Honor Guard- Watching the Matza Process

  • Rav Asher Meir

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Honor Guard - Watching the Matza Process

by Rav Asher Meir

One of the most enigmatic commandments connected with Pesach is that of "mayim she-lanu" - the requirement to make matza with water which has sat overnight inside the house.

The Talmud does not give a reason for this requirement, but the reason most commonly given is to make sure the water is not too hot, since hot water will make the matza rise too rapidly. However, this reason appears to be extremely unsatisfactory. First of all, there is no specific prohibition of making matzot with lukewarm water. Second, even if there were such a restriction, why do we not merely require that cool water be used - why does the cooling "process" matter? Most perplexingly, spring and well water in the early spring - when Pesach falls - is invariably ice cold. Leaving water inside the house overnight can only warm it up!

A closer examination of the Biblical commandment to make matza may shed some light on all of these customs. It is true that it is forbidden to eat any leavened product during Pesach; it follows that any bread eaten then must automatically be carefully kept from rising, i.e. it must be matza. But the Torah specifically commands us "u-shemartem et ha-matzot" - to make a "vigil" over the matzot. It is not enough that the final product be leaven-free bread; rather we must make an express positive effort to guarantee that result. The product of this vigilance is "matza shemura" - "supervised matza," which is not only free of chametz but has actually been given specific attention.

Now that we have clarified the Biblical commandment, let's look at the components of matza: flour and water. Keeping the Torah commandment of a vigil is easy with regard to the flour - so many misfortunes could ruin its ability to make kosher matzot. Even before it has been harvested, if it has already dried out it could become chametz from the rain; during harvesting it could be exposed to the elements or left in a damp cellar. If we are not careful, the miller could wash the flour down before grinding. What an all-encompassing opportunity to show God how carefully we keep his commandments!

However, what are we supposed to do about the other half of matza, the water? Water undergoes no processing before we knead it into the dough, and even if it did, water cannot turn into chametz. It seems that when it comes to the water, we are exempt from the "vigil" of matzot.

Yet, as we find in the Talmud and the Rishonim, "Yisrael kedoshim" - the Jewish people are holy. Not only do they not seek to exempt themselves from God's commandments, but on the contrary, they seek opportunities to perform His will. Therefore, we seek to perform a "shemira" - a vigil - on the water as well. But, what are we to guard the water against? The only "excuse" we can find is to protect it against overheating, which would indeed present a danger to the kashrut of our matzot.

Unfortunately, we are left with another problem. Water in early spring is in no danger of overheating. The springs are filled with melted snow and are freezing cold. Still, this does not deter us from demonstrating our loyalty to God and our desire to keep His commandments. ýTherefore, we carry out a ceremony which would be sufficient to keep the water from overheating, were such a problem realistically to arise.

In other words, the ostensible reason for the custom of "mayim she-lanu" is the true reason, but not the ultimate reason. We genuinely go through the motions of guaranteeing that the water will be at most room temperature; but the very concern of worrying about the possibility that the water may be hot is really an "excuse" to give us a way of stretching the boundaries of our loyalty and devotion to God.

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