By Date

Dear Friends,

To those of you who do not like matzah… congratulations. You’ve made it! According to many rabbinic sources you don’t have to touch the bread of affliction until next spring. Those sources teach that, while we are “obligated” to eat matzah at the seder, we are only required to REFRAIN from eating chametz (leavened foods) for the rest of the holiday.

Of course, it is more complicated than that. Allow me to explain.

In the Book of Exodus we read, “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, you shall eat matzot.” (Exodus 12, 18)

Just a few verses earlier, however, we read, “You shall eat matzot for seven days.” (Exodus 12, 15)

The apparent redundancy between these two texts raised questions for the rabbis of old and ultimately led them to a rather surprising conclusion. After all, once verse 15 tells us to eat matzah for seven days, the statement three verses later that we must eat matzah [at the Seder] on the first evening of Passover becomes superfluous.

The rabbis applied a series of exegetical principles to the apparent redundancy and came to the conclusion that while matzah is the replacement for bread during the week of Passover, the obligation to eat it only applies to the first night. Eating it on the remaining days was thus considered “voluntary.” (Outside the land of Israel where two seders are observed this requirement was extended to include both the first and second night.) As a result, if a person does not want to, or is unable to, eat matzah after the first day of the festival, but instead opts to avoid eating anything with grain for the remaining days of the festival, they have still “properly” observed the festival. (“Proper” from the perspective of Jewish Law.)

The Talmud also refers to eating matzah beyond the first day of Passover as voluntary and this became the accepted practice.

For me this raises a question. If the obligation to refrain from eating chametz AND to eat matzah throughout the festival was part of a single commandment, it would be one thing. But since the tradition offers two distinct obligations, one a positive commandment to eat matzah and a second to refrain from eating chametz, there MUST be something for us to learn.

Perhaps it all comes down to the difference between matzah and chametz.

And what is that difference?

Eighteen minutes.

Mix flour and water and bake it within eighteen minutes and you have matzah. Let that same mixture sit for any significant amount of time prior to baking it and you have chametz.

Just eighteen minutes is what stands between creating the “bread” we are required to eat for the first night of Passover and something that is prohibited from being on the seder table.

Eighteen minutes may not seem like a lot of time but imagine the good we could do if we set aside just eighteen minutes a day to call someone who might be hurting.

Imagine how much different each day might feel if we spent just eighteen minutes each morning expressing gratitude for the people in our lives.

Think how much of a difference we could make if we used those eighteen minutes to foster connections:
• Checking in on a friend who needs cheering up or who could use a “get well soon.”
• Calling a family member we haven’t spoken to in a while.
• Cleaning out a closet to find items someone else may be in need of.

The list is endless, but our tradition teaches that one mitzvah leads to more, and science teaches that building habits takes very little time, just repetition. Pesach can be the beginning of building a habit of connection inspired by the bread of affliction.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen