What’s Bothering Rashi
by Avigdor Bonchek
A Rashi comment opens a Pandora’s Box of questions.
And they baked the dough which they took out of Egypt , cakes of dough (matzos), for it was not leavened because they were driven out of Egypt and they could not tarry nor did they did they make for themselves provisions.
Cakes of dough (matzos): Rashi: [the word ‘ugos’ means] Cakes made of unleavened dough. Dough which is not leavened is called ‘matza’.
What would you ask on this comment?
A Question: This is not the first time the Torah mentions the word ‘Matza”. Earlier in this chapter the Israelites were commanded to eat matzos on Passover eve. (see above 12: 15-20). Why does Rashi wait until now to tell us what a matza is? If he thought we did not know the meaning of the word he should have told us its meaning the first time it appears in the Torah.
Can you explain this?
Hint: Read the verse and the English translation.
An Answer: Actually the word matza here has a different meaning than its meaning in previous verses. Here Rashi tells us it means dough (unbaked). It has the same meaning as the word ‘batzeik’ in the beginning of this verse. See Rashi uses the same word – ‘batzeik’ – in his comment. But in the previous verses which tell of the mitzvah of eating matzos on Passover, the word ‘matza’ there meant unleavened dough that was already baked. I can only assume that Rashi did not define the word on these verses because every Jew knows what a matza is; every Jew participated in a Passover Seder and ate matzos. So there was no need to define the word there.
But this verse is quite problematic. The verse tells us the Israelites baked matzos because they were rushed out of Egypt and could not tarry. The implication is that had not been rushed they would have let the dough rise and then bake it as bread and not as matzos.
Do you see the problem?
QUESTIONING THE VERSE
A Question: But the Israelites had already been commanded to bake matzos for that day (night) of redemption and they were prohibited from eating leavened bread for seven days. So why does this verse say that the only reason they baked matzos was because they were rushed?
This is a classic question which is asked by many.
Can you think of an answer?
UNDERSTANDING THE VERSE
An Answer: The Ramban offers his p’shat interpretation of this verse. He explains its meaning as follows: He says the verse means that the Israelites baked their matzos on the way as they fled from Egypt instead of baking them in Egypt itself as they had planned to do. See how Ramban skillfully avoids the whole difficulty (the implication that the Israelites would have let the dough rise and would have baked bread) by giving us whole new view of the verse. The implication is not what we had thought but rather was that they would have baked the matzos in Egypt and not on the way, but because they were rushed they baked the matzos on the way.
But if we compare our verse with what we know from the Haggada we have more questions.
A Question: In the Haggada we read “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt.” This clearly means that the Israelite slaves ate matzos regularly in Egypt even before the redemption probably because they were easy to make, they were cheap and they were filling.
So if they only ate matzos why did G-d need to command them to eat matzos on the Seder night? They would have eaten them in any event; that was their regular mainstay.
Can you think of an answer?
An Answer: The Israelites had already begun their redemption from slavery when they took one of the Egyptian gods – the lamb – and held it four days getting ready to slaughter it. This was a very courageous thing to do for a people who had been lowly slaves for several generations; and to do it in front of their masters was even more brazen. So the People had already begun to taste freedom even before the Seder night meal. Perhaps this new sense of freedom would have empowered them to dare to eat normal bread like their masters. It may be for this reason that G-d had to command them, that in spite of their new status as free men, nevertheless, they must eat only matzos and not leavened bread.
A Question: In the Haggada we say: This Matzah which we eat, why do eat it? And the answer is our verse: “And they baked the dough which they took out of Egypt, cakes of dough (matzos), for it was not leavened because they were driven out of Egypt and they could not tarry.”
So the reason we eat matzah, we are told, is not because we were commanded to eat it (which we were) but because of what happened later – Israel was rushed out of Egypt! That certainly seems strange.
Looked at another way we could ask: Why were we commanded to eat matzos at the Seder meal in Egypt, since the command came before the events of being rushed out hastily?
An old question: Do you have an answer:
A FURTHER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: See verses 12: 8-12 where it says “And thus you shall eat it: Your loins girded (with a belt so you pants won’t fall off), shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand and eat it in haste; it is the Pesach for Hashem.” We see that all the commandments regarding the Pascal meal are geared towards eating it quickly. (Rashem sees all the mitzvas in this way – not breaking the bones when eating, eating it roasted, shoes on one’s feet etc.). Because G-d knew the Egyptians would be in a panic (with all the deaths) and push the Israelites out ASAP. So the matzos may have been commanded for this same reason – they bake quicker & can be eaten quicker.
So we were commanded to eat matzos for the very same reason that the Haggadah says – because Hashem knew (and planned for) a hasty exit from Egypt. So there is really no contradiction between our verse (as quoted in the Haggadah) and the earlier commandment to eat matzos on the Seder night.
Clear evidence for the idea that G-d knew and even mentioned the fact that the Egyptians would push the Israelites out quickly can be found in verse 6:1. There it says “And Hashem said to Moses: Now you will see what I shall do to Pharaoh, for through a strong hand will he send them out and with a strong hand will he drive them from the land.” On this Rashi comments, that the People will be rushed to get out.
So it was all known at the beginning and all the mitzvas of the Passover evening meal were commanded with this in mind, even before the actual events occurred. We can quote the famous saying “The final act was in His thought at first.” “Sof ma’aseh bemachshava techilah.”
“What’s Bothering Rashi?” is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of “What’s Bothering Rashi?” is available at all Judaica bookstores.