For the week ending 4 April 2009 / 9 Nisan 5769

Pesach, Matza and Maror

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Helen in the U.K.
Dear Rabbi,

What is the significance of the statement of Raban Gamliel in the Haggadah that one who has not said “Pesach, Matza and Maror” has not fulfilled his obligation? If this is referring to the requirement to tell the Passover story to one’s children, how does the mention of these few words do the job? If it’s referring to the fulfillment of the actual mitzvot themselves: for one, Raban Gamliel requires we say, not do; and secondly, the Pesach sacrifice is currently not performed. Please inform.

Dear Helen,

Certain commentators in fact explain that this is a reference to performing the mitzvot. You say: Raban Gamliel tells us we are to make verbal reference to these mitzvot – he’s not telling us to do them, and we can’t fulfill all of them nowadays anyway. They explain that Raban Gamliel means not that we should merely say these three words, but actually explain them (which the Haggadah goes on to do).

And this is because while the performance of other mitzvot usually does not require one to have special intentions, these are among the few mitzvot where one is required to have their meaning in mind when fulfilling them. Why? Because G-d included the meaning in the command itself. So Raban Gamliel is saying that one must have in mind, and preferably verbalize, the reason G-d gives for doing the mitzvah. This applies for those of these mitzvot we perform nowadays, and also for the Pesach offering which we hope to perform soon.

Still other commentators explain that Raban Gamliel’s teaching is referring to the mitzvah of telling the Passover story (Haggadah). You ask how the mention of these three things does the job. These commentators explain that this section of the Haggadah completes the answering the four questions. As such, it is a repetition and summary of the entire “Maggid” section. Here’s how some of the authorities explain how so:

Rabbi Yosef Albo explains that since the events of the Passover story and telling them over on Pesach play a major role in forging the Jewish People’s belief in G-d, these three things summarize our faith in G-d. The Pesach lamb, which in effect slaughtered the Egyptian god, involves the rejection of idol worship and thereby symbolizes our faith in G-d’s existence. Matza, which involves obedience to the Divine prohibition of chametz, thereby expresses our acceptance of the Torah as G-d’s Law. Maror, with its emphasis and relation to suffering, reflects our belief in reward and punishment.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto sees in these three commandments the steps by which the Jews rose from pagan ways to the pure worship of G-d and the receiving of the Torah. First they withdrew from idolatry (in which many were enmeshed in Egypt) as shown by their sacrifice of the lamb, the Egyptian god. Then they drew on sustenance from the manna, which was completely free of human imperfection, corresponding to Matza which is devoid of chametz that stands for the evil inclination. Last, during the period between the Exodus and Sinai, they had to painstakingly purify themselves through the levels of impurity to purity in preparation to receive the Torah, corresponding to Maror.

The Sefat Emet explains that Maror recalls the wickedness of the Egyptians and the suffering of the Jews, which led to ultimate punishment and redemption respectively. Matza reminds us of the redemption of the Jews by recalling that they had to leave in haste before their dough could rise. Pesach recalls the arbitrary revelation of G-d when He passed over the Jewish homes, sparing the Jewish firstborns. Similarly, we should not attribute our redemption to our own actions (symbolized by the making of the matza), nor to the wickedness of Pharoah and the Egyptians (reflected in the maror), but to the mercy of G-d alone (as revealed in Pesach, G-d’s passing over the Jewish homes).

Interestingly, while the first two explanations follow the order stated by Raban Gamliel, namely Pesach, Matza and Maror, the last explanation, which most closely relates to the historical aspects of the events [specifically: Jewish suffering, the Paschal lamb on the night of Passover and finally, hastily baked matzot shortly before departure] would seem to indicate that Raban Gamliel’s order is not chronologically correct – it should be Maror, Pesach and Matza. Why does he move Maror to the end, after Pesach and Matza?

One possible explanation is that Raban Gamliel mentioned Maror last in order to refer to later exiles that followed the redemption from Egypt. Rabbi Bunim of Pashischa explains that the depth of the bitterness and suffering, and thereby the greatness of the salvation, cannot be fully appreciated until after one has been redeemed from it. The author of Vayagidu L’Mordechai suggests that Raban Gamliel intended to include in his teaching the idea that even after deliverance it is important recall one’s former suffering in order not to forget the miracles of G-d and to be forever thankful.

  • The Artscroll Haggadah based on Talmudic, Midrashic and Rabbinic sources, pp. 140-3

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