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The Three Matzot

The Three Matzot

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The three matzot that are placed on the Seder plate are referred to as Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael as a means of distinguishing them from each other.

The top matzah is referred to as Kohen, for the Kohen takes precedence in all matters.

The middle matzah Levi is broken into two at the beginning of the Seder. The smaller piece is left on the plate and is later eaten along with the Kohen matzah in fulfillment of the mitzvah of matzah; the larger piece is put away for use as the afikoman.

The bottom matzah, Yisrael is used for korech, so that every one of the matzot is used for the performance of a mitzvah.

On Shabbat and Festivals we say the blessing for bread over two loaves or matzot. Why then, on this night, do we require three Matzah is known as "the bread of poverty." A poor man, fearful lest he will have no more, guards his bread carefully. He does not eat it all at once but divides it, laying part aside for the morrow. The honor given to the Festival and to Shabbat [for often the two coincide] demands that we use two whole matzot over which we recite the haMotzi blessing "Who brings forth bread from the earth" before beginning the meal. For the blessing, "Who has commanded us to eat matzot," we use only a piece of a whole one to symbolize "the bread of poverty."

Therefore we prepare three, and divide one of them (the middle one). When we say the haMotzi, we hold all three matzot, thus including the two whole ones; when we say the second blessing, we put down the lowest one and hold only the top one and a section of the middle one.

Other commentators view the three matzot as an allusion to the three Patriarchs. We take three matzot to show that although we were enslaved, we were nevertheless of distinguished lineage, descendants of the pillars of the world. Even in bondage, we guarded well the nobility of that ancestry.

Some see the three matzot as an allusion to the three measures of flour that Avraham asked Sarah to bake when he was visited by the angels. The verse itself alludes to the connection, for the Torah (Genesis, 18:6) quotes Avraham as telling Sarah to Be quick which parallels the haste in which Israel left Egypt? And knead three measures of flour and make cakes i.e., matzot. According to our tradition, this dialogue took place on Erev Passover.

Some see the three matzot as an allusion to the three cakes of matzah that were separated from the thanksgiving offerings as terumah to G‑d. The Sages rule that there are four who are required to bring a thanksgiving offering: one who returns from a journey at sea, one who journeys through the desert, one who recovers from an illness, and one who is released from prison.

Since we were released from the bondage of Egypt and miracles were performed for our benefit that included all of the above criteria we were brought safely through the sea and the wilderness and all our illnesses were cured we make three matzot as a remembrance of the thanksgiving offering.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel's most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.
Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications.
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