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11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Matzo — A Matter of Questions and Answers

by Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer

Though the festival is commonly known as "Pesach," its Torah name is Chag Hamatzos — the festival of Matzos. This ought to command our attention. Pesach is ordinarily associated with our revelation as a nation through the great miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim — and not with the memory of the bread of affliction. What then is it that makes matzo the most fundamental element of these days?

To explore the topic we open with a basic lesson of the gemora regarding the essence of matzo. Based on the Torah name "lechem oni," Chazal (Pesochim 36a) teach that the matzo of Pesach must be, "bread upon which many things are spoken about."

Several customary practices of Seder Night are based on this droshoh. The matzo, for instance, is uncovered as we tell the Haggodoh. Similarly, the middle matzo is broken prior to reading the Haggodoh, so that the reading is over the broken matzas mitzvah.

This needs to be understood. The matzo, as we know, is symbolic both of the hardship we underwent in Egypt and of the miraculous exodus which we experienced. But the matzo is not alone among the symbols of Seder Night, while its central place in the recitation of the Haggodoh is unique. What special meaning does matzo have?

The answer to this can be had in a subtle nuance in the precise words of the gemora: rather than saying literally "bread upon which many things are spoken about," Chazal stress that many things are answered over the matzo. What is the meaning of this emphasis? Indeed, what exactly are the many things that we answer over the matzo?

The Part of Children at the Seder

The basic structure of Seder Night is questions and answers. "What," the children ask, "singles out this night from all other nights?"

"The matzo we eat," we state later, and we quickly insert, "is for what?"

The questions of the four sons, as found in the Torah, are likewise an integral part of the Seder.

In short, the Pesach Haggodoh is a session of questions and answers.

Understanding requires an appreciation of the pivotal role of children on the Seder Night. The importance of children at the Seder has caused the development of several customs whose purpose is just to keep the kids awake. Though the mitzvah of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim can be fulfilled even by telling the tale to oneself, the preferred scenario of the annual mitzvah clearly includes children. The son asks; the father answers.

The essence of Yisroel was bestowed on us as we exited Mitzrayim. The posuk says, about six hundred thousand Jews left Mitzrayim, "aside from children" (Shemos 12:37). Each and every year the adults of Klal Yisroel experience the same redemption. The fantastic light that shone on us as we exited Egypt glows annually on the first night of Pesach. As Chazal teach, we are obliged to see ourselves as if we actually leave Mitzrayim.

Consequently, the adults are given the task of handing the revelation of emunah to their offspring. As we leave Egypt it is up to us to pass the experience on to our children. In this way we raise our children in the straight path of our faith. They, in turn, on reaching the child bearing years of twenty through sixty, will in turn hand the emunah to their offspring, until the Redeemer comes.

The basic question and answer style of the Seder is thus understood. The children ask in order to receive answers from those who truly know them. About exiting Mitzrayim, our knowledge is far deeper than everyday experience. Those who left Mitzrayim lived the faith of our nation, experiencing it in their very persons. Yearly, going through the same experience, we know our faith as we know our own existence.

The Strength of the Question

But a deeper theme lies within the questions of Seder Night — a theme as applicable to adults as to children. A question is far more than merely a means of acquiring information hitherto unknown. Rather, the soul of a question expresses the deepest strength of man, a quality that stems from his unique creation that was a merger of a worldly vessel with a Heavenly spirit: the ability to reach beyond his own self.

Observe for instance the miraculous development of an infant as he learns how to walk. Though initially unable to take a single step, the infant will, by intricate mental and physical processes of trial and error, learn to master the art of walking, in a matter of months. Balancing, compensating for external forces, absorbing impact through knee bends, applying pressure on the right part of the foot — all of these and more soon become second nature to the developing child.

In learning how to walk, the child has reached beyond himself. He has transformed himself from crawler to walker. This ability is unique to man. Other life forms, even the highest mammals, must be born walkers. They cannot reach beyond themselves. They cannot question.

Applying the idea to the wisdom of Torah, we should not be surprised to find that the Talmud is based on questions and answers. The reason for this is that Torah is not merely a matter of knowing information. Torah has to change our very being, to raise us far beyond our own previous selves. For this to happen — for the wisdom of Torah to truly permeate our being — we must begin with a question. The question shatters the complacency of the present and prepares the ground for an answer.

The Holy Tongue of Torah expresses the theme with elegant grace. The word Mah, the question constantly on our tongues on Seder Night, is numerically equivalent to the title Odom, the loftiest creation of Hashem. The question is the essence of man, his ability to rise beyond his own self. An animal (Beheimoh), on the other hand, is spelt "Boh Moh." What it has is what it is; it is unable to rise beyond itself.

In the same sense, the wisdom that man acquires is termed Chochmah. Chazal split this word into two: Koach Mah. Wisdom, the crown of man's kingship over the world, is called, "the strength of the question." The implication of "wise" is far more than a head full of information. Attaining this added value is the strength of the question.

The Question of Yetzias Mitzrayim

To find the essential question of Yetzias Mitzrayim, we need look no further than its opening scene. At the revelation at the burning bush, Moshe Rabbenu asked of Hashem: "If they should ask me, "What (mah) is His Name?" What (moh) shall I tell them? The Midrash (Rabba Shemos 3:5) reveals the depth of Moshe's words: He was asking Hashem to reveal His great Name.

The rest of the story is narrated at the Seder table. In the fantastic miracles of Egypt, Hashem revealed the annulment of nature in the revelation of the Name. "I appeared", Hashem tells Moshe, "to Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov with the name Shakai; but My Name Hashem I did not make known to them." The miracles of Mitzrayim were unlike anything the world had seen before. This was not simple Divine intervention, which the Ovos had also witnessed. In Mitzrayim, nature was entirely overwhelmed.

Our nation was created together with the great revelation. In the words of the verse, we were `born' out of Egypt: "Your birthday, on the day that you were born . . ." (Yechezkel 16:4). In our deepest being, we are "children of Hashem" (Devorim 14:1), and our inbuilt task is to reveal the Name of Hashem in the world of man.

From that time on, it is Yisroel alone who leads the world to its destiny. The tool through which we achieve this, the holy Torah, is likewise composed entirely of Names of Hashem (Ramban). The Name, the children of the Name, and the Torah that connects them, were all revealed on our exit from Mitzrayim.

All of this began though the question, the Mah of Yisroel as spoken by Moshe. Having gone through the burning furnace of Egypt, Yisroel were ready to ask the question. Their earthly vessels were purified, and they were ready for the ultimate rise beyond their selves, to receive the supreme influx of wisdom — the light of the holy Name.

Our leader Moshe, considered by Chazal to be equal to his six hundred thousand followers, carried this readiness in his very name. The middle letter of Moshe is the triple-pronged Shin, an allusion to the three founding Fathers who preceded him. The outer letters, are the novelty brought by Moshe and to his people. They spell Mah. The question had been reached.

Matzo — the Absence of Sin

Ever since Mitzrayim, only one nation is worthy of the title "Man": "You are called Odom, and the nations of the world are not called Odom" (Yevomos 61a). The nations are able to acquire wisdom on a worldly scale, but only Yisroel have access to Heavenly wisdom that preceded creation itself. The peak of man's fundamental ability to rise beyond his own self is reserved for Yisroel alone.

The implication of this is a return to the original sinless state of Odom. His initial frame, stretching "from one end of the world to the other," was infinitely greater than his post- sin stature. The nations, unable to escape worldly confines, continue to live in post-sin dimensions. But out of Mitzrayim was born a new frame of man, Man who would once again unite Heavens and earth. The head of Yisroel, a head readied for the holy Torah that unites the worlds, touches the Heavens themselves.

The Mitzvah of eating matzo comes as an expression of this. In consuming the fruit of the Eitz Hada'as, Odom brought a hitherto external core of evil into his own being. The fruit, in one opinion of Chazal (Brochos 40a), was wheat. Its innate evil lies in the end product of risen bread: "the yeast in the dough" (Brochos 18a).

Inflated at it were of its own accord, the risen dough implies an accentuated sense of the self. When the human ego is inflated, the connection to Hashem is cut. Feeling his own self-importance, man leaves no room for the presence of Hashem. In the words of the Gemora (Sotah 5b), "He and I cannot live in the world." One who places himself at the center of creation feels rivaled by the Divine center. He has no question to ask; he knows all the answers already.

On Seder Night, as we leave Mitzrayim we reach the opposite extreme. Significantly, the mitzvah of matzo is performed by eating. Through consuming the matzo, bread that did not rise, we mend the first sin of Odom, returning to the great purity that Man was created with. The night of Pesach is termed "Leil Shimurim" — the forces of evil cannot touch us. Free of the evil inclination, our persons become a pure vessel for the presence of G-d.

Splitting the Matzo — the Question and the Answer

The questions of the Seder are those that bring the new Man of Yisroel into existence. The Mah constantly on our lips is the same Mah that Yetzias Mitzrayim opened with, the Mah that catalyzed the revelation of Hashem's Name and the birth of His children.

The children of Seder Night receive answers from their parents, rising to the emunah of those who exit Mitzrayim. But behind the scenes, the fathers must also receive the answers. Theirs come from Above, as essential faith is instilled in the great revelation. Reading the Haggodoh, we experience the exodus from Mitzrayim as if we had truly been there.

On the table throughout is the matzo. Our ability to ask Mah, which is our potential to draw the Heavenly answers of Seder night, is expressed in the flat loaf of Pesach. The rectifications of Egypt, the purity we reached through the suffering of the Egyptian exile, is with us to this day. The bread of affliction is the same bread of freedom — free of the yetzer hora.

By its essential nature, matzo is "bread upon which many things are spoken about." The matzo, the Pesach bread that retains the purity gained in Mitzrayim, is that which enables us to ask the question, Mah. The great answer, the revelation of the great Name and with it the great Man of Yisroel, comes of its own accord.

This perhaps is the hidden secret of breaking the matzo before the Haggodoh is recited. The word "matzo" totals thrice the value of Mah. Splitting the matzo into unequal halves, we retain the smaller piece — a third — for the Haggodoh. This is the Mah that Yetzias Mitzrayim opens with, the essential question of Yisroel and Moshe. The remaining two thirds are hidden for the answer, the revelation of a new Odom (Mah), doubled in stature to bridge two worlds.

The light of Pesach descends on its own, directed from Above. All we need to do is to ask the question. But the continuation, the utilizing of the great revelation in our avodoh, is entirely left to us. This is for the days to come, the days of the Omer that bring us to Shavuos. For now, we revel in the light of the answer.

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