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Eating the Matzah

November 7, 2012 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

It is a Torah mitzvah to eat matzah on Seder night.

Laws of Eating Matzah

It is a Torah mitzvah to eat matzah on Seder night.

Jewish law defines an act of "eating" as swallowing a kezayit within two to four minutes (kiday achilat pras). If this is difficult, you may sip some water while eating. At the very least, the matzah must be consumed within nine minutes.

The time begins not with the first bite, but with the first swallow. Therefore, you can gain some extra time by chewing up some matzah before taking the first swallow.

A kezayit is approximately 45-50 cc, which is roughly two thirds of a square matzah, or one half of the hand-made round matzah. (According to the Chazon Ish, the amount is about 25 percent bigger.)

Unlike when we make "Hamotzi" on Shabbat, on Passover we do not dip the matzah in salt. This is because it is a special mitzvah to taste the matzah itself.

There is a custom as well to kiss the matzah before eating it, in accordance with the verse, "Serve God with joy" (Psalms 100:2).

Before the leader recites the blessing, everyone should have prepared in front of them enough matzah to fulfill the mitzvah properly.

Don't forget to eat the matzah while leaning to the left.


We recite a second blessing over matzah as the special mitzvah of Seder night.

After reciting the blessing, the leader should break both matzot together, so there is minimal interruption between the blessings and the eating.

Since there is probably not enough from the top and middle matzah to fulfill everyone's minimum volume of 45-50 cc, everyone should eat at least a small piece of both these two matzot, supplementing it with other matzot from the table.

The Vilna Gaon says that a Jew fulfills a mitzvah every time he eats a kezayit of matzah during the entire week of Passover.

Keep Your Hands Clean

Why is Rach'tzah – washing the hands – one of the 15 steps to freedom?

One aspect of freedom is the ability to elevate ourselves above the lowest common denominator on the street. We've all felt the sensory assault of billboards, gratuitous talk-radio, immodest fashions, and violence on TV.

At the Seder we wash our hands as a preparatory step before the matzah, in order to carefully consider what it is we're about to eat. One who is concerned with spiritual and physical health is discriminating about all forms of consumption: which movies to watch, which friends to spend time with, and what standards of business ethics to uphold.

The streets are filled with a multitude of options. But we must not consume indiscriminately. We "wash our hands," to cleanse and distance ourselves from unhealthy influences. Freedom is the ability to say: "I choose not to partake."

Transforming Raw Materials

Why is Motzi – blessing over food – one of the 15 steps to freedom?

We make the "hamotzi" blessing to thank God for "bringing forth bread from the ground." which is odd because God brings wheat from the ground – and man turns it into bread!

In truth, God gives us two gifts:

  1. raw materials
  2. tools for transforming that into life

Today, technology has pulled us away from seeing the beauty of God's creation. We fine-tune our environment with air-conditioning, synthetic foods, cosmetic surgery, and genetic engineering. Mankind is perilously close to "playing God."

But in truth, man cannot create anything perfect; man can only tune into God's ultimate perfection. Which is more awesome to behold – the world's biggest super-computer, or the human brain? Between your two ears are 10 billion nerve cells – a communication system 100 times larger than the entire communications system on Earth.

When we make "hamotzi," we hold the matzah with all our 10 fingers – reminding us that while human hands produced this food, it is yet another gift from the Creator and Sustainer of all life.

Don't Delay a Mitzvah

Why is the blessing over matzah one of the 15 steps to freedom?

Both bread and matzah are flour mixed with water, then kneaded into a dough and baked. What is the difference between them?

The difference is that dough has sat unattended for 18 minutes and becomes leavened (bread). The matzah which we eat on Passover has been baked quickly.

The spelling of " matzah " is similar to "mitzvah:" Just as we shouldn't delay in the making of matzah, so too we shouldn't procrastinate in performing a mitzvah. The lesson of matzah is to seize the moment. Delaying even one second can mean the difference between an opportunity gained or lost.

Why 18 minutes? Because the number 18 is the numerical value of chai, meaning "life."

They say that "baseball is a game of inches." In reality, life itself is a game of seconds. The Talmud tells of people who had sunk to the depths of humanity, and then in one moment of insight reversed their lives for all eternity. More than just the difference between matzah and bread, the Seder teaches us the difference between life and death.


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