U’shemartem es hamatzos (Shemos 12:17)
Throughout the generations Jews have placed special emphasis on the matzos they procure and consume for Pesach, and great Rabbanim have many stringencies and hiddurim (enhancements) that they seek to observe when preparing and baking their personal matzos.
One of the early leading Chassidic Rebbes was once at a matzah bakery with his Chassidim, where they were investing tremendous effort into making exceptionally mehudar matzos for the upcoming Yom Tov. Present at the same time was a simple Jew who was doing his best to make matzos for his family.
When this Jew observed the Rebbe making matzos that he could only dream of, he went into a corner and cried out, “Master of the Universe, I’m a regular Jew who doesn’t know how to make matzos like the holy Rebbe, but I’m doing the best I can. I beg you to please help me obtain mehudar matzos for Pesach.”
As his pure prayers increased in volume and intensity, the Rebbe couldn’t help but overhear them. He then approached the man and asked him if they could trade matzos, explaining that in his view, the heartfelt prayers that went into the Jew’s matzos rendered them superior to his, an offer to which the man was ecstatic to acquiesce.
The incident was originally related as a Chassidic story, intended to teach that it is not the technical minutiae and stringencies that go into matzah production that determine its value, but rather the heartfelt devotion and tears. However, when this story was recounted to the Brisker Rav, who was renowned for his intense dedication to fulfilling every legal requirement in the most ideal manner possible, he viewed it from a completely different perspective.
The Brisker Rav immediately responded that this episode teaches us that Hashem answers sincere prayers, as evidenced by the fact that the simple Jew asked Hashem for mehudar matzos, and indeed he received them when the Rebbe exchanged his matzos — which were in reality far superior — with him. Hashem accepted the Jew’s petitions and inspired the Rebbe to want to trade his mehudar matzos for the plain ones produced by the simple Jew.
Harav Yisroel Reisman adds that this vignette, and the two completely opposite ways of interpreting it, illustrate for us the multiple paths and approaches to serving Hashem. At face value, the story is supposed to teach us that from a Chassidic perspective, one of the most desirable hiddurim in a mitzvah is the dedication of a person’s heart. On the other hand, from a rigidly halachic perspective, the same story can be understood as a lesson in the power of prayer, as any Jew who beseeches Hashem with enough fervor can merit receiving the extremely prized matzos produced by a world-renowned Rebbe.
Q: Other than the Egyptians during the plague of darkness (10:23), who else in Parashas Bo was unable to see?
A: Moshe and Aharon warned Pharaoh that if he refused to free the Jewish slaves, a swarm of locusts would cover the entire surface of Egypt — “v’lo yuchal liros es ha’aretz” — and you will not be able to see the ground. However, the Kli Yakar suggests that the verse can also be read as referring to the locusts themselves, saying that there will be so many of them that they — the locusts — will not be able to see the ground.
This aspect of the plague compounded its effects, for the Gemara (Yoma 74b) teaches that a blind person does not become satiated by his food as much as someone who can see what he is eating. Because the locusts were unable to see what they were eating due to their sheer numbers, they did not become full and proceeded to enter the homes of the Egyptians, where they consumed even more.
Q: The Torah commands us (12:18) to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach. Why are many people accustomed to specifically use round matzos for this mitzvah?
A: Harav Yehuda Assad suggests several reasons for this custom. First, he notes that the Torah says (12:39) that as the Jewish people left Egypt, they baked their dough into ugos matzos — unleavened cakes. The term ugah is often used to connote a round shape (e.g. Taanis 19a), so we also make our matzos round.
The Rema writes (Orach Chaim 476:2) that many people have the custom to eat an egg at the Seder as a symbol of mourning, as Tishah B’Av falls on the same night of the week as the first night of Pesach. The Pri Megadim adds (Mishbetzos Zahav 476:3) that eggs are also a sign of mourning for the death of Avraham, who passed away on Erev Pesach.
Rashi writes (Bereishis 25:30) that the connection between eggs and mourning is based on the round shape of an egg. For this reason we also eat round matzos as an expression of mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the death of Avraham.
Lastly, the Egyptians ate square bread with several corners representing their multiple deities, while the Jewish slaves ate round bread. To remember this distinction, we also use round matzos. The sefer Haderash v’Ha’iyun cites the Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 2:4), who writes that the loaves of bread offered as meal-offerings in the Beis Hamikdash were round, so we similarly make our matzos round.
Harav Aharon Levin points out that Hashem appears to value round objects, as the sun, the moon, the earth and the stars are all round, while nothing was created in the form of a square (Yerushalmi Maasros 25b), so we strive to eat round matzos due to the significance and desirability of this shape in Hashem’s eyes.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.