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MATZAH AND WINE: GREAT COMBINATION

by Rabbi Yossi Lew    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Two of the most significant parts of the Passover seder are the eating of the three matzot and the drinking of the four cups of wine. While the consuming of matzah on Passover night is a Torah commandment, the number three was set by our sages.

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Two of the most significant parts of the Passover seder are the eating of the three matzot and the drinking of the four cups of wine. While the consuming of matzah on Passover night is a Torah commandment, the number three was set by our sages. It includes the required two loaves that we have anyway at every festive meal, plus a third which is broken so that we will have "bread of affliction". By contrast, the drinking of wine at the seder (and its four cups) was completely established by our sages. They instituted this mitzvah in order to commemorate the four G-dly expressions of redemption from Egypt, mentioned at the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Exodus 6:6-7): I will take you out, I will save you, I will redeem you, and I will take you unto Me as a nation.

There seems, however, to be a mix-up: Since the eating of matzah is already a Torah commandment, wouldn't it be more sensible to eat four matzot, in order to commemorate the four expressions of redemption in the Torah, rather than create a completely new mitzvah to drink four cups of wine? Furthermore, the matzah is actually eaten to commemorate the redemption from Egypt. As we state in the Passover Haggadah, matzah was eaten by our ancestors when they left Egypt, because the dough had no time to rise as they were hastily redeemed. If matzah is eaten to commemorate redemption, why don't we eat four matzot to commemorate the four expressions of redemption?

A careful analysis of the four expressions of redemption leads us to conclude that the three matzot are, indeed, connected with the expressions of redemption, but only with three of the four. It is specifically wine that can fully express all four of the redemption phrases.

The explanation is as follows: At the time of the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people were steeped in the corrupted and morally decayed culture of Egypt. In order to leave the land, they required a tremendous G-dly revelation imparted to them, so that they could be swiftly whisked away. In other words, as far as the Jewish people were concerned, they were hardly prepared, spiritually, to depart from Egypt. The final phase of the exodus took place seven weeks later, when our ancestors assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. However, at this latter stage of their redemption the Jewish nation was actively involved. They had undergone a comprehensive self-cleansing where they, in their own personal ways and in their own personal lives, had purified and refined themselves until they were ready to become Hashem's holy nation.

The three matzot at the Passover seder do, indeed, correspond to the expressions of redemption, but only to the first three. This is expressed in the nature of matzah itself. Essentially, matzah has no real, distinguishing taste, since its ingredients are simply flour and water. For this reason, the matzah is called "lechem oni," bread of affliction, or "poor bread". In fact, were one to merely swallow matzah on Passover eve, ingesting it rather than tasting it, he would sufficiently fulfill the obligation to eat matzah. The absence of real taste in the matzah symbolizes a lack of involvement and appreciation, which is how the Jewish people were at the outset of the exodus from Egypt. The first three expressions of redemption promised by Hashem to our ancestors - "I will take you out, I will save you, I will redeem you" - were granted and bestowed upon them from our Father in heaven, without their involvement.

Wine, on the other hand, possesses a rich and stimulating taste. With a taste of royalty and liberation, wine symbolizes an active enjoyment and appreciation, which is how the Jewish people were at Mt. Sinai. Through a rigorous and thorough cleansing, the nation had elevated themselves spiritually. Since this occurred through their full participation, they were now able to appreciate, ever more, their heightened state. This is why when it comes to wine, which possesses a taste of distinction and impression, we drink four cups at the seder, corresponding to all four expressions of redemption, including the fourth one, which occurred with the participation of the Jewish nation.

Upon the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people were liberated, both physically and spiritually, from the confines and limitations of Egypt. This is why the liberation from Egypt was completed at Mt. Sinai, when our ancestors completed the transformation from the subservience to Egypt to being servants of Hashem. Since then, the connection of the Jew with his Judaism manifests itself in two ways: On the one hand we are to follow the commandments of the Torah with trust and faith. Even if there is difficulty in fully understanding and appreciating the commandments, we must be aware that when Hashem commands us to perform in a certain manner, it is by definition best for us, even if we may be lacking our full involvement and appreciation. This is just like the matzah which doesn't have much taste. On the other hand, we have also been commanded to delve actively, as much as we can, into the meanings and reasons behind the commandments, thus acquiring a greater appreciation and affection for them, just like the wine, which we can't help but appreciate and enjoy.

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Rabbi Yossi Lew is a rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefillah, youth coordinator at Chabad of Georgia, and a teacher at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy middle school.

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