Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One who eats matzah on erev Pesach

(Note: Not halacha lemaaseh. And this winds and winds, but it makes sense to me. And it is a creative exercise.)

"One who eats matzah on erev Pesach..."

So goes the famous statement in Yerushalmi Pesachim 68b:

א"ר לוי האוכל מצה בערב הפסח כבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו
והבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו לוקה

The context of surrounding statements could yield all sorts of interpretations for this statement. See inside. But I am fairly convinced of the straightforward idea at play here. There is a mitzvah of eating matzah that very night. Yet because of this impulse, because of this desire to eat matzah, he preempts the proper time and acts incorrectly. He could have just waited! Instead, he took action which is frowned upon. And why is it frowned upon? Perhaps because one will then not eat the matzah at the time of the mitzvah with the same vigor and desire -- and this once again goes back to the mashal, and why it is problematic to do so.

Even so, I am not convinced that there is a prohibition at play here. One would not be lashed for eating matzah on erev Pesach, surely. It still might be a din deRabbanan not to do.

מהו לוכל מיני כיסנים מהו לוכל מיני תרגימא.
ר' יודן נשייא סחה וצחא שאל לר' מנא בגין דאתא צחי מהו נישתי.
א"ל תני ר' חייה אסור לאדם לטעום כלום עד שתחשך
תני ר' יודה בן בתירה אומר בין חמץ בין מצה אסור
רבי סימון בשם ר' יהושע בן לוי רבי לא היה אוכל לא חמץ ולא מצה לא מצה מן הדא דר' לוי ולא חמץ מן הדא דר' יודה בן בתירה ור' תלמידי דר' יודה בן בתירה הוה. לא תלמידיה דר' יעקב בן קודשיי הוה. אלא בגין דהוה בכור
אמר רב מנא רב יונה אבא הוה בכור והוה אכיל. אמר רב תנחומא לא מן הדא אלא מן הדא ר' איסתניס הוה כד אכיל ביממא לא הוה אכיל ברמשא ולמה לא הוה אכיל הכא ביממא כדי שיכנס לשבת בתאוה

Indeed, while the Yerushalmi continues and suggests that Rabbi ate neither chametz or matzah, and no matzah because of this statement of Rabbi Levi, it rejects it as a reason for him to eat no chametz, for he was no student of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira. Therefore, in general, it was because he was a firstborn, or rather, because he was an istenis, and wanted to ensure he would be able to eat with an appetite. Either reason would overwhelm the reason for not eating matzah as Rabbi Levi's reason. So we have no support from there.

Other explanations involve not eating anything, specifically to preserve an appetite for that night. Thus
א"ל תני ר' חייה אסור לאדם לטעום כלום עד שתחשך
תני ר' יודה בן בתירה אומר בין חמץ בין מצה אסור
This seems quite tied with the Mishna of not eating close to Mincha until it gets dark. And perhaps Rabbi Yudah ben Beteira was along the same lines. I am not sure it is as the gemara seems to cast it, that both chametz and matzah are forbidden all day (and against both Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda in the Mishna about the sof zeman achila), and that Rabbi Yudah ben Beteira's innovation is the matzah. Indeed, there are times fixed early in the day for eating chametz. Perhaps it is in the context of the previous brayta, that אסור לאדם לטעום כלום עד שתחשך which would seem to be from samuch leMincha and on. Then, Rabbi Yudah ben Beteira would be saying "of course one cannot eat chametz from this time. But even matzah one cannot eat." In which case his prohibition is only during that time, but not earlier. And it would seem that we do not even pasken like him, and Rabbi did not pasken like him.

At any rate, I think that Rabbi Levi's statement was not really a prohibition. (Besides for the fact that in the end, it might not have been binding.) Rather, we can cast it as a strong reason not to do something, and there are strong practical and philosophical reasons not to do so.

However, on erev Pesach which falls out on Shabbat, perhaps it is different. Chazal had no problem with this. They rose at sunrise, and indeed, our extremely early zeman kriat Shema is the time the lazy princes would finally arise! So they got up early. And their tefillah was likely much shorter. Thus, they arrived at the Shabbos meal fairly early in the morning. In contrast, in America (though not in Israel), we are accustomed to waking up fairly late on a typical Shabbos. And by the time shul is over, it is rapidly approaching chatzos. Which means on this Shabbos, we need to conduct ourselves atypically in order to eat before this particular time.

I think that we might cast Rabbi Levi's statement as establishing an ideal, which is better to satisfy (again, assuming we rule like him). But there are other rabbinic ideals at play as well. Eating challah rushed, before the zeman sets in, and perhaps in a place distant from your makom seudah, and (needlessly) worrying about crumbs is not an ideal either. If you have a chiyuv in the opposite direction to eat something with a bracha of hamotzi, then perhaps there would be no problem fulfilling it with matzah. The act would not come from the same impetuousness, but rather as a normal way of fulfilling a chiyyuv. And the length of time maggid usually takes, one would likely have an appetite for matzah once again anyway. Though there is something to the newness that is lost.

What would you say if somehow the time passed, and no matzah ashira was available, for those who hold like Tosafot that matzah ashira is acceptable on erev Pesach? Would you say that he should not fulfill לחם משנה on erev Pesach because of this statement of Rabbi Levi?

On to an analysis of the statement. I am not so convinced that the second half of the statement, which elaborates that it is a really wrong thing to do, is really part of Rabbi Levi's statement.
א"ר לוי האוכל מצה בערב הפסח כבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו
והבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו לוקה

Rather, it seems to stem from Yerushalmi Kiddushin 39a:

מר עוקבא בשם שמואל אמר תלת המקדש בלא שידוכין לוקה
והבא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו לוקה.
והמבזה שליח בית דין לוקה
Note that this is Mar Ukba citing Shmuel, so that it is Shmuel's statement. No problem, for two Amoraim can say the same statement. Still, it is unnecessary in Pesachim to define the punishment, for it is already implies that this is a bad thing, while it makes a lot more sense for the specific punishment to be mentioned amidst this trio in Kiddushin. But I would suggest that not only is it identical, but the vav on והבא is also drawn from Kiddushin. Note how there is no vav on המקדש. The vav admittedly makes sense without this claim, but it really feels as if the statement, with the vav, was drawn from here. Though knowledge of that other statement might have caused him to seize upon that simile.

Finally, it a really colorful and apt simile. But what inspired it? I would suggest the Mishna, also known to the Yerushalmi:

ההולך לשחוט את פסחו ולמול את בנו ולאכול סעודת אירוסין בבית חמיו ונזכר שיש לו חמץ בתוך ביתו אם יכול לחזור ולבער ולחזור למצותו יחזור ואם לא יבטל בלבו להציל מיד הגייס ומיד הנהר ומן הדליקה ומן המפולת יבטל בלבו ולשבות שביתת הרשות יחזור מיד

Thus, going to eat a meal of erusin at one's father-in-law is something done on erev Pesach, for some reason. (Don't ask me when!) And eating on erev Pesach is tied in to being at the father-in-law's house, and to the status of betrothal rather than full marriage. This would seem to set the stage well for Rabbi Levi's statement.

(Again, this post twisted and turned, and there may well be a mistake or two in it.)

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