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Q & A: Al Achilat Matza (Part I)

QUESTION: I have noticed that when we eat the matza at the seder on Passover, we recite the blessing of Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz, followed by Al achilat matza. Why don’t we say Al achilat matza when we eat matza during the remainder of Passover?

Moshe Jakobowitz
Brooklyn, NY


ANSWER: To answer your question, let us review the pertinent halachot related to the proper time and place for the blessing of Al achilat matza.

Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’Matza 6:1) rules as follows: “It is a mitzvat aseh, a positive precept from the Torah, to eat matza on the eve of the fifteenth [day of Nissan], for it states,
‘Ba’erev tochlu matzot… – In the evening you shall eat matzot…’ (Exodus 12:18). This applies everywhere and at any time [that is, even in the Diaspora and even today, when we do not offer sacrifices in the Holy Temple].

“The [mitzva] of eating [the matza] is not dependent on the paschal sacrifice; rather, it is a distinct mitzva on its own. Its proper time of performance is during the course of the entire
evening. However, for the remainder of the festival the eating of matza is optional. If one wishes, one eats matza or if he so wishes, he may (Note: this is according to the Sephardic
tradition) eat rice or millet, or parched ears of corn or fruit.

“But on the evening of the fifteenth of Nissan, it [the eating of matza] is obligatory, and when one has eaten an amount equivalent to the size of an olive, he has discharged his obligation.”

Rambam bases this ruling on the Gemara (Pesachim 120a), where we find the following discussion: “Rava says, ‘Nowadays [when there is no paschal sacrifice] matza is a Biblical
obligation whereas maror (bitter herbs) is only a Rabbinic obligation.’” The Gemara asks: “How does maror differ? It is written (Numbers 9:11) ‘[Bachodesh hasheni be'arba'ah asar
yom bein ha'arbayim ya'asu oto] al matzot u’merorim yochluhu – [In the second month (Iyar) on the fourteenth day in the late afternoon shall they make it (the Pesach Sheni offering, for
those who could not offer the regular Passover sacrifice in its proper time)], with matzot and bitter herbs shall they eat it.’”

It thus follows that when there is a paschal sacrifice [or the one offered on Pesach Sheni] there is an obligation to eat the bitter herbs; but when there is no paschal sacrifice there is no Biblical requirement to eat bitter herbs either.

The Gemara proceeds to ask: “If so, don’t we say the same regarding matza, for it is also included in the quoted verse, ‘al matzot u’merorim yochluhu,’ yet we do not offer the Passover
sacrifice nowadays? The answer provided is: “The verse (Exodus 12:18) repeats the precept ‘…Ba’erev tochlu matzot… – …In the evening you shall eat matzot…’ [in effect making the eating of matza a Biblical requirement].”

R. Aha b. Jacob disagrees and says, “Both [matza and maror] are [only] Rabbinical requirements.” The Gemara responds with the argument that “it is stated, indeed (loc. cit.) ‘…In the evening you shall eat matzot…’ [which classifies eating matza as a Biblical requirement].”

R. Aha b. Jacob will argue: “That verse is necessary in the instance of one who was defiled (through contact with a corpse) [but who will be cleansed by the evening], or one who was on
a journey some distance away (during the day). One might assume that since they do not (i.e., cannot) partake of the paschal sacrifice, they are exempt from eating matza and maror. Therefore the verse tells us that they are nevertheless required to eat matza.”

Rava argues that regarding one who is ritually defiled or on a distant journey, there is no need for a special mention in the verse to include them in the requirement of eating matza, since
they are in no worse situation than one who is uncircumcised or an alienated Jew, i.e., an apostate. As we learned in a baraita, the verse in Exodus (12:48) states, ‘…Vechol arel lo yochal bo – No uncircumcised man shall eat thereof (the paschal sacrifice).’ But he must eat matza and maror.

R. Aha b. Jacob would argue that the requirement to eat matza stated in Exodus (12:48) applies to the uncircumcised and the apostate, while the other verse (Numbers 9:11) refers
to the ritually defiled or one who is on a distant journey, and therefore both verses are necessary. (Rashbam ad loc. - s.v. ketiv behai u’chetiv behai – explains: “I would not derive the case of one who is defiled and one who is on a journey from the case of an uncircumcised man and an alienated Jew, for the former two have an opportunity to fulfill their obligation on
Pesach Sheni (the 15th of Iyar), whereas the latter two may never partake of the paschal sacrifice. Therefore I would argue that the former should wait until Pesach Sheni and then
discharge their obligation to eat matza and maror with the paschal sacrifice, whereas the latter should eat matza and maror on Passover itself, as they will not be able to partake of the paschal sacrifice even on Pesach Sheni [should they remain in their present status]. Thus I can’t derive one from the other [and the verses are not repetitive].”)

The Gemara concludes with a baraita that agrees with Rava. “The Torah states (Deuteronomy 16:8), ‘Sheshet yamim tochal matzot u’vayom ha’shevi’i atzeret la’Hashem Elokeicha, lo ta’aseh melacha - Six days you shall eat matzot and on the seventh day there shall be an assembly for Hashem, your G-d; you shall not perform any labor.’ We deduce that just as on the seventh day the eating of matza is optional, so, too, is it optional on the [other] six days.”

The Gemara then asks: “What is the reason [for this interpretation]? It [the seventh day] was included in a general category and was subsequently singled out to teach a law. [One of the principles of exegesis is: kol davar shehaya bichlal ve'yatza min ha'clal le'lammed ... - Anything that was included in a general statement, but was then singled out from the general statement in order to teach something, was not singled out to teach only about itself...] The Gemara now
explains that it was singled out to teach regarding the entire general category.

We would have thought (according to this exegesis) that the eating of matza on the first night [of Passover] is also optional, therefore it states, “with matzot and bitter herbs shall they eat it.”

The Gemara now reasons: “We would assume that this only applies in the time of the Holy Temple. But how do we know that today, when we are bereft of our Holy Temple, one is still
Biblically obligated to eat matza [the first night(s)]? The verse states, ‘In the evening you shall eat matzot’. The verse thus established it as a requirement [even though there is no possibility of a Passover sacrifice].”

We now refer to the Gemara’s earlier discussion (115b) of the seder – literally, the “order of the ritual” on the first night of Passover. There we find the following statement: “Samuel said, ‘Lechem oni (Deuteronomy 16:3), lit. bread of affliction,  can be interpreted as bread over which we recite (onin) many words. In support of this interpretation there is a baraita that
refers to lechem oni as bread over which we answer many things. Another interpretation of lechem oni is lechem ani, bread of the poor. Just as the poor person usually eats a broken-off piece [of bread], so here too (at the seder) we eat a broken piece [of matza]…”

We find similarly in Tractate Berachot (39b): “R. Pappa says, ‘All are in agreement that on Passover [at the seder] one places the broken piece [of matza] under the whole one and breaks them together. What is the reason? It states, ‘Lechem oni – bread of affliction (poverty)’.”

Rashi and Rashbam (Pesachim 116a s.v. af kan bi’perusa) comment that (at the seder) we bless Al achilat matza on the broken piece of matza, and on the whole matzot we bless Hamotzi, as Passover is no different than other festivals (and Shabbat – to which they are all compared), when one is required to bless over two whole loaves and one then slices and
eats from one of those whole loaves.

Tosafot (ad. loc.) s.v. “Mah darko shel ani bi’perusa” note an inconsistency. Rashi and Rashbam (in Berachot) state that we bless Hamotzi on the whole matza together with the broken one, not on the two whole matzot. Tosafot reconcile this last statement with R. Pappa’s, noting that we indeed bless Hamotzi on the whole matza together with the broken one, and include the third whole matza for the purpose of lechem mishneh, which is the requirement to use two whole loaves (challot or matzot). Yet Tosafot also cite the R”I, who would bless Hamotzi on the whole matza and recite Al achilat matza on the broken piece, and then include the third [whole] matza in order to accomplish the mitzva with all three.

Whichever way we view this Gemara, we note that it is only at the seder that we require a perusa, a slice or broken piece (which symbolizes the special mitzva of the evening, namely,
to eat matza for its own sake as a remembrance of lechem oni), and only there do we recite Al achilat matza. Indeed, based upon these Talmudic passages, the Tur and R. Yosef Caro, (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 473-475) describe the seder plate, the ke’ara, as containing, among other items, three matzot [in accordance with Rashi, Rashbam, Tosafot and the Rosh, but at variance with the Rif ad. loc. and Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U'Matza 8:6), who require only two matzot]. The Mechaber continues (ibid. 475) by saying, “We take the
matzot the way they have been placed in one’s hand, the two whole ones with the broken one in the middle, and we bless [first] Hamotzi and then Al achilat matza”.

The Taz ad. loc. explains the reason and expounds that according to some poskim, we bless Hamotzi on the whole matza and Al achilat matza on the broken one.

Thus it should be clear that only when we have a perusa, a broken piece of matza, together with other matzot do we utter the blessing of Al achilat matza.

(To be continued)

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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