SALT - Tuesday, 11 Nissan 5778 - March 27, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            As we’ve discussed in our last several installments, the Torah in Sefer Shemot (12:33-39) tells how Benei Yisrael did not have time to prepare bread when they were driven from Egypt, and they thus journeyed out of the country with raw dough, which had not even risen.  Later, after their departure, they baked the dough as matza.
            Targum Yonatan ben Uziel (12:39) presents a surprising description of Benei Yisrael’s baking, stating that they placed the dough on their heads and had it bake in the sun.  Earlier (12:34), the Torah writes that Benei Yisrael carried their dough, and then adds, “misharotam tzerurot be-simlotam al shikhmam,” which seems to mean that utensils with the dough were carried on the people’s shoulders.  (As noted by Ibn Ezra, the word “misharot” refers to some sort of storage utensil, as in the verse, “Barukh tan’akha u-mish’artekha” – Devarim 28:5.)  However, Targum Yonatan follows the Midrashic reading cited by Rashi (from the Mekhilta), explaining that in addition to their raw dough, Benei Yisrael also carried with them their leftover matza and marror from the previous night.  They were commanded to eat the meat of their sacrifice the previous night together with matza and marror (12:8), and according to the Midrash, Benei Yisrael carried the leftover matza and marror with them when they left Egypt.  (The Midrash interprets the word “misharotam” to mean “their leftovers.”)  Targum Yonatan thus explains that Benei Yisrael carried their raw dough on their heads, and carried the leftover matza and marror on their shoulders. 
            This description is also found in one of the special Yotzrot hymns which some communities have the custom to recite on Shabbat Ha-gadol (the Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach).  The hymn that begins, “Yotze’ei Chipazon” describes how the unleavened dough was placed on the people’s heads as they left Egypt, and then “shemesh shezaftah ve-akhluha matza” – “the sun baked it and they ate it as matzot.”
A variation of this theory appears in the commentary of Malbim, who suggests that Benei Yisrael placed the dough in open containers which were carried on their shoulders, thus exposing the dough to the searing desert sun so it would bake.
            This notion, that the people baked matzot in the sun as they traveled, could perhaps provide an answer to the question we’ve addressed in our last several installments.  The Torah appears to attribute the baking of unleavened matza at the time of the Exodus to the fact that the Egyptians rushed Benei Yisrael from Egypt, such that the people’s dough did not have the opportunity to rise: “They baked the dough which they had brought from Egypt as unleavened cakes, rather than leaven, because they were rushed from Egypt and could not delay…” (Shemot 12:39).  The Ramban, as we saw, offers a much different interpretation of the verse, but the Haggadah clearly understood this verse to mean that Benei Yisrael baked matzot because of the pressure imposed by the Egyptians.  This seems very difficult to understand, given the fact that, as the Torah clearly indicates, the dough was baked after Benei Yisrael left Egypt, at which point, presumably, they were no longer in any sort of rush.
            According to Tagum Yonatan’s theory, however, we could perhaps explain that indeed, the baking of matzot resulted from the Egyptians’ rushing Benei Yisrael from the country.  As Benei Yisrael did not have the opportunity to prepare provisions before they traveled, and they did know where, when or how they would be able to bake the dough they had kneaded before being driven from Egypt, they had no choice but to bake the dough in the sun during their journey.  Since the dough never had a chance to rise, due to the haste with which Benei Yisrael were driven from Egypt, it ended up becoming unleavened matza, rather than ordinary bread.  Thus, it was, in fact, a direct result of the Egyptians’ rushing Benei Yisrael that they ended up baking matzot.