I am wondering why we eat we eat matzah on Passover?

I've always thought it was because our ancestors left Egypt in such a hurry that the bread did not have enough time to rise, but I've just been told that:

  1. This was the food the Jews were fed as slaves in Egypt.
  2. G‑d actually commanded the Jews to eat matzah and prohibited them from eating leavened bread on the night before they left Egypt.

So what's this business about “not having time to rise”?


You're right. The Jews did eat matzah as slaves. They were also commanded to eat matzah with the Paschal offering on the night before they were redeemed from Egypt. But the original Passover was only that one day, and after that day the Jews were allowed to eat leavened bread.

The Jews planned on baking bread, not matzah, to take out of Egypt. It was only because of the rush to leave that their dough did not have time rise.

And so, you have a good question. Why do we eat matzah today? Is it to commemorate the matzah they ate in Egypt or the dough that didn't have enough time to rise the next morning?

The answer, it turns out, is both. Take a look at the Haggadah, which we recite during the Passover festivities. Towards the beginning we say, “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.”

Fast-forward a few pages: “This matzah that we eat, for what reason [do we eat it]? Because the dough of our fathers did not have time to become leavened before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”

What we have are two types of matzah: the “Matzah of Affliction” and the “Matzah of Freedom.” The former, eaten while we were still in Egypt (both as slaves and at our last meal in exile), is symbolic of poverty and slavery. The second, eaten after “the Holy One Blessed Be He revealed Himself to them and redeemed them,” is symbolic of redemption and faith.

We mention, remember and celebrate both of them.

I think I know your next question.

How could the same food represent two opposite ideas? Does matzah represent slavery or freedom? Poverty or redemption?

Many explanations have been given, but you can read one in Matzah After Midnight from our selection on matzah.

Wishing you a Kosher and Joyous Passover,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ the Judaism website