Part of the series 'Practical Mishneh Torah,' following the 3 chapter-a-day Rambam daily study cycle of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.

Once again, in this week’s Mishneh Torah, we come across a textual nuance that initiates a discussion regarding the very definition of a basic element of Seder Night. In the seventh chapter of Hilchot Chametz UMatzah, over the course of three halachot, Maimonides sets out the obligation to recline.

He begins with the reason for the obligation:

In each and every generation, a person must present himself as if he, himself, has now left the slavery of Egypt.1

Continues with the general obligation:

Therefore, when a person feasts on this night, he must eat and drink while reclining in the manner of free men.2

And only then, (after listing various other details,) conveys the obligation of when one must lean:

When must one recline? When eating the required measurement of matzah and drinking the four cups of wine. While eating and drinking at other times: if one reclines, it is praiseworthy; if not, there is no requirement.

This seems like a cumbersome way to articulate a basic idea. Why not simply state at the outset that one is required to recline while consuming the four cups of wine and the matzah, and any other reclining throughout the meal is praiseworthy but not integral?

An explanation by Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the famed Brisker Rav,3 sheds some light. He extrapolates from Maimonides’ wording that the requirement to recline is a stand-alone obligation, not directly tied to the eating of the matzah or the drinking of the four cups. Maimonides articulates at the outset: “[on Seder Night] we must eat and drink while reclining in the manner of free men.” This describes the mitzvah of reclining as an independent general obligation, explains Rabbi Soloveitchik. But when is it primarily applicable? When must one recline? While eating the matzah and drinking the four cups.

This may also explain why Maimonides only mentions these details after explaining the general obligation. Since reclining is a separate obligation, pertinent whenever one eats on Seder Night (aside from when eating the maror), that is stated at the outset. The fact that this obligation is met during the eating of the matzah and drinking of the four cups of wine is a detail only relevant later.

The Brisker Rav contrasts Maimonides’ position with that of the Rosh,4 who writes explicitly that the requirement to recline is an integral detail of the mitzvah to eat matzah, so much so that if one fails to recline it is considered as if he hasn't eaten the matzah!

In order to keep this disagreement from being solely theoretical, here are two scenarios that present practical differences regarding the case of an individual who consumed the matzah without reclining.

1. If—as the Brisker Rav understands—reclining is a stand-alone obligation, then the mitzvah to eat matzah has already been fulfilled even if one did not recline. All you are making up for by eating again is the requirement to recline. As such, no blessing would be recited on the eating of the matzah a second time, as this mitzvah was already fulfilled.5 According to the Rosh, however, since reclining is a detail of the mitzvah of matzah, one has not fulfilled the obligation of matzah by eating without reclining, and a new blessing would indeed be required.

2. What if one consumes the matzah without reclining, but then his circumstances change and he is no longer required to recline? For example, he is now in the presence of his teacher (it is considered disrespectful to recline in the presence of one’s teacher, and a student is therefore exempt). Would he need to go back and eat matzah again without reclining? If reclining is part of the mitzvah of matzah, then since he did not fulfill his obligation initially in the correct manner, he has not fulfilled his obligation of eating the matzah. He must therefore go back and eat it again. If however, it is a separate obligation, then it has no bearing on the obligation of matzah that was fulfilled already, even if he was obligated to recline then but did not.

In a series of talks during and following Pesach 5729 (1969),6 The Lubavitcher Rebbe described the same two ways of theorizing this obligation, as articulated by the Brisker Rav. However, instead of setting this up as a disagreement between Maimonides and the Rosh, he proves that actually, neither is exclusively correct.

He first brings proof for the position that considers reclining to be a detail of the mitzvah to eat matzah from the Talmud, which discusses the case of a waiter who finds it difficult to perform the requirements of Seder Night while serving. The Talmud states that as long as he “consumes a kezayit of matzah while reclining … if he reclined he fulfilled his requirement, but if not, he does not.”7 From this, it is strongly implied that if one did not lean, his requirement to eat matzah was not fulfilled.8 But this only works if we say that the requirement to recline is a detail of the obligation to eat matzah; if it is own obligation, why would you not fulfill the obligation of matzah?

However, the Rebbe continues, it is also clear from the reasoning given for the mitzvah of reclining, that it is not merely a detail of another obligation. The reason we recline is, as we quoted from Maimonides earlier:9 “In each and every generation, a person must present himself as if he, himself, has now left the slavery of Egypt, therefore, when a person feasts on this night, he must eat and drink while reclining in the manner of free men.” From the fact that this is presented as an obligation with a specific reason, it is clear that this is not merely a detail of a separate obligation.

Therefore, concludes the Rebbe, neither of these two approaches is the final word on the matter. We must take a little from each. The obligation to recline on the night of Pesach has two components:

1. An independent, stand-alone obligation, applicable throughout the Seder Night, and particularly applicable when eating the matzah and drinking the four cups.

2. A detail and condition to eating the matzah and drinking the four cups. When one performs these two mitzvahs while reclining, two obligations are fulfilled—both the general obligation to recline, and the obligation to eat the matzah and drink the four cups while reclining.

This works in conjunction with Maimonides’ wording. At the outset, he sets out the general independent obligation, only subsequently adding that it is also a requirement to recline whilst eating the matzah and wine. Both elements are present.

Practical Application

It would seem that if an individual eats the matzah or drinks the four cups without reclining, they need to repeat it while reclining and recite the blessing again. This is because reclining is still an integral element of the mitzvah of matzah and the four cups. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi writes in his Shulchan Aruch, however, that since there are authorities who believe that nowadays no one is obligated to recline, one should eat another kezayit of matzah, but need not repeat the blessing. Regarding the four cups, if the second was drunk without leaning, it should be repeated. Regarding the others, there is a disagreement whether or not one should go back.10