December 30, 2020

Pesachim 39

In addition to eating Matzah on Seder night, we also eat Maror, with this requirement being derived from the Torah obligation (see Shemot 12:8 and Bemidbar 9:11) of eating the meat of the Korban Pesach along with both Matzah and Maror (עַל מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ).
Significantly, the Torah does not inform us what Maror is. Consequently, today’s daf (Pesachim 39a) begins with a Mishna (Pesachim 2:6) listing 5 types of vegetables that are suitable to be used for Maror.
Interestingly, as pointed out by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein [1], this Mishna directly parallels the previous Mishna (Pesachim 2:5) which lists 5 different types of grain which may be used for the production of Matzah, and it seem evident that this parallelism was done deliberately in order to demonstrate the relationship between the Matzah and Maror.
In fact, in addition to this notable yet subtle association between the Matzah and Maror, on four separate occasions in today’s daf, while considering the use of various products and vegetables that may be used for the Maror, the Gemara informs us that the Maror must be דומיא דמצה, meaning “comparable to Matzah”, and as a result of this various suggested options that might have been deemed appropriate for use as Maror are subsequently rejected.
But whether or not, as Rav Lichtenstein discusses, the Maror is considered as a dependent or independent mitzvah, and notwithstanding the fact that the duty of Maror is mentioned in the Torah alongside the duty of Matzah with which it must be eaten together, what are we to make of the requirement that the type of vegetable used for the Maror must, in some way or another, have qualities similar to those of the grain used to bake Matzah? To answer this question, we must pause to consider what both Matzah and Maror represent.
As I explained in my post on Pesachim 36a, while there are some who interpret Matzah as (also) being the bread of slavery, all agree – with the Maharal insistently putting forward the case – that Matzah represents freedom and liberation. At the same time, it is clear that Maror represents hardship and bitterness.
Ordinarily, we think that liberation and bitterness are separate, and possibly opposite, experiences. However, they are connected. Given this, what I think we are being taught in today’s daf if that when we enjoy freedom, we must not ignore the bitter price that has been paid for that freedom. And when we experience either personal or national hardship or bitterness, we must not forget that by grasping onto hope and by looking for pathways for liberation, even during our most difficult moments, we will eventually experience redemption.
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