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Is There a Mitzva to Eat Matza the Entire Holiday of Pesach?

  • Rav Binyamin Tabory


            The Torah in Parashat Bo (Shemot 12:8) commands eating the korban pesach (the paschal lamb) together with matza and marror.  Inasmuch as today we cannot offer sacrifices, including the korban pesach, there is no longer a biblical obligation to eat marror, which is to be eaten in conjunction with the korban pesach.  However, our sages instituted a rabbinic requirement to eat marror independently of the korban. 


            However, Rava maintained that the obligation of matza has an independent status as a biblical requirement, since the Torah explicitly states, "On [that] night you should eat matzot" (Shemot 12:8).  The gemara cites a beraita which supports this opinion.  The beraita observes that in one place, the Torah requires eating matza all seven days of the festival (Shemot 12:15), whereas elsewhere, it obligates eating matza for only six days (Devarim 16:8).  The beraita employs an exegetical principle of Rabbi Yishmael to conclude that once the second verse excludes the seventh day from the obligation, the entire obligation dissolves.  Seemingly, then, the consumption of matza on Pesach should be entirely optional.  Therefore, the Torah specifically mentions the obligation to eat matza together with the korban on the first night of Pesach.  And even if there is no korban, the Torah still reiterated "On [that] night you should eat matzot" to establish an independent mitzva to eat matza.  The Rambam (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, mitzvat asei 158), as well as other codifiers, write that there is a biblical requirement to eat matza on the first night of Pesach – even when the Temple no longer stands.


            The Chizkuni (Shemot 12:18) understands the Torah's seemingly convoluted presentation of this mitzva to imply that, although there is no obligation to eat matza the entire week of Pesach, one who does eat matza fulfills a mitzva by doing so.  He explains that when it comes to most mitzvot, one not only merits reward for observing them, but also deserves punishment if he is negligent and fails to fulfill them.  However, some mitzvot (such as eating matza after the first night of Pesach) do not entail any punishments but do bring reward to those who opt to fulfill them.


            Another possible source for this mitzva to eat matza throughout the entirety of Pesach is the juxtaposition of the prohibition against eating chametz and the requirement to eat matza (Devarim 16:3).  The gemara (Pesachim 43b) derives from this textual association that women (who are forbidden from eating chametz) must eat matza (despite its being a time-bound positive mitzva, which should seemingly exempt women).  According to Rav Shimon (Pesachim 28b), these two mitzvot are mutually dependent in terms of the times of their application as well.  Rav Shimon maintains that there is no biblical prohibition to eat chametz on erev Pesach or after Pesach.  His argument is that chametz is biblically forbidden only at the time that matza is to be eaten.  The Penei Yehoshua (ad loc.) writes that Rashi's interpretation of Rav Shimon shows that there is a biblical REQUIREMENT to eat matza all Pesach.


            We find another indication that the mitzva of eating matza is required (or at least fulfilled) throughout Pesach in the discussion regarding laying tefillin on chol ha-moed.  The gemara (Menachot 36b) explains that since tefillin are called an "ot" (a sign), and Shabbat and Yom Tov are themselves an "ot," there is no need to put on tefillin on those days.  Tosafot (ad loc.) raise the issue of whether one must wear tefillin on chol ha-moed, and they claim that Pesach is an "ot" since chametz is forbidden, and Sukkot is an "ot" because it obligates us to sit in the sukka.  The Rosh (Responsa 23:3), however, cites the Geonim as saying that Pesach is an "ot" due to the "OBLIGATION" of eating matza.  Indeed, it seems far more logical that an "ot" should involve a demonstrative act such as eating matza, rather than passively refraining from eating chametz.  Although the Rosh maintains that one should put on tefillin on chol ha-moed, he does not take issue with the opinion that the obligation of matza creates an "ot."


            It is well known that the Gaon of Vilna maintained that eating matza all Pesach is an optional mitzva.  It is related (Ma'aseh Rav 175) that he accorded immense value to this mitzva.  In fact, he would make a point of eating se'uda shelishit on the last day of Pesach (although he did not usually eat se'uda shelishit on Yom Tov), in order to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza in its waning moments before it expired.


            If we indeed assume that there is a mitzva to eat matza all Pesach, we must ask why there is no berakha attached to it.  On Sukkot, for example, there is no obligation to eat in the sukka throughout the festival; the obligation to eat in the sukka applies only on the first night.  Thereafter, there is only a prohibition against eating anything substantial outside the sukka, and technically, one could avoid eating in the sukka throughout the remainder of Sukkot by living the entire week on snacks.  If, however, one does eat in the sukka, he fulfills a mitzva and also recites a berakha.  Why should we not similarly require a berakha over the consumption of matza after the first day of Pesach?


            This question, originally posed by the Ba'al Ha-Maor (end of Pesachim), has become the subject of much discussion, and various answers have been suggested.  The Michtam (Sukka 27a) and the Meiri (Pesachim 91b) reject the entire thesis and maintain that there is no mitzva at all to eat matza after the first night of Pesach.  By contrast, the Sedei Chemed (Chametz U'matza 14:10) cites a prevailing custom to recite a berakha, and the Netziv (Meishiv Davar 77) expresses uncertainty as to whether such a berakha would be considered a berakha le-vatala (an unnecessary berakha).  In any event, this custom of making a berakha has been resoundingly rejected (see Responsa Yechaveh Da'at 1:22).  The Ba'al Ha-Maor himself answered by saying that one need not eat matza the rest of Pesach, as it is possible to subsist on rice (for those whose custom permits it) or other foods.  However, since a person cannot refrain from sleeping for an entire week, one must be in the sukka at some point during the week, and this mitzva therefore requires a berakha.


            It is told that certain people who were known as extremely meticulous in mitzva observance did not eat matza at all after the first night of Pesach.  Apparently, they were concerned about the intricacies of baking matza and feared that it could become chametz quite easily.  Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 13:65) disputed this position very strongly, for a number of reasons.  He thought that there was an inherent contradiction in this practice.  If the adherents of this custom were truly afraid that the matza was not baked according to Halakha, how could they eat it on the first night of Pesach?  Furthermore, Rav Waldenberg argued that there is a mitzva to eat "pat" (bread or matza) every day of Pesach, especially Shabbat and Yom Tov.  How could they ignore this obligation?  If we accept the opinion of the Chizkuni and Vilna Gaon, then the followers of this practice also negate the fulfillment of eating matza all Pesach.


            Rav Waldenberg also cites an opinion that, given the Karaitic doctrine requiring eating matza all Pesach (following the Torah's command, "You should eat matza seven days," Shemot 12:15), there were those who refrained from eating matza after the first night to demonstrate their opposition to the Karaitic position.  Nevertheless, Rav Waldenberg strongly advised eating matza all week.


            We have shown that there is some dispute as to whether or not there is a mitzva to eat matza throughout Pesach.  On the first night of Pesach, however, everyone agrees that there is an obligation to eat matza.  In general, any mitzva of the Torah requiring eating involves the eating of a "ke-zayit" (an olive-sized portion).  The mishna (Pesachim 10:1) says that a waiter who took a moment at the seder to recline and eat a "ke-zayit" of matza has fulfilled his obligation.  The Maharal of Prague (Gevurot Hashem, 48) inferred from the formulation of this halakha that the waiter fulfills his requirement only be-di'avad (ex post facto); he satisfied the minimum requirement of eating while reclining.  However, the mitzva to eat matza on the night of the fifteenth includes not just one ke-zayit, but all the matza that one eats that night, and therefore all the matza should be eaten while reclining.  He says that this is the position of the Rambam, as well.


            The Maharal did not specify to which halakha in the Rambam he refers, and attempts have been made to deduce this from various halakhot. (See Rav Y.B. Zolty's Mishnat Ya'avetz, 16, for one possible source.)  It seems fairly clear to me, however, that the Maharal referred to the Rambam in Hilkhot Chametz U-Matza 6:1.  There the Rambam writes, "There is a biblical requirement to eat matza on the night of the fifteenth… Once one has eaten a ke-zayit, he has fulfilled the mitzva."  The Rambam could have said simply, that there is a mitzva to eat a ke-zayit of matza.  By writing instead that there is a mitzva to eat matza and one need not eat more than a ke-zayit, he implies that all of one's matza consumption constitutes a fulfillment of the mitzva, though the minimum requirement is a ke-zayit.


            We have thus learned that, according to one view, there is an obligation to eat matza all week (Penei Yehoshua's understanding of Rav Shimon), whereas another opinion maintains that although there is no obligation, one fulfills a mitzva by eating matza all week (Chizkuni, Vilna Gaon).  This latter opinion was disputed by Me'iri and others.  Lastly, we saw that the Maharal felt that although one fulfills the mitzva by eating a ke-zayit on the first night, all matza eaten that night is also a fulfillment of the mitzva.