115a - Mitzvot Mevatlot Zo Et Zo

  • Rav Ezra Bick

L'iluy nishmat Yosef ben Aharon Shmuel H"YD, Grandpa Joe.



            Last week, we started to learn the sugya of mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo, mitzvot cancel each other. We read the entire section dealing with this topic, including the conclusion how to eat matza and maror in these post-Temple times and fulfill the mitzvot both according to Hillel and the Rabbanan. The text of the gemara, however, left us with a problem, which we were about to define when the time ran out. Today, we shall examine the different parts of the gemara and try and see how they can be put together.

            Since we shall be examine the entire sugya in order to understand the connections between its parts, it is crucial that the entire sugya be clear for you. Therefore, you should first review the sugya and the shiur from last week.


            The sugya consists of three parts. To make this clear, this is diagrammed at


            The letters in parentheses below refer to the diagram on the webpage.

            The first part (A), consists of the statement of Ravina. This introduces us firstly to an unattributed dispute whether mitzvot cancel each other, and secondly to the ruling that nowadays, when maror is only de-rabbanan, all agree that it will cancel the fulfillment of the matza, which is de-oraita.

            The second part (B) consists of the attempt of the gemara to determine the actual participants in the dispute. First (B1) the gemara shows that Hillel maintains that mitzvot DO NOT cancel each other, since he would eat matza and maror together, and this even when both were de-oraita. Then (B2), R. Yochanan tries to prove that Rabbanan disagree with Hillel, and forbid eating the two together, apparently because mitzvot DO cancel each other. (B3) Rav Ashi disagrees with R. Yochanan, explaining that Rabbanan do not FORBID combining the two, but merely do not REQUIRE it, unlike Hillel, who maintains that that is the proper way to eat matza and maror.

            The third part (C) contains a halakhic ruling how one should fulfill the mitzvot of matza and maror, given that we do not have a conclusive ruling concerning the dispute of Hillel and Rabbanan. The gemara rules that one should eat first matza (with a blessing), then maror (with a blessing) and then eat again the two of them together.

            Our main problem will be to uncover the reasoning that mandated the complicated conclusion of how to eat matza and maror.

[The combined eating of matza and maror is called "korech," meaning "wrapped together," and appears under that name in the seder].


            Suppose that the halakha had been ruled in favor of Hillel. Hillel would eat only korech, which he interprets as mandated by the verse, "al matzot u-merorim yochluhu," ("They shall eat it with matzas and bitter herbs"). But, Ravina pointed out in the beginning of the sugya that today maror is de-rabbanan, and therefore even Hillel agrees that mitzvot DO cancel each other; i.e., that maror (de-rabbanan) will cancel the fulfillment of the matza (de-oraita) obligation. (Hillel himself lived before the destruction of the Temple.) Therefore, it is impossible to simply eat korech. One must eat the matza separately. That is the first step, which appears, by the reasoning above to be incontrovertible.

            [Step one - eat matza by itself]

            Now, according to Hillel, could one eat matza and maror together? The matza is now de-rabbanan (since one has already eaten matza, the only reason to eat it again is for the mitzva of korech, which is not de-oraita, since there is no korban pesach with it.) So both the matza and the maror are de-rabbanan, and according to Hillel, who rules that mitzvot (of equal status) do not cancel each other, there should be no problem. Let us assume this sequence to be correct. The second step should be to eat korech (with a blessing on the maror, which has not been eaten yet).

            [Step two - eat korech]

            Why does the gemara not suggest that we do this? Simple - the conclusion of the gemara begins with the statement that we have not decided the halakha according to either Hillel or Rabbanan. According to Rabbanan, the above sequence is not valid. Why not? (answer…..)


            According to Rabbanan, there is no mitzva of korech, not de-oraita in the time of the Temple, and hence not de-rabbanan today. So if one eats maror (de-rabbanan) with matza (after having already eaten matza separately), which is not an obligation at all, this will once again be a case of unequal obligations and the MATZA (optional) will cancel the MAROR (de-rabbanan). So, in order to fulfill the mitzva of maror (according to Rabbanan), one must eat it separately, with any matza.

            [Step two - eat maror]

            Then, and only then, can one eat the korech, which according to Hillel is now a rabbinic obligation.

            [Step three - eat korech]

            This is exactly what the gemara states should be the sequence, in order to fulfill the opinions of both Hillel and Rabbanan, and, at the same time not run afoul of the problem of mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo according to either of them.

            What we have just worked out is stated succinctly by Tosafot (s.v. "ela").

Ela mevarech a-matza

If he would combine the two of them together in the beginning, maror de-rabbanan would come and cancel the matza.

And if he would eat first matza without maror, when he would combine them afterward the optional ("reshut" - non-obligatory) matza would come and cancel the maror de-rabbanan.

But, had we agreed with Hillel, we would have done thus: Matza alone, then matza and maror combined; since he is obligated de-rabbanan to do the mitzva of korech like Hillel, it would be de-rabbanan and de-rabbanan.

            There is an assumption here about "korech" that was not mentioned in the gemara. What it is it?


            Tosafot stated as a matter of course that according to Hillel, there is a rabbinic obligation to eat korech today, as a derivative of the de-oraita obligation to eat it in the times of the Temple. This, however, is nowhere stated in the gemara. The gemara uses instead an unusual term (at least it would have been unusual, had it not become part of the haggada text).

"…  and then he eats matza and lettuce together without a blessing IN COMMEMORATION OF THE TEMPLE ACCORDING TO HILLEL."

            The question is, what does the term "zekher l'mikdash k'Hillel" signify? Tosafot obviously believes that it is a de-rabbanan, equivalent to the obligation to eat maror after the destruction of the Temple.

            If we deny Tosafot's assumption, and explain that "zekher l'mikdash" is merely a custom of commemoration, but not a full rabbinic obligation, then even according to Hillel one could not eat korech immediately after eating matza, since the second helping of matza would be non-obligatory and would cancel the maror de-rabbanan.

            This seems to be the opinion of the Ramban. (I am going to merely summarize his conclusion, since it is embedded in a discussion of another issue, and is not easily seen without getting involved - deeply - in that other issue). The question is then whether korech (according to Hillel) is a genuine obligation today (albeit de-rabbanan), or merely a commemoration. If it is de-rabbanan, it could be used to fulfill the obligation of maror, since all the ingredients are de-rabbanan. If it is only a custom, maror must be eaten separately before eating korech.


Some additional comments:

1.         It is noteworthy that the gemara does not state that one should recite, "a commemoration of the Temple according to Hillel" before eating korech. The gemara is stating as part of the halakhic ruling that it is a zekher l'mikdash. The text presently found in haggadot, which is recited before eating korech, and begins with the words, "zekher l'mikdash k'Hillel," is a comparatively late addition, obviously influenced by the formulation of our gemara.

2. The name Hillel appears twice in the sugya. At the beginning, Ravinna states that he was told the halakha of "mitzvot mevatlot zo et zo" by Rav Mesharshia the son of Rav Natan, quoting Hillel in the name of "gemara." This Hillel clearly lived after the destruction of the Temple, since his statement refers to the fact the maror is only de-rabbanan today. The gemara then states that the opinion that mitzvot do not cancel each other is that of Hillel, who would eat matza and maror as korech. This Hillel was a Tanna, and in fact lived before the destruction of the temple, when maror was de-oraita. Hence, we may conclude that there are two different people named Hillel in this sugya.

3. The statement of the (second) Hillel was in the name of "gemara." This is a very unusual phrase. The note appearing in the right margin of the gemara text lists the two other places in the Talmud where the phrase appears, and where Rashi explains it (unlike our occurrence, which is unexplained by Rashi and the Rashbam). It was on the basis of those comments of Rashi (in Yevamot and Kiddushin) that I translated the phrase as "tradition" in the previous shiur.


            It is a comparatively short shiur this week. Next week we begin a totally new topic.