf ears.

Teach Him Like the Laws of Pesach

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר?
מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אֱ-לֹקינוּ אֶתְכֶם?
וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן.

The wise [son], what does he say? “What are the testimonial rites, the dictates and the laws which Hashem our G-d commanded you?”

And even you tell him like the laws of the Passover [offering]. We do not conclude after the Passover [lamb], a dessert.

This is the last of the thoughts that have been lagging since they crossed my mind during my sedarim. And it’s all about one letter, the kaf of “kehilkhos“. “Like the laws of the Pesach”. Why are we teaching him “like the laws”, rather than the laws themselves?

Later we tell the story of the all-night seder in Benei Beraq:

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר וְרַבִּי יְהוֹשֻעַ וְרַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה וְרַבְּי עֲקִיבָא וְרַבִּי טַרְפוֹן, שֶהָיוּ מְסֻבִּין בִּבְנֵי בְרַק, וְהָיוּ מְסַפְּרִים בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל אוֹתוֹ הַלַּיְלָה עַד שֶׁבָּאוּ תַלְמִידֵיהֶם וְאָמְרוּ לָהֶם: רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, הִגִּיעַ זְמַן קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית.

There was an event with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah and Rabbi Aqiva were reclining [at a seder] in Beneiq Beraq, and they were telling about the exodus from Egypt that entire night. Until their students came and said to them: Our rabbis! It has come time to read the morning Shema!

Omitted is a similar story of Rabban Gamliel’s all-night seder in that same generation. This is the last Tosafta (10:8) of tractate Pesachim:

אין מפטירין אחר הפסח [אפיקומן] כגון [אגוזים] תמרים [וקליות].
חייב אדם [לעסוק בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה — אפילו בינו לבין בנו, אפילו בינו לבין עצמו, אפילו בינו לבין תלמידו.
מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים, שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד, והיו [עסוקין בהלכות הפסח] כל הלילה עד קרות הגבר, הגביהו מלפניהם ונועדו, והלכו [להן] לבית המדרש.
איזו היא ברכת הפסח? “ברוך … אשר קדשנו במצותיו, וצונו לאכול הפסח.”
איזו ברכת הזבח? “ברוך… אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לאכול הזבח.”

We do not conclude after the Pascal offering a dessert, such as nuts, dates, and candies.

A person is obligated to busy himself [studying] the laws of the Pesach that entire night. Even if [only] between him and his child, even between him and himself, even between him and himself, even between him and his student.

An event with Rabban Gamliel and the elders , that they were reclining [at their seder] in the house of Boethus ben Zunin in Lod, and they were busy with the laws of the Pesach that whole night until the rooster crowed. They removed [the seder table] from before them and left, and went to the beis hamedrash.

The core of the Sanhedrin — its head, Rabban Gamliel, and the elders — made a seder about the laws of the qorban Pesach in Lod. This actually fits what we already know about Rabban Gamliel’s understanding of the seder, also from the Haggadah:

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.

Rabban Gamliel would [often] say: Whomever doesn’t talk [about these] three things on Pessover, did not fulfill the obligation. They are: the Pesach offering, matzah, and maror.

To Rabban Gamliel, the seder revolves around the mitzvos of the night.

This is in contrast to what we discussed in the prior entry about Rabbi Aqiva, being the rabbi of Benei Beraq he was the host of the other seder, one which some of the members of the Sanhedrin made on their own. (Perhaps it was even the same year? A poetic thought, one we would like to be true, but we really can’t know.) But we saw how Rabbi Aqiva and another attendee, Rabbi Eliezer, focused more on the narrative. As we discussed in the prior blog entry, they counted exactly how many ways Hashem punished the Egyptians.

That is the seder we retell every year.

What do we tell the wise son? This son is fascinated with the laws of Pesach. (He is the proverbial Litvak.) He runs the risk of becoming the person who times each shofar blast with the second hand on his watch, making sure the teqiah is long enough to match the shevarim-teru’ah that preceeded it. And in the meantime, doesn’t hear the call of the shofar in the depths of his soul. In pursuit of a stringency, his loses the entire message.

We do not teach him the laws of Passover until the very last one about not eating afterward. We teach him to be more like that law. We are supposed to go to bed with the taste of the mitzvah in our mouths. Yes, in his discussion of the three mitzvos of the night, even Rabbi Gamliel relates each to the story of the Exodus. But it is Rabbi Aqiva explicitly telling the story of the seder that we repeat as an example.

רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אוֹמֵר:כָּל שֶׁלֹּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לֹא יָצָא יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ, וְאֵלוּ הֵן:
פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרוֹר.

40 or 50 Makkos

There is a dispute in the Haggadah about how to count the plagues. Rabbi Yosi simply says there were 10 plagues in Egypt, and the equivalent of 50 at the sea. Just focusing on the makkos themselves, Rabbi Yoshi looks at each plague as a unit; he doesn’t subdivide them. I wish to look at the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva, both of whom subdivide each makkah, but do so in different ways. They both obtain their positions from Tehillim 78:9.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, the verse is read:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּם חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ

  1. עֶבְרָה
  2. וָזַעַם
  3. וְצָרָה,
  4. מִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים.
He shall send upon them the fierceness of His anger,

  1. wrath,
  2. indignation,
  3. and trouble,
  4. a sending of messengers of evil.

Each makkah thus has 4 aspects, yielding a total of 10 x 4 = 40 makkos. (And the five times as many at the Red Sea, 200.)

According to Rabbi Aqiva:

יְשַׁלַּח בָּם

  1. חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ
  2. עֶבְרָה
  3. וָזַעַם
  4. וְצָרָה,
  5. מִשְׁלַחַת מַלְאֲכֵי רָעִים.
He shall send upon them

  1. the fierceness of His anger,
  2. wrath,
  3. indignation,
  4. and trouble,
  5. a sending of messengers of evil.

Or, 10 x 5 = 50 makkos. (And 250 at the sea.)

Perhaps this dispute between 40 and 50 makkos might really be about
whether there is a difference between teva and neis.

Rabbi Eliezer’s position of 10 x 4 makkos echos creation. “The world was created through 10 utterances” (Avos 5:1) each which Qabbalah expands to aspects in each of four worlds based on Yeshaiah 43:7:

כֹּל הַנִּקְרָא בִשְׁמִי

  1. וְלִכְבוֹדִי
  2. בְּרָאתִיו
  3. יְצַרְתִּיו
  4. אַף עֲשִׂיתִיו.
All that is called by My Name,

  1. for My glory,
  2. I have created it,
  3. I have formed it,
  4. and I have made it.

Thus there are 40 aspects to creation. And 40 days after conception the fetus has a human form. The Jewish People were created in 40 years in the desert. The world was reborn in a flood that rained for 40 days, and a person emerges reborn from a miqvah that holds at least 40 se’ah of water. When dealing with human creation, one element, creation ex nihilo is missing. So, when rest from work on Shabbos, we rest from “40 minus one” categories of constructive work; someone who was punished was lashed “40 minus one” times, and our tzitzis similarly have 39 windings.

So Rabbi Eliezer’s 10 x 4 makkos invokes a parallel to the creation of the natural world. (Even the derivation from their respective verses are similar — both count 4 nouns elaborating the first idea.) He appears to be saying that the supernatural occurances of the plagues are not different in kind than nature. When Rav Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter accidentally filled the Shabbos lights with vinegar, he proclaimed, “He Who commanded oil to burn could command vinegar to burn.” And they did.

If so, Rabbi Aqiva, in contrast, holds that nissim are different in kind than nature. Thus, each makkah had an element beyond the normal fourfold-act inherent in creation. It’s R’
Aqiva who says (Sanhedrin 67b, Tanchuma Va’eira 14) that one frog, when hit, became all the frogs of the makkah. (R’ Elazar b’ Azariah responds with a possibility that while rare, doesn’t defy nature — the frog called the others.)

This might be the beginning of building a broader dispute between these two tannaim. For example, they also debate what it is we build our sukkos today to commemorate. Rabbi Eliezer says we are commemorating the ananei hakavod, clouds of glory Hashem provided for shade, a floor protecting from anything sharp on the ground, and walls keeping out the elements. Rabbi Aqiva says they were actual huts built by the Benei Yisrael. (Sukkah 11b)

Perhaps it is because R’ Eliezer doesn’t see anything about miracles that would we couldn’t represent and recollect through very mundane, albeit holy, huts. Rabbi Aqiva, on the other hand, cannot represent miraculous protection through human imitation, because our imitation could never evoke that 5th element of perception of G-d that miracles reveal.

Rav and Shemuel on Redemption

The mishnah in Pesachim requires that in telling of the Pesach story at the seder, “we begin with degradation, and end with glory.” There is a debate between Rav and Shemuel over what this applies to. In practice, our Haggadah contains both. (Probably because, as the Haggadah itself says, “whomever [says] more, behold he is praiseworthy.”)

According to Shemuel, the focus of the haggadah is the physical slavery and physical redemption. To fulfill his notion of beginning with degradation, meaning lowliness on a material plane, we have the part of the Haggadah immediately after Mah Nishtanah – “Avadim hayinu — We were slaves to Par’o in Egypt, and G-d took us out.”

Rav instead stresses the spiritual side of the holiday. This is where we say “Bitechilah, ovedei avodah zarah — At the start, our ancestors were idol worshipers. And from the days of Terach’s idolatry, we make our way to Sinai and our spiritually redeemed.

It would appear, though, that this debate isn’t only over the proper way to conduct a seder, but part of a larger debate about redemption in general. In describing the messianic era, Shemuel holds, “There is no difference between now and the messianic era except the subjection to [foreign] rule alone.” (Berakhos 34b) To Shemuel, the messianic redemption as well is about Jewish autonomy, a physical freedom. Perhaps, Semuel insists that only man can save himself spiritually. Rav apparently sides with Rabbi Chiya bar Abba’s quote from Rav Yochanan, that redemption involves a literal implementation of all the promises of all the prophets — lions would stop eating lambs, the end of war, the moon will shine as bright as the sun, etc… Redemption is a change in the world on a supernatural level. And that is how he frames his haggadah.

There is a third dispute that I think is related (Gittin 38a). A slave-owner declares his slave hefqer, ownerless. Shemuel says that once the slave is no longer owned, he is fully a freeman. No shetar shichrur, writ of freedom, is required.  Rav says that the servant still needs a writ. After all, a freeman is not only someone who lacks an owner, but is now a Jew fully obligated in all the mitzvos. And this requires a special rite, involving a shetar shichrur.

It would seem that Shemuel says that a person can only be freed physically. Therefore, to him, the freedom of Egypt is the physical redemption. Once a person is freed from physical constraint, spiritual redemption falls to the person himself. Rav, however, focuses on the need for Hashem’s help even in spiritual redemption. Being freed physically isn’t the final roadblock before spiritual liberation. And this shows in his understandings of the laws of slavery, the haggadah, and the final redemption.

Thus the two approaches to the haggadah might well tie into how we view our job in life and our covenant with the Almighty on a day-to-day level. How much do I focus on my work on self-refinement, and how much to I turn to G-d for His Enlightenment and providing me contexts that make such work trivial (or at least easier)?

Not for the Seder Table

We say in the Hagadah

אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות, עד שדרשה בן זומא “למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך”: ימי חייך – הימים, כל ימי חייך – הלילות. וחכמים אומרים: ימי חייך – העולם הזה, כל ימי חייך – להביא לימות המשיח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Here I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit [having a proof] that the Exodus from Egypt must be spoken about at night. Until Ben Zomah expounded “So that you shall remember the day you went out of the Land of Egypt all the days of your life’. ‘The days of your life’ — would mean daytime, ‘All the days of your life’ — [adds] the nights.”
But the sages say: “The days of your life” — this world, “All the days of your life” — includes the messianic era.”

The topic under dispute is the nature of saying the last paragraph of Shema. According to Ben Zoma and R’ Elazar ben Azariah (REbA), the pasuq “… asher hotzeisi eskhem meiEretz Mitzrayim — Who took you out of the Land of Eqypt…” as a fulfillment of the biblical obligation to discuss the Exodus at night. According to the Chakhamim, the obligation is rabbinic.

I recently encountered a Yerushalmi that has a different dispute between REbA and the majority of the  Chakhamim that I think dovetails with this one. But, as the subject line says, it’s not on a topic appropriate for the seder table.

If after relations semen emits from the woman’s body (as is true for a man), the woman is temei’ah. In the days of the beis hamiqdash, when there are mitzvos that depend on her being tehorah, she would have to go to the miqvah. However, in order for this law to apply, the semen still has to be fresh (viable?), and therefore must be within three days of intimacy. This is deduced from the instructions given to the Jews at Mount Sinai: “וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעָם, הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים, לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים;  אַל-תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל-אִשָּׁה — [Moshe] said to the people, ‘Be prepared for the third day, do not [sexually] approach a woman.'” (Shemos 19:15) Thus implying that three days is sufficient to guarantee that no woman would be temei’ah (at least, not more so than tevul yom).

There is a four-way machloqes in the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 9:3, Vilna 59b) about how to define those three days; the result of two open questions:

  1. When Moshe Rabbeinu said “third day”, is this because one needs three entire days, or is overlapping with part of the day sufficient?
  2. What do we mean by “days”? Three daylight units of time, with the two nights between them, or 3 24-hour cycles? In other words, is the time specified 5 onos, i.e. 12-hour units, or 6?

There are tannaim with each combination of answers:

  • Rabbi Yishmael says that the time must cover at least parts of 5 12-hour units. So, if they had relations just before sundown, that counts as the first onah, then the next two days are another 4 onos, and if she emits semen a few moments later it is during the 6th onah, and she is tehorah. Altogether the minimum amount of time is just over 2 days. However, if they had relations just after sunset, then the first onah is pretty much the entire night, and the emission might be toward the end of the 6th onah, meaning a total of just under 3 days.
  • Rabbi Aqivah also holds that the relevant unit is the onah, not the day, but holds one needs 5 complete onos. Therefore, time limit is always 5 x 12 = 60 hours after they had relations. Regardless of the time of day of the relations or the emission.
  • Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah holds that we need parts (not whole durations) of three 24-hour days (not 5 onos). Therefore, if they had relations shortly before nightfall that’s day one, then if a day passes beyond the next nightfall, that’s already part of the third day, and she would be tehorah. This is the most lenient opinion — the minimum is only just over 24 hours. The longest possible time would be just under 2 days.
  • Last, the sages are quoted as holding that one needs three complete days, meaning 3 x 24 = or 72 hours.

Note that both R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Chakhamim consider the day and the night to be a single unit. When we speak of yom, by default we mean 24 hours.

How do they differ? REbA holds that something happening even on the edge of that day is enough to characterize the day. The Chakhamim hold that it must last the entire duration of the day.

Perhaps we can say the following:

According to Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Aqiva, the question of whether or not there is a Torahitic obligation to discuss the Exodus at night wouldn’t even arise. The verse telling us to speak of the Exodus says “yom“, which by default is the daylight onah.

However, between R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Sages,  the point of dispute is whether something happening for a moment during the day is sufficient to characterize the day, or if the thing must last the entire day. According to REbA, then, there are two ways of understanding this obligation. Either as an utterance, an obligation that happens to occur daily, or as an obligation to make each day about remembering the Exodus.  If the latter, he would say that one utterance a day is sufficient, since an event during the day is part of the entire day’s character. Therefore, he is excited to learn from Ben Zoma that the obligation is twice daily. A mitzvah that is twice daily is simply a mitzvah whose schedule is twice daily, and not about characterizing the day as a whole.

The Chakhamim, however, say the mitzvah is to characterize the entire day. The mitzvah is thus once daily.



Hagadah: Random Thought

וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱ-לֹהִים, מִן הָעֲבֹדָה.

It was in those many days and the king of Egypt died, and the Benei Yisrael sighed from the work and they wailed, and their crying reached to G-d from the work.

- Shemos 2:23

The cry of the Jewish People when cornered at Yam Suf was called a “tze’aqah” (14:10), with a tzadi, and Rashi their writes that the term refers to prayer. Here, the word is “ze’aqah”, a related root but with a zayin. The Jews at the Red Sea were articulate, they were able to turn their wailing into prayer. Here, still in Egypt, they were so oppressed that their cry was a ze’aqah, wordless wail. More like the cry of the shofar than the poetry of prayer. As the Rambam writes:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת” (במדבר י,ט). כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּצַר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ.

There is a commandment of obligation in the Torah to ze’oq (wail) and to blare on the trumpets over every difficulty which comes upon the community. As it says (Bamidbar 10:9) “On the trouble which troubles you, and you shall blare on the trumpets”. As if to say, every thing that troubles you, such as drought, wild animals, locust and the like za’aqu (you shall wail) about them and trumpet.

- Taaniyos 1:1

Ze’oq, za’aqu, za’aqah – terms for wordless crying.

Perhaps then there was a particular point in associating this particular even with the mitzvah of sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim, telling over the details of the story of being taken out from Mitzrayim. Where our ancestors before the Exodus were reduced to the wordless wailing of vayiz’aqu, we open up our Hagados, our books of “Retelling”, and articulate a complexly structured Symposium on the concept of redemption.

The Structure of Maggid

I recently reworked and expanded an older piece on the structure of the Seder as a whole, and why it comes in fifteen steps grouped by the cups of wine into four. This section is also a rewrite, reflecting parallel changes to Maggid in particular.

Within our framework, Maggid is the substance of the second cup of the seder. It is the cognitive aspect of progressing from the limitations of our current reality to our ideal redeemed state.

5- Maggid

Let’s begin with the relevant mishnayos, from Pesachim ch. 10:

ד מזגו לו כוס שני, וכאן הבן שואל.  אם אין דעת בבן–אביו מלמדו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות:  שבכל הלילות, אין אנו מטבלין אפילו פעם אחת; והלילה הזה, שתי פעמים.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה; והלילה הזה, כולו מצה.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל; והלילה הזה, כולו צלי.  לפי דעתו של בן, אביו מלמדו.  מתחיל בגנות, ומסיים בשבח; ודורש מ”ארמי אובד אבי” (דברים כו,ה), עד שהוא גומר את כל הפרשה.

4: They pour him a second cup, and here the son asks question. If the son doesn’t know how, his father teaches him “Mah Nishtanah…” [the entire older version, as said when the pascal offering was part of the seder, is given]. According to the intellect of the son, that’s how the father teaches him.
We begin with the tragic, and end in praise.
And we expound [on the portion of the Torah] from “An Arami destroyed my father / My father was a lost Arami…” until he completes the section.

ה רבן גמליאל אומר, כל שלא אמר שלושה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו; ואלו הן–פסח, מצה, ומרורים.  פסח, על שם שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצריים; מרורים, על שם שמיררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצריים; מצה, על שם שנגאלו.  בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם ל[ה]ראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים; לפיכך אנחנו חייבין להודות להלל לשבח לפאר להדר לרומם לגדל לנצח למי שעשה לנו את כל הניסים האלו, והוציאנו מעבדות לחירות.  ונאמר לפניו, הללו י-ה.

5: Rabban Gamliel says: anyone who doesn’t say these three things on Pesach didn’t fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach [offering], Matzah and Marror. Pesach in commemoration of… Merorim… Matzah
In every generation a person must see himself [Rambam: show himself] as though he [personally] left Egypt. Therefore, we are obligated to give thank, laud, praise, give glory, show beauty, exalt, make great, eternalization to He Who did for us all these miracles, and took us from slavery to freedom.
And we say before him “Hallelukah…” [and so on with much of Hallel and a closing berakhah, the details of which is the topic of the next mishnah].

The mishnah spells out three requirements for Maggid.

1- Question and Answer

Ideally, the previous section of the seder was enough to cause spontaneous questions from the child. If not, the father teaches him Mah Nishatanah – or more or less, as per the child. (R’ Rich Wolpoe wondered aloud on Avodah about when Mah Nishtanah became something the child said rather than something the father said when the child had no real questions.)

The question’s answer must be phrased in a particular way — starting from the lowly, and ending in praise. In other words, highlighting that gap between the limitations of the real, and the ideal we strive for.

Rav and Shemu’el disagree as to how we view that gap.

Rav says that this is on a spiritual level, starting with Bitechilah ovdei avodah zarah — in the beginning, our ancestors were idolators.

Shemu’el says it on a physical level. Avadaim hayinu – we were slaves, but now we are free.

We can view the dispute this way: Do we attribute our spiritual redemption to Hashem? Or is redemption our own task, and Hashem’s role is to give us the tools to achieve it. Shemu’el focuses on the latter, and therefore to him yetzi’as Mitzrayim is about Hashem granting us the autonomy to pursue His goals.

We find the same dispute between them with respect to the final redemption. In Rav’s view, the messianic era will be heralded with a change in the natural order. The synagogues and batei medrash from around the world will fly up to Israel. (Although, anyone who visited the yeshivos of Ponovezh, Ramalys, Mir, etc… operating today in Israel could give a more natural explanation. In Shemu’el’s view, it is not a supernatural event. Rather, “ein bein olam hazah liymos hamashiach elah shib’ud malkhios bilvad – there is no difference between this world and the messianic era except subjugation to [foreign] kings alone”. (A position followed by the Rambam.)

And so, this requirement of Maggid involves the following elements:

1a-The Questions: Mah Nishtanah.

1b- Shemu’el’s Haggadah: Avadim Hayinu.

The completion of this first retelling ends by noting that this mitzvah is retelling the story of the Exodus, beyond the usual requirement to remember it “kol yimei chayecha – all the days of your life”.

This then invokes a discussion of the four sons, the seder in Benei Beraq, and “Yachol meiRosh Chodesh” about the uniqueness of the night, when the other commemorations exist. Notice that the arguments include various mishnayos and beraisos explaining the requirement for each of the elements we include in Maggid, explaining why Maggid does not end here and instead does include every understanding.

1c- Rav’s Haggadah: The spiritual redemption from Terach, Avraham’s father, the maker of idols. It ends with thanking Hashem that He hastened the redemption, using the earliest possible definition of the end of the exile promised in Avraham’s vision. Before we were spiritually reduced to Egypt’s level, back where the spiritual story began.

Notice the nature of these two addenda: After Shemu’el’s Haggadah, we have a long extension about how to respond. Hashem gives us physical freedom, and so we are called upon to use that to study, to teach our children. Rav’s Haggadah speaks to our spiritual redemption, but is followed by “Vehi She’omda“, how that spiritual journey has stood for us as an anchor of physical survival.

2- Expounding

In contrast to the more natural question-and-answer retelling (sipur) that is at the center of the previous sections, the next thing the mishnah requires is expounding (derash) the words of Devarim, finding details about the Exodus lurking in each word of the section.We look for G-d’s “Hand” in all its nuances in the miracles of the plagues and the crossing of the sea.

3- Rabban Gamliel’s Haggadah: Identifying

Then we find Rabbi Gamliel’s requirement that Maggid can not be divorced from the food mitzvos of the evening, the substance of the third cup, when the night of the Exodus is relived. “A person must see or show himself as though he personally went out of Egypt.” Even the retelling must be subjective, in the first person. The exercise, while cognitive, can not remain abstract.

To the extent that the portion of Hallel found in Maggid derives from Rabban Gamliel’s portion of the hagadah. “Lefikhakh — therefore.” It is because the miracle is a personal one, that I too was redeemed when my ancestors were, that necessitates saying Hallel even at night.

The author of the Hagadah took all three elements of the mishnah, across multiple understandings of the essence of the night, and wove them together to make a single text that satisfies all the opinions. “And whomever says more, he is praiseworthy.”