Matzah, Mitzvah or Accident?

If we look into Biblical Jewish history a bit deeper than we might otherwise venture to attempt, the issue of matzah on the Passover holiday gets way too fuzzy for comfort. That’s the way it is with Jewish holidays and the Torah in general. Things look clear, and when you’re in Hebrew school or Jewish day school or wherever it is that you learn your everyday Jewish whatnots, the story is told to you straight out and you can follow the plotline. The Jewish people were enslaved, God struck the Egyptians down with 10 plagues, the Jewish people went free, they didn’t have time for their bread to rise, hence matzah, the Red Sea splits, the Jews cross, the Egyptians drown, and the Jews live happily ever after minus 2 exiles, pogroms, Crusades, expulsions, mass Genocides etc., but more or less everything’s cool.

Not so fast. The story of Matzah is a bit more complicated than that. To understand why, we’ll have to take a look at Exodus chapter 12. In the beginning verses of that chapter, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to observe the Passover sacrifice, the Paschal Lamb. God goes into all the laws regarding it, and then changes the subject. He starts telling Moses about Matzah.

Then guess what happens – Moses, get this, turns around and tells the Israelites a bunch of stuff about what God told him about the Pessach sacrifice. But what does Moses NOT mention? Matzah. Doesn’t say a word about it. As far as the plain meaning of the Torah text goes, the children of Israel know nothing about Passover Matzah yet.

Then, several days later, the Jews are on their way out of Egypt. That’s when their bread doesn’t have time to rise and matzah happens on its own, by accident. Did Moses know this was going to happen and that’s why he refrained from relaying God’s matzah command?

It is the next chapter, chapter 13, where something even stranger happens. The chapter opens, “God spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Sanctify to Me all the first-born, the womb-opener among the children of Israel, both of man and animal are Mine.'” Fair enough. God tells Moses to tell the Israelites about sanctifying the first born, what we would call today “Pidyon Ha-Ben.” But what does Moses decide to turn around and tell the Jews? That’s right, you guessed it – eat Matzah. He doesn’t actually get to sanctifying the first born until way, way later.

Why is Moses such a bad secretary?

The answer is, he isn’t. He’s a fantastic timer. We will explore why and how in the next post, so stay tuned for further educational Passover fun here at Oy Vey! WorldofJudaica.