based on Maran HaRav kook
Many years ago at my father-in-law’s Seder, one of the guests raised a problem in the Torah’s account of the Exodus from Egypt which he felt was insolvable. None of the solutions that I presented to him satisfied him. Over the years I have searched for an answer to this problem; only recently did I discover that Rav Kook dealt with this apparent contradiction in one of his Sabbath meal discourses.
Each year at the Passover Seder we ask: “This matzah — what is the reason for it?” And we reply that the dough of our ancestors did not have a chance to rise before God revealed Himself and redeemed them. As the Torah relates: “They baked the dough that they brought out of Egypt as unleavened matzah, since it had not risen, for they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay” (Ex. 12:39).
But is this the real reason that the Israelites ate matzah? On the first of Nissan — two weeks before their hurried escape from Egypt — they had been commanded, “In the evening (of Passover) you will eat matzot” (Ex. 12:18). So why did our ancestors eat matzah — because they needed to leave Egypt in a hurry, or because they had been commanded to?
Two Types of Matzah
The Sages distinguished between two levels in the mitzvah of eating matzah. On the first night of Passover, it is a chovah — we are obligated to eat matzah. During the rest of the holiday, however, eating matzah is reshut — optional. According to many authorities, even though one is not obligated to eat matzah on these days, by doing so one fulfills a mitzvah (Chizkuni on Ex. 12:18; Ma’aseh Rav (compendium of practices of R. Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna), 175).
Now we may answer our original question. There are in fact two sides to this mitzvah: a Divine command, and a commemorative act. We eat matzah on the first night to fulfill God’s command “In the evening you will eat matzot.” This matzah is an obligatory service of God, an expression of Yir’ah – our reverence for God and our acceptance of the binding nature of the Torah’s commandments.
The optional matzah of the rest of Passover, on the other hand, is a symbol of our hastened redemption; it reminds us of a time when “the King of kings revealed Himself” and redeemed us. This is a voluntary mitzvah, an expression of our Ahavah – love of God and appreciation for His kindness to our ancestors and to us.
Which service of God is greater — with Ahavah or Yir’ah? Nachmanides on Ex. 20:8 concluded that Ahavah is greater. For this reason, positive mitzvot are greater than negative mitzvot, and if there is a clash between them, the positive mitzvah takes precedence (Yevamot 21a).
Serving God in the World to Come
We find a very peculiar statement in the Talmud: after the resurrection of the dead, the mitzvot will be annulled (Niddah 61b). Does this statement not contradict the fundamental principle that the Torah is eternal and will not change?
In fact, the mitzvot themselves will not change. What will change is how they are performed. They will no longer be observed as obligatory commandments of Yir’ah, but as voluntary acts of Ahavah, expressing our love of God and awe of His infinite grandeur.
The Talmud in Pesachim 119b describes a great banquet that God will prepare for the righteous in the world to come. At the end of the feast, He will offer the honor of reciting the grace after meals to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And yet, why should they be given this special honor? The Sages determined that one who fulfills mitzvot out of obligation is greater than one who fulfills them voluntarily (Kiddushin 31a). Why should the Avot be given this final honor — after all, their mitzvot were on a lower level, performed voluntarily before the Torah was given at Sinai?
Nonetheless, there is an advantage to the mitzvot of the Avot. They performed mitzvot out of Ahavah, which is greater than Yir’ah. Their mitzvot reflect the path of the future world, when the Torah will be observed naturally, purely out of love. The future path of serving God with Ahavah is rooted in the very inception of the Jewish people — in the lives of the Avot, and in the voluntary matzah commemorating the miraculous redemption from Egypt.
The order is significant. We begin with the path of mandatory observance, through the discipline of Halachah. This is the fundamental path of serving God — the service of Yirah, obedience and submission. The initial mitzvah of eating matzah, on the first night of Passover, is thus mandatory. But we continue with the higher path, serving God through Ahavah. During the remaining days of Passover we fulfill the voluntary mitzvah of matzah — eating matzah that symbolizes God’s promise that He will redeem us “acharit kereishit,” in the end of days just as in the beginning.
(Adapted from Shemu’ot HaRe’iyah vol. IV Pesach (1929))
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison