Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Matzah and Maror - Worthy Mechutanim
As much as we are told that Purim is a Yom Tov of opposites - "ve-
nahapoch hu," the Pesach Seder has more than it's own share of
opposites. It can be confusing: Are we commemorating our freedom
and the Exodus from Egypt and slavery, or are we remembering the
bitterness of our years as slaves under the cruel rule of the Pharaohs
of Egypt. We recline, to demonstrate we are free. Yet we dip our food
in salt-water to remind ourselves of the tears of our slavery. We drink
the "Arba Kosos - four cups" of wine, which represent the "four
languages of redemption," but we eat charoses to commemorate the
mortar bricks we were forced to make. Maror reminds us of the bitter
times we spent in Egypt, yet we recline to demonstrate our liberty.
The explanation, however, is obvious. As our Sages put it, "Light is
only fully recognized when emerging from darkness." One can only
appreciate the importance of freedom after he fully understands what
slavery entails. To truly praise Hashem for taking us out of Egypt, we
must first learn about slavery, and even perform physical symbols to
bring home to us how bitter it actually was.
Matzah and maror can also be seen as "opposites," as the following
One Seder night, the holy Rebbe R' Yissachar Dov of Belz was
walking through the alleyways of his town Belz. As he passed by the
house of a simple yet G-d-fearing Jew, he stopped by the window to
listen in on his Seder. He overheard the Jew saying the section of the
Haggadah which establishes the correct time to remember the
"One might think that the obligation to discuss
the Exodus commences with the first day of
the month of Nissan... therefore the Torah adds
(Shemos 13:8), 'It is because of this that
Hashem did so for me when I went out of
Egypt," [the pronoun this implies something
tangible, leading us to conclude that] I have
commanded you [to discuss the Exodus] only
when matzah and maror are lying before you
[at the Seder]."
The simple Jew, it seems, was not very learned. Instead of saying, "I
have commanded you only when matzah and maror lie (munachim)
before you," he said, "I have commanded you only when matzah and
maror are mechutanim (i.e. relatives through marriage) before you."
It was all his disciples could do not to break out laughing. Yet to their
surprise, R' Yissachar Dov took his blunder quite seriously. After
pondering the simple Jew's words for a moment, he remarked,
"Indeed, matzah and maror are mechutanim!" Seeing his disciples'
amazement, he related the following story.
Reb Zelig was a rich and important Jew who's daughter's time had
come to marry. Her father searched far and wide for a young man
worthy to take his daughter's hand in marriage, yet it seemed that
every boy he met just didn't suit the bill.
One day, while travelling on business, he came across a young man
sitting and learning in beis ha-midrash. At first, R' Zelig was put off
by the boy's shoddy clothes and impoverished appearance. The more
they spoke, however, the more impressed he became. "This young
man is a diamond in the rough," he thought to himself. R' Zelig
wasted no time, and immediately arranged a shidduch, with a date
for the wedding to be arranged later.
So excited was R' Zelig by his chassan that he began to become
paranoid lest someone else "discover" him and steal from him his
catch. He sent an urgent telegram to the young chassan. "Come
right away," it said, "the wedding must take place immediately! Do
not worry about clothing or wedding expenses, I will take care of
Alarmed, the chassan promptly gathered his meagre possessions,
and travelled to the city of the kallah. When he arrived, he was
whisked off to the tailor to have a new suit made for the chassunah.
The tailor was instructed save the chassan's old torn suit for the
father of the kallah, who was footing the bill. Then, not even taking
the time to prepare a lavish wedding banquet, as would normally befit
a man such as R' Zelig, a hasty chassunah took place.
In later years, when R' Zelig's son-in-law disagreed with him, or
refused to take his advice, R' Zelig would go to his closet and remove
the old, tattered clothing his son-in-law had worn before marrying his
daughter. "You forget," he would say, "that I'm the one who made you
what you are today. Look at your regal clothing - this is what you used
Not to be outdone, R' Zelig's son-in-law had his own trick up his
sleeve. He had put aside a stale piece of bread from the hastily
prepared leftovers which had been served at his chassunah meal,
saving it for just such an occasion. Taking it out, he would say, "Ah,
but you too forget just how anxious you were to have me as your
son-in-law. Why, you didn't even take the time to prepare a normal
meal - you just couldn't wait!"
"So, you see," said the Belzer Rebbe, "they were mechutanim worthy
of one another."
"The same discussion," concluded the Rebbe, "takes place between
the Jewish nation and Hashem on the Seder night. Hashem, so to
speak, takes out the maror, showing it to us. 'You see,' He tells us,
'this is how bitter your lives were before I took you out of Mitzrayim.
Without Me, you would still be there!' But, not to be had, we too have
what to say. We take out the unleavened matzos before Hashem, as
if to say to him, 'Ah, but remember the rush You were in to have us
as your nation. Why, you couldn't even wait until our bread had time
to bake!' Indeed, matzah and maror are the finest of mechutanim."
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.