Though the festival is commonly known as "Pesach," its Torah
name is Chag Hamatzos — the festival of Matzos.
This ought to command our attention. Pesach is ordinarily
associated with our revelation as a nation through the great
miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim — and not with the
memory of the bread of affliction. What then is it that makes
matzo the most fundamental element of these days?
To explore the topic we open with a basic lesson of the
gemora regarding the essence of matzo. Based on the
Torah name "lechem oni," Chazal (Pesochim 36a)
teach that the matzo of Pesach must be, "bread upon which
many things are spoken about."
Several customary practices of Seder Night are based on this
droshoh. The matzo, for instance, is uncovered as we
tell the Haggodoh. Similarly, the middle matzo is
broken prior to reading the Haggodoh, so that the
reading is over the broken matzas mitzvah.
This needs to be understood. The matzo, as we know, is
symbolic both of the hardship we underwent in Egypt and of
the miraculous exodus which we experienced. But the matzo is
not alone among the symbols of Seder Night, while its central
place in the recitation of the Haggodoh is unique.
What special meaning does matzo have?
The answer to this can be had in a subtle nuance in the
precise words of the gemora: rather than saying
literally "bread upon which many things are spoken about,"
Chazal stress that many things are answered over the
matzo. What is the meaning of this emphasis? Indeed, what
exactly are the many things that we answer over the matzo?
The Part of Children at the Seder
The basic structure of Seder Night is questions and answers.
"What," the children ask, "singles out this night
from all other nights?"
"The matzo we eat," we state later, and we quickly
insert, "is for what?"
The questions of the four sons, as found in the Torah, are
likewise an integral part of the Seder.
In short, the Pesach Haggodoh is a session of
questions and answers.
Understanding requires an appreciation of the pivotal role of
children on the Seder Night. The importance of children at
the Seder has caused the development of several customs whose
purpose is just to keep the kids awake. Though the mitzvah of
Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim can be fulfilled even by
telling the tale to oneself, the preferred scenario of the
annual mitzvah clearly includes children. The son asks; the
The essence of Yisroel was bestowed on us as we exited
Mitzrayim. The posuk says, about six hundred thousand
Jews left Mitzrayim, "aside from children" (Shemos
12:37). Each and every year the adults of Klal Yisroel
experience the same redemption. The fantastic light that
shone on us as we exited Egypt glows annually on the first
night of Pesach. As Chazal teach, we are obliged to see
ourselves as if we actually leave Mitzrayim.
Consequently, the adults are given the task of handing the
revelation of emunah to their offspring. As we leave
Egypt it is up to us to pass the experience on to our
children. In this way we raise our children in the straight
path of our faith. They, in turn, on reaching the child
bearing years of twenty through sixty, will in turn hand the
emunah to their offspring, until the Redeemer
The basic question and answer style of the Seder is thus
understood. The children ask in order to receive answers from
those who truly know them. About exiting Mitzrayim, our
knowledge is far deeper than everyday experience. Those who
left Mitzrayim lived the faith of our nation,
experiencing it in their very persons. Yearly, going through
the same experience, we know our faith as we know our own
The Strength of the Question
But a deeper theme lies within the questions of Seder Night
— a theme as applicable to adults as to children. A
question is far more than merely a means of acquiring
information hitherto unknown. Rather, the soul of a question
expresses the deepest strength of man, a quality that stems
from his unique creation that was a merger of a worldly
vessel with a Heavenly spirit: the ability to reach beyond
his own self.
Observe for instance the miraculous development of an infant
as he learns how to walk. Though initially unable to take a
single step, the infant will, by intricate mental and
physical processes of trial and error, learn to master the
art of walking, in a matter of months. Balancing,
compensating for external forces, absorbing impact through
knee bends, applying pressure on the right part of the foot
— all of these and more soon become second nature to
the developing child.
In learning how to walk, the child has reached beyond
himself. He has transformed himself from crawler to walker.
This ability is unique to man. Other life forms, even the
highest mammals, must be born walkers. They cannot reach
beyond themselves. They cannot question.
Applying the idea to the wisdom of Torah, we should not be
surprised to find that the Talmud is based on questions and
answers. The reason for this is that Torah is not merely a
matter of knowing information. Torah has to change our very
being, to raise us far beyond our own previous selves. For
this to happen — for the wisdom of Torah to truly
permeate our being — we must begin with a question. The
question shatters the complacency of the present and prepares
the ground for an answer.
The Holy Tongue of Torah expresses the theme with elegant
grace. The word Mah, the question constantly on our
tongues on Seder Night, is numerically equivalent to the
title Odom, the loftiest creation of Hashem. The
question is the essence of man, his ability to rise beyond
his own self. An animal (Beheimoh), on the other hand,
is spelt "Boh Moh." What it has is what it is; it is
unable to rise beyond itself.
In the same sense, the wisdom that man acquires is termed
Chochmah. Chazal split this word into two: Koach
Mah. Wisdom, the crown of man's kingship over the world,
is called, "the strength of the question." The implication of
"wise" is far more than a head full of information. Attaining
this added value is the strength of the question.
The Question of Yetzias Mitzrayim
To find the essential question of Yetzias Mitzrayim, we need
look no further than its opening scene. At the revelation at
the burning bush, Moshe Rabbenu asked of Hashem: "If they
should ask me, "What (mah) is His Name?" What
(moh) shall I tell them? The Midrash (Rabba
Shemos 3:5) reveals the depth of Moshe's words: He was
asking Hashem to reveal His great Name.
The rest of the story is narrated at the Seder table. In the
fantastic miracles of Egypt, Hashem revealed the annulment of
nature in the revelation of the Name. "I appeared",
Hashem tells Moshe, "to Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov with
the name Shakai; but My Name Hashem I did not make known to
them." The miracles of Mitzrayim were unlike anything the
world had seen before. This was not simple Divine
intervention, which the Ovos had also witnessed. In
Mitzrayim, nature was entirely overwhelmed.
Our nation was created together with the great revelation. In
the words of the verse, we were `born' out of Egypt: "Your
birthday, on the day that you were born . . ." (Yechezkel
16:4). In our deepest being, we are "children of Hashem"
(Devorim 14:1), and our inbuilt task is to reveal the
Name of Hashem in the world of man.
From that time on, it is Yisroel alone who leads the world to
its destiny. The tool through which we achieve this, the holy
Torah, is likewise composed entirely of Names of Hashem
(Ramban). The Name, the children of the Name, and the Torah
that connects them, were all revealed on our exit from
All of this began though the question, the Mah of
Yisroel as spoken by Moshe. Having gone through the burning
furnace of Egypt, Yisroel were ready to ask the question.
Their earthly vessels were purified, and they were ready for
the ultimate rise beyond their selves, to receive the supreme
influx of wisdom — the light of the holy Name.
Our leader Moshe, considered by Chazal to be equal to his six
hundred thousand followers, carried this readiness in his
very name. The middle letter of Moshe is the triple-pronged
Shin, an allusion to the three founding Fathers who
preceded him. The outer letters, are the novelty brought by
Moshe and to his people. They spell Mah. The question
had been reached.
Matzo — the Absence of Sin
Ever since Mitzrayim, only one nation is worthy of the title
"Man": "You are called Odom, and the nations of the world are
not called Odom" (Yevomos 61a). The nations are able
to acquire wisdom on a worldly scale, but only Yisroel have
access to Heavenly wisdom that preceded creation itself. The
peak of man's fundamental ability to rise beyond his own self
is reserved for Yisroel alone.
The implication of this is a return to the original sinless
state of Odom. His initial frame, stretching "from one end of
the world to the other," was infinitely greater than his post-
sin stature. The nations, unable to escape worldly confines,
continue to live in post-sin dimensions. But out of Mitzrayim
was born a new frame of man, Man who would once again unite
Heavens and earth. The head of Yisroel, a head readied for
the holy Torah that unites the worlds, touches the Heavens
The Mitzvah of eating matzo comes as an expression of this.
In consuming the fruit of the Eitz Hada'as, Odom
brought a hitherto external core of evil into his own being.
The fruit, in one opinion of Chazal (Brochos 40a), was
wheat. Its innate evil lies in the end product of risen
bread: "the yeast in the dough" (Brochos
Inflated at it were of its own accord, the risen dough
implies an accentuated sense of the self. When the human ego
is inflated, the connection to Hashem is cut. Feeling his own
self-importance, man leaves no room for the presence of
Hashem. In the words of the Gemora (Sotah 5b), "He and
I cannot live in the world." One who places himself at the
center of creation feels rivaled by the Divine center. He has
no question to ask; he knows all the answers already.
On Seder Night, as we leave Mitzrayim we reach the opposite
extreme. Significantly, the mitzvah of matzo is performed by
eating. Through consuming the matzo, bread that did not rise,
we mend the first sin of Odom, returning to the great purity
that Man was created with. The night of Pesach is termed
"Leil Shimurim" — the forces of evil cannot
touch us. Free of the evil inclination, our persons become a
pure vessel for the presence of G-d.
Splitting the Matzo — the Question and the
The questions of the Seder are those that bring the new Man
of Yisroel into existence. The Mah constantly on our
lips is the same Mah that Yetzias Mitzrayim opened
with, the Mah that catalyzed the revelation of
Hashem's Name and the birth of His children.
The children of Seder Night receive answers from their
parents, rising to the emunah of those who exit
Mitzrayim. But behind the scenes, the fathers must also
receive the answers. Theirs come from Above, as essential
faith is instilled in the great revelation. Reading the
Haggodoh, we experience the exodus from Mitzrayim as
if we had truly been there.
On the table throughout is the matzo. Our ability to ask
Mah, which is our potential to draw the Heavenly
answers of Seder night, is expressed in the flat loaf of
Pesach. The rectifications of Egypt, the purity we reached
through the suffering of the Egyptian exile, is with us to
this day. The bread of affliction is the same bread of
freedom — free of the yetzer hora.
By its essential nature, matzo is "bread upon which many
things are spoken about." The matzo, the Pesach bread
that retains the purity gained in Mitzrayim, is that which
enables us to ask the question, Mah. The great answer,
the revelation of the great Name and with it the great Man of
Yisroel, comes of its own accord.
This perhaps is the hidden secret of breaking the matzo
before the Haggodoh is recited. The word "matzo"
totals thrice the value of Mah. Splitting the matzo
into unequal halves, we retain the smaller piece — a
third — for the Haggodoh. This is the Mah
that Yetzias Mitzrayim opens with, the essential question of
Yisroel and Moshe. The remaining two thirds are hidden for
the answer, the revelation of a new Odom (Mah),
doubled in stature to bridge two worlds.
The light of Pesach descends on its own, directed from Above.
All we need to do is to ask the question. But the
continuation, the utilizing of the great revelation in our
avodoh, is entirely left to us. This is for the days
to come, the days of the Omer that bring us to Shavuos. For
now, we revel in the light of the answer.