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Why Is Matzah So Bland?

Why Is Matzah So Bland?

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Rabbi, let me get right to it. Why does matzah have to taste so bland? Can’t it have some other ingredients besides flour and water?

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The short and simple answer is that another name for matzah is lechem oni—“poor man's bread” or “bread of poverty.” A poor man can only afford the two simplest ingredients—flour and water. We can only imagine that our ancestors ate this “poor man’s bread” while enslaved in Egypt.1

Indeed, one of the classical biblical commentators, Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1089–1167), who was imprisoned in India, recounts that prisoners and slaves were fed a matzah-like food, since it’s cheap and filling.2 Every year on Passover, we commemorate our enslavement and subsequent exodus by eating “bread of poverty.”

(Also note that some added ingredients may accelerate the fermentation process, which can produce chametz. You can read all about that here.)

That’s the classic answer, but let’s dig deeper.

To Taste or Not to Taste?

When it comes to the taste of matzah, we find two seemingly contradictory laws. Even if you don’t actually taste the matzah (e.g., you grind it and then swallow it without chewing), you fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah.3 On the other hand, the matzah needs to retain its unique taste. If the taste of matzah is changed or suppressed (either by mixing it with other foods or cooking it), then it is not valid to use for the mitzvah of eating matzah.4

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi sums up the law by saying, “Although one need not taste the matzah in his mouth, the matzah itself must possess the taste of matzah.”5

Wait! Why Do We Eat Matzah on Passover?

Although it may be true that our ancestors ate this bread of poverty in Egypt, if we look at one of the central texts of the Haggadah, we’re given a very different reason for crunching matzah at the Seder:

This matzah that we eat, for what reason? Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.

Thus it is said: "They baked matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions."

In other words, we were commanded to eat matzah on Passover to commemorate the fact that our ancestors left in a haste—not because they were poor slaves.

Poverty, Faith and Haste

Our sages explain that our ancestors were not just impoverished physically, but also spiritually. In fact, it was due to their poor spiritual state that they needed to leave Egypt in such a haste. They had become so entrenched in the spiritual depravity of Egypt that had they remained in Egypt even a moment longer, there may not have been a nation left to redeem.6

There was no time to gradually wean themselves from the crippling comforts of slavery, no time to stop and think about the significance of the Exodus. All they had was an urgent faith. G‑d ignited this faith with an awesome revelation of His might and truth, blasting the former slaves’ souls free of their physical and spiritual shackles. It was this faith, and this faith alone, that took them out of Egypt and set them on the road to receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

And this brings us to the reason for both the taste and the tastelessness of the matzah.

The Tasty Blandness

The mystics call matzah the “food of faith.”7 The sparse makeup of the matzah reflects the simple faith of one who was roused by a flash of Divine truth to follow G‑d into the desert. He does not yet fully comprehend what just took place. There is no richness of intellectual taste. All he “tastes” is the awe of the G‑d who just redeemed him, and his firm resolve to serve Him as a simple servant.

At the same time, matzah does have a taste. Matzah has the distinct flavor of pure faith, the taste of self-abnegation and consistent commitment. If you don’t appreciate or taste the matzah, that’s okay; our forefathers didn’t either. Still spiritually unrefined and impoverished, they were incapable of fully digesting or delighting in the awesome revelations they experienced.

Nevertheless, the matzah must have its own unique flavor. For this firm resolve to serve G‑d with the faith of a simple servant contains within it the seeds for a deep and satisfying relationship with G‑d—no less satisfying than the elegant wine we drink this night, which represents the delights of the mind and heart.8

Footnotes
2.
See Orchot Hachaim on Haggadah, Hei Lachmo Anya.
3.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 473:3.
4.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 461:4, and Magen Avraham, seif katan 7.
5.
Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 461:12.
6.
See Mechilta on Exodus 12:41; Zohar Chadash, beginning of Yitro; Tzror Hamor quoted by the Shalah on Haggadah Avadim Hayinu; Haggadah Im Likkutei Taamim Minhagim u’Biurim, p. 30 (Matzah Zu).
7.
Zohar, Raya Meheimna Bo 41a.
8.
Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 21, p. 43-48.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Joe April 13, 2017

Lechem oni. @ $22.00 a pound lol Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 11, 2017

It's not really "bland." It's just toasty. Reply

Diane April 29, 2016

I do not wish to insult Jewish traditions in their food requirements . I am not Jewish, but I love most Jewish foods . I find that matzoh bread is very good , but I do admit I do add margarine or butter on it. Reply

Jerry Schwartz New Britain CT USA April 28, 2016

Why unleavened bread for sacrifices If matzah is the bread of affliction, and its essential property is that it is unleavened, why are meal offerings "unleavened cakes of fine flour, mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil"? Reply

louise leon PA, USA April 28, 2016

I love matzah Contrary to public opinion, matzah is quite tasty. Maybe it's my old taste buds.
Also, matzah is said to be tasteless so that non-Jews don't corner the market in Pennsylvania which doesn't always offer the best in Jewish food. I've been told that China offers even less choices of Jewish delicacies. Reply

alice jena Richmond hill April 27, 2016

Matzah But what about the Hillel "sandwich" we eat during the Seder?
Also: I love my butter, jam & cream cheese!!!!
I break my vegan diet for these two dairy products, I am ashamed to admit. Reply

simcha April 27, 2016

matzah why do we need to eat matzah we had advance warning of our departure from mitzrayim, so the dough could have risen. Reply

sunil subba India April 27, 2016

To some this bread is an acquired taste and it is very nutritious.Although it signifies the poor mans bread its good for those who want to be slim and trim.Besides the matzah i take it with vegetables which is easy to take other than that to take it daily without vegetables then the person must be really hungry without any other alternative. Reply

Joseph Connecticut April 26, 2016

Matzah Bland? No way. It's delicious. Reply

Anonymous April 26, 2016

Great one! Thanks for posting! Reply

elishebabb April 26, 2016

bland matzah ? Matzah only tastes bland if one is accustomed to highly seasoned foods. To a person who eats healthy ,natural food..matzah is sweet with the natural taste of wheat. Reply

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