115b - Matza Lifnei Kol Echad

  • Rav Ezra Bick

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            On the webpage, beside the scan (picture in gif format) of the traditional printed daf, there is also a text version in Hebrew and English.

            The English of all texts appears in the shiur, but you should be following in the original as well, if that is possible.

            As always, you should answer the questions in the shiur before proceeding past the dotted lines.

We are on 115b, 15 lines from the bottom, "Amar Rav Simi."

Amar Rav Simi

Rav Simi bar Ashi said: Matza (is placed) before each one,

Maror before each one, charoset before each one; but the table is not removed from any but he who is reciting the haggada.

Rav Huna said: All of them also need be only before he who recites the haggada.

The halakha is like Rav Huna.

            There are two subjects here, and we shall, at least initially, treat them separately.

A. "Before each one"

            The words are clear. Rav Simi requires that each participant in the seder have his own set of matza, maror, and charoset; Rav Huna declares that one set is enough. The immediate question is, why? What is the consideration behind their positions? To this question, there is no hint in the gemara itself.

            There is also no Rashi, so we will turn immediately to the Rashbam.

Rashbam, s.v. "matza lifnei"

Matza lifnei kol echad ve-echad

Matza before each one. Their custom was to recline on beds, and there was a table before each one. Therefore, there must be matza and maror before each one on his table. However, we need (this) only before he who is performing the seder, and he will distribute the matza and maror to each one.

            The Rashbam is not directly addressing our question. In fact, he is not formally offering a commentary to the text, but rather is stating a halakhic ruling, to the effect that the halakha today does not follow the Talmudic practice due to a change in custom. In ancient times, a festive meal was eaten with a small table before each participant, rather than a large common table for all. The Rashbam rules that the requirement of " Matza before each one" applies only to separate tables, but when there is one shared table it is sufficient to have one set of matza and maror on the table.

            Can we derive from this ruling what the Rashbam thought the reason for the talmudic practice was? Obviously, according to the Rashbam, Rav Simi was not requiring a seder set for each participant, but for each table. Why should a table require a set of matza of maror? Your answer to this question is pure speculation, so feel free to use your imagination.


            Apparently, there is some importance to the physical placing of the matza and maror on the table before the seder participants. This will not surprise any modern Jew. We have a concept of the "seder plate," a ceremonial item of judaica on which all the foods to be eaten are arranged, and arranged in a particular order (pictured in most haggadas at the beginning in one of two accepted practices). In everyone's seder today, this is carefully arranged before the beginning of the seder (before kiddush, in fact), and all this indicates that we think there is significance to the physical position of the foods during the recitation of the haggada.

            This is in fact supported by a section of text in the haggada itself. Right after the section on the "four sons," there appears a beraita that asks:

Shall it be recited from the beginning of the month?

Therefore it is written, "on that day."

If on that day, can it be recited during the day (i.e., before nightfall)?

Therefore it is written, "for the sake of this."

"For the sake of THIS" cannot be said except when MATZA AND MAROR ARE PLACED BEFORE HIM.

            While in context this could be taken to mean no more than that the haggada is recited at A TIME when matza and maror could be placed before you, the words seem to indicate that the haggada is recited with the physical presence of matza and maror. Once this is granted, the question arises what are the parameters of "before him"? Rav Simi answers that "before him" means "on the table from which he will eat," which is a very logical answer when determining the position of foods.

            A note on what we have just done. For reasons which are not apparent, neither the gemara itself, nor Rashi or the Rashbam directly explain the reason for Rav Simi's requirement that there be separate sets of matza and maror before each participant. Nonetheless, from the restriction the Rashbam places on this practice, limiting it to the ancient situation characterized by small individual tables, we derive what must have been the underlying logic of the ruling. In this way, a statement of "psak" (halakhic ruling) is turned into one of "pshat" (interpretation).

            Tosafot, on the other hand, DOES directly address the question of the reason for the ruling.

Tosafot s.v. "matza"

Matza before each one. It appears that the reason is that he should taste the matza immediately after the blessing, since this blessing is mandatory. On other days of the year, however, when the blessing is not mandatory, one does not have to taste immediately after the blessing.

            Tosafot is comparing two different kinds of blessings that precede eating. The more common one, practiced "other days of the year," is a "birkat ha-nehenin," a blessing recited before enjoying any food. Tosafot calls this a "non-mandatory" blessing, by which he must mean that since you do not have to eat, you do not have to make the blessing. Matza and maror on Pesach have a different (additional) kind of blessing, a "birkat ha-mitzva," one recited before mitzvot (and not only food mitzvot). Tosafot claims that the second kind must be recited IMMEDIATELY before the mitzva, with no intervening time at all, and this is the reason for having matza and maror before each participant. Apparently, Rav Simi is trying to cut out the time it would take to distribute the matza from the one reciting the blessing to the other participants.

            Concerning birkat ha-mitzva, the gemara (Pesachim 7b) has a special requirement that it be recited "teikef l'asiyata," which the commentators interpret to mean "immediately before" the performance of the mitzva. Our Tosafot uses the word "teikef," and even adds the word "miyad" (which also means "immediately"), and seems to be referring to that gemara. Apparently, the short delay in eating during distribution of the bread in a regular meal would not be a problem of "hefsek (interruption) between the "birkat ha-nehenin" and the eating, but is a problem if it intervenes between a "birkat ha-mitzva" and the performance of the mitzva (eating the matza).

            What would Tosafot say about the Rashbam's limitation of the applicability of this ruling? According to Tosafot, with our large common tables, does one still require having matza and maror before each participant, or in such a case can we rely on one set only, as the Rashbam claims?


            Obviously, Tosafot disagrees with the Rashbam. Since the problem is one of delay, it makes no difference if there is one table or many; the problem is the distribution from one seder-leader to the other participants.

B. Removing the Table

            According to Tosafot, who explains the need for individual seder plates as based on delay, there is no connection between the two topics of Rav Simi's statement. However, according to the Rashbam, where the first law is based on the need to have a seder plate before you when reciting the haggada, the second statement continues the same topic by explaining when, or rather before whom, the table with the plate is taken away.

            But, you will ask, if there is a requirement that the plate be before you when reciting the haggada, why is it taken away? The same question of course applies to Tosafot, but it arises more directly according to the Rashbam. In any event, the gemara asks this question for us.

Why do we remove the table? In the school of R. Yanai it was said: So that the children recognize and ask.

            We had previously met this reasoning (on 114b) concerning the "two dippings" during the seder, even if both were with the same vegetable. Apparently, there is a special goal of arousing children to ask questions on the seder night, and we do unusual things (like taking the table away before getting to eat any of the food) in order to arouse their curiosity.

            Just as the Rashbam updated the previous law for the different modes of eating in modern times, he addresses the issue of moving the table in modern times as well.

Rashbam s.v. "ve-ein"

But the table is not removed - for it is a mitzva to remove the table, as (is explained) below, so that there will be a sign for the children. And this is only for them, who had a small table before the one who recited the haggada for himself, and likewise before each person, but we move the plate with the matza, maror, and two cooked foods to the end of the table and this is sufficient for us. 

            The purpose of removing the table is in order to arouse the children by removing the food before it is eaten. The Rashbam therefore rules that, since it is impractical to physically move the single large table in use today, it suffices to move the seder plate to the end of the table, away from the diners. Tosafot (s.v. "lama") has a similar statement. Notice that Tosafot had not made a distinction between ancient times and his own regarding the placement of the seder plate before each person, unlike the Rashbam, but in this case he follows the Rashbam's lead.

C. Questioning

At this point, the gemara expands on this idea of questioning.

Why do we remove the table? In the school of R. Yanai it was said: So that the children see and ask.

Abaye was sitting before Rava and saw that they were taking the table away. He said to them: We have not yet eaten and you are taking away the table?

Rava said to him: You have exempted us from reciting "ma nishtana:"

[Note: Notice the colon at the end of this section in the text. In the printed gemarot, these colons, aside from appearing at the end of a gemara text before the next mishna, appear when a sugya is ended and we are beginning a new sugya, without citing the next mishna. This is our first colon since we began, and in fact there is no greater a break here than at several points in the past. The colons are not particularly accurate, but they do provide some aid in parsing the gemara text on the macro level. Generally, they do indicate that a topic is complete, more or less. It does not mean that other topics were not completed without the benefit of this punctuation mark.]

            "Ma nishtana," the "four questions," is found in the next mishna. The Rashbam summarizes the mishna and explains the connection to our story about Abaye.

Rashbam, s.v. "patratan"

You have exempted us from reciting "ma nishtana." - For it is taught below: If his son is wise, he asks, and if not, he asks himself, ma nishtana (How is this night different…."). And when they have asked us how this night is different, we do not have to answer how the night is different, but rather to answer his questions (by telling) that we do all these things because we were enslaved in Egypt.

            What is the Rashbam trying explain in the last line? Something is bothering the Rashbam about this story, and his final statement comes to dispel that difficulty.


            If "ma nishtana" is the source of the necessity for questioning, there is a world of difference between the questions in ma nishtana and the question of Abaye. After all, there the questioner notices that there is matza and maror, and the answer to his question naturally speaks of slavery and freedom. But why does a question about removing the table exempt from that obligation.

            The Rashbam is answering that we are interested in the question only as a catalyst. In the end, we give the answer that explains everything. Hence, it makes no difference exactly what question he asks, as long as he notices that this is a special night.

            Now take a look at Tosafot (s.v. "kidei").

In order that the child realize and ask -

In other words, and from this he will come and ask about other things. But he will not exempt from "ma nishtana" by asking why we remove the table. In the case of Abaye, the gemara only cited the beginning of his question.

            The Tosafot are quite explicitly rejecting the Rashbam's explanation. The child has to ask questions to which the appropriate answer will be "Our fathers were slaves to Par'o in Egypt," and thus the question about removing the table does not suffice. Only the "four questions," or something like that, is valid. This forces Tosafot to invent an ellipsis in the text of the gemara, where the main point of what must have been Abaye's question is left out. In reality, Abaye continued to ask other questions, which directly lead to the answer concerning the story of the exodus. Obviously, this is textually a difficult solution to the problem raised implicitly by the Rashbam. Tosafot clearly feels that the textual difficulty is less a problem than the logical difficulty in the Rashbam's explanation.

            This is a good example of a common dilemma. The simple reading of the text raises a logical difficulty, where the simple logical explanation is textually forced, to some extent. The commentators have to weigh one against the other and decide where to "compromise," so to speak. In our case, the Rashbam and the Tosafot lined up on either side of the divide.

            Having reached a "colon" in the text, we are entitled to rest. See you next week.