Pesachim 9 - 15
No Third Meal?
Rabbi Elazar ben Yehuda from Bartuta taught in a beraita, “When Shabbat is the day before Pesach, one should burn all of his chametz before Shabbat… and leave over only enough chametz food for two meals for Shabbat, to be eaten up until four hours of the daytime.”
There is a type of conundrum when Shabbat is the day immediately before the first day of Pesach (as is planned for the upcoming Pesach of 5781, aka 2021). On the one hand, there is a mitzvah to eat three meals on Shabbat (as taught in Masechet Shabbat 117b and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 291). However, we are not allowed to eat chametz after the first few morning hours on Shabbat when it is erev Pesach. Since the normal meaning of a meal according to halacha is “a meal with bread,” how can we have a third meal on this Shabbat? We cannot eat chametz on Shabbat afternoon for the third meal. Also, we cannot eat matzah on Shabbat afternoon so that we will have a hearty appetite for matzah when we eat it for the mitzvah of matzah at the Pesach Seder.
There is a gamut of Poskim, from different places and eras, who make a variety of rulings regarding the third meal of Shabbat in this case.
Rashi explains, on our daf, that when Rabbi Elazar ben Yehuda says in the beraita to save enough chametz for two meals, he means, “and not three meals, since although on Shabbat there is a mitzvah to have a first meal on Friday night, a second one on Shabbat morning and a third one in the afternoon, on erev Pesach it is forbidden to eat a meal from the time for Mincha.” It appears from Rashi’s words that in this situation no third meal is eaten on Shabbat.
In addition to Rashi’s explanation, there is at least one other approach found in the writings of the Rishonim. According to them, when Rabbi Elazar ben Yehuda said to keep chametz for “two meals” for Shabbat, he was not indicating that this quantity of chametz would provide for only two meals on Shabbat. Rather, he meant that the amount of chametz that would normally be consumed in two meals on a regular Shabbat, would suffice for three meals on Shabbat that is on erev Pesach. A person should have the second and third Shabbat meals in the first hours of Shabbat morning, with birkat hamazon and a pause between them. Since he eats the meals within a relatively short time period, he will manage with half the normal amount of chametz at each morning meal. Accordingly, there are in fact three Shabbat meals: one at night and two in the morning, during the time when eating chametz is still permitted. (Tosefot on Shabbat 118a, Tosefot HaRosh, Magen Avraham)
The Rema in Orach Chaim 444 offers another option. On Shabbat afternoon a person can fulfill the mitzvah of the third meal with an alternate meal of “fruit, fish and meat." (See the Aruch Hashulchan 444:5 for a fascinating, novel approach to the reason for the Rema omitting the possibility of egg matzah for the third meal, the order in which the Rema presents these items of food, and a possible reason for not allowing kneidlach for this meal that is not related to the issue of gebrukts.)
A personal anecdote: Prior to our marriage, my wife and I had been accustomed to follow the Rema’s ruling, eating the likes of kneidelach and salads for the third meal. However, shortly after our marriage, there was a case when Shabbat was erev Pesach and, for personal reasons and in consultation with our Rav, we ate two meals in the first hours of the morning, as the Magen Avraham suggests as an option. After early morning prayers, we had a meal with pita and a little something (I forget exactly what) and said birkat hamazon. We then got up from the table and went for a walk in the neighborhood before returning to a second morning pita meal, finishing the pita and finishing the three required Shabbat meals. To be honest, it was somewhat rushed and not exactly my idea of an oneg Shabbat — and I also felt that having the two meals so close together in time was like a loophole and “trick” — and, after speaking with our Rav, we returned to our previous “kneidelach in the afternoon” custom, as per the Rema.
Another apparent option for the third meal that is cited by halachic sources is the practice of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to learn Torah in lieu of eating. It is written in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s behavior shows that there is no proper solution for this dilemma. Rabbi Avraham Azulai, a kabbalistic Master, suggested a seemingly different message from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He wrote that the optimal way of fulfilling the mitzvah of eating the third meal on Shabbat erev Pesach is to “consume a meal of Torah study.”
A completely different approach is found in the brilliant writings of the Aruch Hashulchan. He asks why Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai did not also have fruit, which would serve as the third meal of food, as we see in the ruling of the Rema. Due to this question and other considerations, the Aruch Hashulchan suggests that when Shabbat is on erev Pesach we are not commanded to eat three meals. Only two. When something is not possible, or if our Sages found reason for us not fulfill a mitzvah or for them not to enact a mitzvah — there is no command to fulfill a certain mitzvah in that case. For example, we do not fulfill the mitzvah of eating three meals when Yom Kippur is on Shabbat, and we do not fulfill the mitzvah of shofar or lulav when Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat or on Shabbat during Succot, respectively. Likewise, there is no mitzvah to eat a third meal on a Shabbat that is on erev Pesach. This would explain Rashi’s mention of only two meals on this Shabbat. (As might be expected, there is much discussion of this subject in a large array of Poskim and Torah commentaries, which include consideration of other factors, such as whether the third meal may be fulfilled when eating in the morning, or only in the afternoon — possibly at that time with egg matzah and depending on one’s custom.)
*Author’s note: Please see the brilliant mini-series in Ohrnet Magazine by my dear friend and esteemed Torah scholar Rabbi Yehuda Spitz, shlita. The series is called The Rare Calendar Phenomena of 5781, andthis week’s installment, part 5, has a section dealing with the subject of three meals on Shabbat erev Pesach. I am certain that you will find it to be enlightening and that it will serve as a catalyst to pursue increased Torah study. Learning his writings is an oneg Shabbat — and an oneg anytime.
- Pesachim 13b