“Playing It Safe”  

Where do we find the source for eating “Matza Shmura”? From the words “Ushmartem  Et  HaMatzot” Exodus 12:17. You shall safeguard the Matzot. Says Rashi: the extra precautions are taken in order “that it should not become Chametz”. In other words, the Matzot must be safeguarded while being made, because, even a little delay or moisture, can cause the dough to become leavened. We must make sure that the Matza we eat is actually Matza and not Chametz. This is why there is a special stringency on the first night of Pesach; as all commentaries agree without argument, that the on first night of Pesach we have an absolute obligation to eat Matza.

But wait, isn’t there a prohibition not to eat Chametz for all seven days of Pesach? According to the text there is an equal forbiddance for seven days. So why doesn’t the same strictness apply for the other six days of Pesach, whereby, we must only eat Matza Shmura, in order to be absolutely certain that we are not consuming Chametz?

Rashi continues on the same verse: Reb Yoshiya says: “Do not read the verse ‘safeguard the Matzot’, rather, “safeguard the Mitzvot”. And the same way one should not delay or tarry in the making of Matza, one should do a Mitzva immediately the second one has the chance without any delay. What does Rashi mean? What’s the connection between not letting Matza become Chametz, and not procrastinating in doing a Mitzva?

Let’s attempt to answer this question, by asking another one. It seems, that all of the Mitzvot of Pesach that we find in Exodus Chapter 12, are written immediately after the first Mitzva of the Torah; the Sanctifying of the New Moon. What’s the connection between the two? Says the Mesilat Yesharim: that just like when one takes his mind off making Matza even for a split second we are concerned the dough may become leavened; it is the same with a Mitzva. If one doesn’t pounce on the opportunity immediately, he may lose that opportunity forever. And it all boils down to one thing says the Mesillat Yesharim: “not respecting time”. In fact, he uses the term “insulting the importance of time by pushing things off”. Therefore, Hashem chose as his first commandment the mitzvah of “sanctifying time”- the Mitzva of Kiddush HaChodesh, to drive home the importance that we must respect every single second, by not letting time go to waste.

Now back to our first question: When it comes to any negative commandment, if one takes regular normal precautions not to transgress, but ends up transgressing, there is a Rabbinnic concept called “Ones Rachmana Patrei”, that the Torah absolves a person from an obligation, due to unforeseen circumstances.  This in fact is the idea behind Pesach Sheni.  We find in Numbers 9:6-7, that those that were ritually impure to bring the Paschal offering on the 14th of Nisan were given another chance one month later, because “Hashem absolved their original obligation”. So the reason for Pesach Sheini was that although one couldn’t fulfill their obligation the first time around, and were absolved from that obligation, absolution doesn’t mean accomplishing, and they weren’t awarded the credit for having performed it.  Therefore, Hashem instituted a new Mitzva so they could have their “make up test” and get credit.

However, when it comes to positive commandments, such as the eating of Matza on the first might of Pesach, if it were to occur anytime during the seven days of Pesach that the regular “Kosher LePesach” Matzot turned out to be Chametz, indeed, the concept of the Torah exempting someone from a mitzva due to unforeseen circumstances, would apply, and one would not receive the punishment for having eaten Chametz. Concurrently they would NOT be credited for having eaten Matza either. That is why we need to “safeguard” the Matzot for the first night. Not eating Chametz is not good enough.  We need to be absolutely sure we are eating Matza.

The Rambam tells us in Mishna Torah in Hilchot Chametz Umatza, that in general we need to check for Chametz “Ad Sheyado Magaat (as far as one can  extend his arm). When it comes to not eating Chametz, and any other negative commandments for that matter, we are only obligated to take normal regular precautions an arm’s length, nothing more. However, when it comes to positive commandments ie: Matza on the first night of Pesach, one should always take the extra stringency to accomplish the Mitzva. The reason is that although one may be absolved from his obligation due to unforeseen circumstances, he won’t receive credit for having done the Mitzva.

May we all merit, that the Matzot that we eat, lead us to perform many Mitzvot!

Chag Sameach!


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