Matzah and Maror: The Unity of Opposites

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Guest post by R. Yosef Zvi Rimon

R. Yosef Zvi Rimon is a Ram in Yeshivat Har Etzion and a neighborhood rabbi in Alon Shvut. This excerpt is from the recently published English translation of his Shirat Miriam Haggadah for Pesach

The Rishonim differ as to how to interpret “the expression ‘It is because of this’ can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.” Do the matzah and maror have to be actually in front of us, or does that interpretation only mean that this is to be said at the time that one fulfills the mitzvot of matzah and maror, without them necessarily being in front of us? The basis for the disagreement is how one understands the words of the Talmud in Pesachim.

The Talmud (Pesachim 116b) discusses whether a blind person is obligated to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. According to Rav Acha bar Jacob, a blind person is exempt, because the Torah states, “It is because of this,” implying that the person must be able to indicate what he sees before him, and a blind person cannot see the matzah and maror when the story of the Exodus from Egypt is told.

On the other hand, Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet (both of whom were blind) hold that a blind person is obligated in the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Why? Rashbam (on that verse, ba’avur) and Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Mitzvah 157) explain that one must tell the story at the time of matzah and maror, but matzah and maror do not have to be physically present. The same was written by Minchat Chinuch (Mitzvah 21). There is also another interpretation offered by Me’iri (116b), who explains that a blind person can also fulfill the mitzvah of “It is because of this,” by lifting the matzah and maror. From this, we see that according to Me’iri, the two must be present, but it is enough to lift them without seeing them.

The mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt depends on the mitzvot of matzah and maror – both in terms of the time and in terms of their actual presence. Matzah is the symbol of freedom, while maror is the symbol of servitude. The seder night is the night that can handle contradictions, the night that deals with questions. This is the night when “matzah and maror” can exist side by side, when one comes to understand that the different contradictions and questions that exist in the world do not diminish the greatness of our faith in any way. It is God who directs and rules the world, and God’s perspective can encompass contradictions, even extending to matters that the limited human eye and mind deem impossible. In a sense, it is precisely these contradictions, precisely those matters that are beyond human comprehension, that show the presence of God in the world (this view is reinforced daily in modern science, and especially in modern physics, which indicates vast “contradictions” within the world of science itself).

About Yosef Zvi Rimon

2 comments

  1. So how does one define the machloket between Rav Acha & R’ Yosef/R’ Sheshet?

  2. “This is the night when “matzah and maror” can exist side by side, when one comes to understand that the different contradictions and questions that exist in the world do not diminish the greatness of our faith in any way. ”

    “In a sense, it is precisely these contradictions, precisely those matters that are beyond human comprehension, that show the presence of God in the world”

    Which contradictions does he mean? From the first sentence I quoted, I would have thought: contradictions within traditional texts, or between them and external sources, or theological difficulties. But in those cases there is an easily comprehended, only bothersome, answer: that our tradition is wrong. So I don’t see how the existence of that kind of unanswered question would be evidence for God’s existence and presence. Conventional wisdom would say the opposite.

    In the later sentences, it sounds more like the contradictions are between different aspects of modern scientific theory. Is that an argument for oversight by a specific sort of God, or only that there are limits on what the human intellect can comprehend? And R’ Slifkin, for instance, brings a very different sounding argument: that the existence of elegant and universally followed natural laws, rather than randomness, is an argument for a monotheistic kind of world order. There is no direct contradiction here (universal natural laws which cannot be harmonized with each other are different from the absence of any pattern or law). But the tone and direction of the two arguments are still quite different.

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