115a - Mitzvot Mevatlin Zo Et Zo

  • Rav Ezra Bick


            We are starting a completely new section today. As we shall see, there is a basic textual difficulty in this text, based on the relationship between the beginning and conclusion, for which we shall have to examine commentaries. But first, we have to make sure we understand the basic meaning of each statement in the gemara.




            We are starting from the eighth line on 115a, the last word - "amar."

            The webpage, including a scan of the daf, is at:



Amar Ravina

Ravina said: Rav Mesharshia the son of Rav Natan said to me, thus said Hillel in the name of tradition:

A man should not combine matza and maror together and eat, for we maintain that matza in these times is a Biblical obligation (de-oraita), while maror is a rabbinic obligation (de-rabannan), and maror de-rabannan will cancel the matza de-oraita. And even according to he who maintains that mitzvot do not cancel each other, that is (in a case of) de-oraita and de-oraita, or de-rabannan and de-rabannan, but (in a case of) de-oraita and de-rabannan, the de-rabannan cancels the de-oraita.


There are a few facts that need to be clarified.


1.         The expression "bizman hazeh," - these times - generally refers to the time after the destruction of the Temple. The gemara states as a fact, without explanation, that matza, even in post-Temple times, is a Biblical commandment; whereas maror, for a reason not given, is no longer a biblical obligation, but is nonetheless obligatory, by rabbinic decree. Obviously, the first question you would ask is, why is this true? By now you know that you should look for the answer in Rashi or the Rashbam. And in fact, there is a Rashbam on these words. 


Rashbam, s.v. "matza"

Matza in these times is de-oraita and maror is de-rabannan - and the source is explained at the end of this chapter (120a).


What sort of an answer is this? Apparently, the real answer to the question is not relevant to understanding the principle of the gemara, which is that, under certain conditions, mitzvot cancel each other, so the Rashbam suggests you just accept, more-or-less on faith, that matza is de-oraita ("from the Torah;" "oraita" is Aramaic for Torah), and maror is de-rabannan. If you really want to, you can look it up.


[Note] Throughout this shiur, I shall be using the Talmudic terms "de-oraita" and "de-rabannan" to refer, respectively, to a Biblical obligation and a rabbinic one.].



2.         Back to the statement in the gemara. The gemara raises a principle - mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo - mitzvot cancel each other. The gemara seems to imply that there is a disagreement about this principle; however, in our case, where the two mitzvot are of unequal status, one de-oraita and one de-rabannan, all agree that the de-rabannan one cancels the de-oraita one.


            What does it mean that one mitzva cancels another? Why should one mitzva cancel another?


            Look in Rashi (s.v. "umevatel"). Rashi states, "It cancels the taste of de-oraita matza."


            What does Rashi add to the understanding of the gemara, and how does this explain the principle of mitzvot "mevatlot zo et zo"? (Note the two parts of the question, and answer them both.)




            By adding one word, Rashi defines this principle and explains it. Mitzvot of EATING cancel each other. Why? Because one TASTE overrides the other. This would seem to imply something about the nature of mitzvot of eating - namely, that the mitzva is not merely to ingest the food but to have the enjoyment of eating; that is, , to taste it. Since you cannot distinctly taste two different foods, you cannot eat two foods and fulfill two mitzvot.


            The gemara referred to two differing opinions. The first holds that mitzvot cancel each other. This is explained clearly by Rashi's comment. The second held that mitzvot do not cancel each other; however, mitzvot of lower obligation-status cancel mitzvot of higher obligation status. This is not immediately understood. If one can distinguish between two tastes simultaneously present in one's mouth, and both can fulfill two different mitzvot, what difference does it make whether one is on a lower level of obligation than the other?


            The answer is, apparently, that the question is not black and white. Obviously, it is not true that two different tastes in one's mouth eradicate each other. On the other hand, it is fair to say that they modify each other, and effect the purity of each other. The taste of matza and maror in one's mouth is not the same as the experience of the taste of matza, plus another simultaneous experience of the taste of maror, each experience in itself pure and unmodified. The question is not one of fact but of significance - what is the halakhic attitude towards one tasting of two distinct flavors, each one of which is a distinct mitzva obligation? He who holds that mitzvot do NOT cancel each other, maintains that although there is a unified taste, one can still be said to have tasted each flavor distinctly. However, Ravina claims, if the obligation of one is of a lower level; e.g., on the de-oraita level, one is not obligated to eat maror at all, then although the flavor of matza de-oraita is distinguishable, it is nonetheless only distinguishable within the unified taste of both, and that taste includes a tasting that is not obligatory (on the de-oraita level). Hence, the taste experience as a whole is no longer considered a mitzva experience. Therefore, the individual taste of matza, which is part of the unified taste of both, loses its mitzva character as well.


            In any event, this principle would not apply to two actions, one performed with the right hand and one with the left. There, you have done two different actions. In tasting, it is not correct to say that you have performed two independent tastings; rather, even according to the position that mitzvot do not cancel each other, there is only one single action, which does, however, not eliminate each taste experience. Ravina is claiming that nonetheless, the combined taste experience has to be on a level of obligation in order for me to abstract the distinct flavors and fulfill each mitzva independently.



3.         To clarify this a little more, let us see a short Tosafot here (s.v. "ati").


Tosafot: Ati de-rabannan.

The de-rabannan maror cancels the de-oraita matza - and even more so would it cancel matza de-oraita if maror was not obligatory even on a de-rabannan level, as is implied later.

And the fact that in chapter Hakometz (Menachot 23b) the gemara permits flavored (spiced) matza, that is because spices do not cancel matza, as the spices are of very small quantity.


            Firstly, Tosafot points out that it is not the de-rabannan character of maror that leads to its canceling matza, but rather its non-de-oraita character; i.e., its nonobligatory nature. The gemara is claiming that, relative to a de-oraita, a de-rabannan is nonobligatory. Hence, Tosafot concludes that a fully nonobligatory eating would certainly cancel mitzvot.


            Secondly, Tosafot asks about a case of flavored matza, which the gemara states is fit for use as matza. He answers that flavoring does not cancel the matza, unlike maror, because it is in a small quantity. In light of Rashi's explanation, it is hard to know what to make of this answer. According to Rashi it is not the physical presence of a second food that is problematic, but the presence of a second flavor. Presumably, the flavoring of the spices in the matza is not insignificant (for why else would it be there); rather, spices are such that even a small amount has a significant effect. Why should the cancellation-power, which is due, as we explained, to the intermingling of flavor, of a small amount of highly-flavored spice be less significant than that of a larger amount of less spicy food?


            Were it not for the rather explicit answer given in Tosafot, I would have said that there is a difference in the relationship between two FOODS of different flavors, and a food and a spice. Two independent foods have independent flavors, which merge in the mouth and cancel, to some extent each other. A spice, however, is not meant to be eaten on its own, and therefore is not said to have its own flavor as such. It exists to flavor another food. The result is not a third flavor, neither matza nor spice (as would be true of matza and maror), but rather a variety of matza-flavor, spiced-matza. A spice, since it is by definition a condiment and flavor-additive, does not cancel the flavor of the base food, but only modifies it.


            Given Rashi's explanation, which is not itself rebutted in Tosafot, I am, in fact, inclined to say that this is indeed the proper explanation of Tosafot, though he did not formulate it very clearly. The spice is present in a very small amount - which indicates that it is not there for its own sake, as a food to be eaten, but only to flavor the main food. Since its presence is ancillary, it does not have the ability to cancel the main ingredient.


4.         Look on the right side of the printed gemara, next to the Tosafot (s.v. "ati") we have just read. There is a marginal gloss, in brackets, which reads, "see Tosafot Zevachim 78a, s.v. 'ela'; and Tosafot Menachot 23b, s.v. 'ela'". (The marginal references are called "Mesorat HaShas" and were written by R. Yehoshua Boaz. Additions to the original noted were made by R. Yehoshua Pick, and they generally appear in brackets to distinguish them from the original notes. The Talmud, as noted in the first shiur, is a continual work in progress, from its composition in the fifth century, and down to the very present). The two Tosafot in the note are identical, but differ from our Tosafot. There are two OTHER answers given there for the question about spiced-matza (and a similar question from a wheat-and-rice combination matza).


For there (in Pesachim) the strength of the bitterness is what cancels the taste of the matza, but rice does not cancel the taste of wheat.

Another possible answer is that there (in Pesachim), he is eating only one ke-zayit (an olive's worth, the minimum amount necessary to fulfill the mitzva of matza), so that when the maror cancels it, there does not remain the flavor of one ke-zayit, but if he eats a lot (of matza), it will be satisfactory. (Tosafot Menachot, 23b, s.v. "ela").


            Starting with the first answer in this Tosafot, formulate the answer in your own words. According to this position, what is the explanation of the principle that mitzvot cancel each other? How does this limit the application of the principle?




The first answer basically limits the principle of our gemara only to a case of maror. The extreme bitterness of maror overwhelms the taste of matza and cancels it - literally. This is not true for the usual blending of two flavors.


            The second answer is more complicated. Tosafot claims that the addition of another flavor affects the "amount" of flavor one receives from the eating. If you eat exactly one ke-zayit, you have tasted one kezayit. However, if you eat one kezayit of matza with an additional flavor, the intermingling of the flavors does not cancel the matza flavor, but it does "reduce" it quantitatively, so you have not tasted a kezayit of matza. This can be remedied by eating a greater quantity of flavored matza, and this solution would work in the case of matza and maror as well. According to this answer, there is no difference between spiced matza and matza-and maror at all.


            Rashi (and the Tosafot in Pesachim) is concerned with the QUALITY of a modified flavor. Tosafot in Menachot has two other opinions. The first is that there is a special problem with maror, which literally overpowers the flavor of the base food. The second is that mixing flavors affects the "QUANTITY" of the base flavor, but not its quality.




            Let us continue in the gemara.


Man tana


Who is he who holds that mitzvot do not cancel each other?

It is Hillel.

As is learned: It was said of Hillel that he would combine them together and eat them, as is written, "It (the korban pesach) should be eaten with matza and maror."


R. Yochanan said: Hillel's colleagues disagree with him, as is learned:

Shall it be that one should combine them together and eat them, in the manner of Hillel? It is written, "IT should be eaten with matza and maror" - EVEN this one by itself and this one by itself.


Rav Ashi rebutted him: If that is so, what does it mean "EVEN"?

Rather, Rav Ashi said: This authority said like this:

Shall it be that one has not fulfilled his obligation unless he combines them together and eats them, as Hillel would eat them? It is written, "IT should be eaten with matza and maror" - EVEN this one by itself and this one by itself.


And now that we have not decided the halakha neither like Hillel and neither like the Rabannan, one should recite a blessing "al achilat matza" and eat, and then recite a blessing "al achilat maror" and eat, and then eat matza and lettuce together without a blessing, as a memorial to the Temple like Hillel.


            There are as few things to remember as you work out the logic of this passage. Firstly, Hillel himself lived in the times of the Temple. Hence, maror was de-oraita, just like matza. If Hillel ate korech - a combination of matza and maror, even though both are de-oraita, this is the opinion called in the gemara "mitzvot DO NOT cancel each other."


            Secondly, as Rav Ashi points out, there are two different issues. One is whether it is POSSIBLE to eat a combination of foods; i.e., whether different foods cancel each other. Secondly, based on the verse quoted, does the Torah REQUIRE one to eat matza and maror together. Basically, there is one mitzva, to eat matza and maror (and possibly the meat of the pesach sacrifice) together. This is the difference between R. Yochanan's formulation of the beraita, and Rav Ashi's. Are Rabbanan objecting to the OBLIGATION to combine, or to the POSSIBILITY to combine?


            The problem is to work out the logic of the gemara's conclusion - the eating of matza and maror separately, followed by a combined eating. This is done because there is no conclusive ruling concerning the dispute of Hillel and Rabannan. What is the logic behind this conclusion and how does it relate to the previous section in the gemara? You should try and answer what would have been the practice had Rabban been correct, had Hillel been correct, and how does each one's position affect any other compromise position, other than the one finalized in the gemara. This shall be our topic next week, for which we shall have to see Rashbam, Tosafot, the Baal HaMaor, and the Ramban.