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?


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