Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

Why Does Matzah Have No Taste?

As is well known, the responses of the four sons (children) are based upon verses in the Torah where questions are raised about the meaning of the Exodus experience (Yitziat Mitzraim). The verse chosen for the Wise Child was intended to reflect the child’s interest in the particulars of the laws concerning the observance of Pesah: “Should your child ask you tomorrow, saying: ‘What are the treaty terms and statutes (hukim) and laws with which the Lord our God has charged you?” (Deut. 6:20)

In rabbinic times, the word “hok”, translated here as “statute”, came to represent commandments which seemingly had no rational explanation (taam). This association inspired Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Lieb Alter (Poland 19th-20th century), the second Gerer Rebbe, also known as the Sfat Emet, to pose a question on the question of the wise son, (so that he could suggest a wise answer, of course): “How can someone ask a reason for a commandment that has no reason?” He responds by quoting a verse from the book of Psalms: “But in truth it is written: ‘He (God) issued His commandments to Jacob, His statutes (hukim) and rules to Israel’ (Psalms 147:18). The Sfat Emet culls from this verse that the Children of Israel intuitively understand even the meaning of “hukim” through both their faith and by carrying out the mitzvah even without discerning a rational explanation.

How? He uses matzah to explain. Matzah has no taste (the word for taste in Hebrew is also “taam”) but the act of eating it is filled with meaning. (A masterful pun if I ever saw one!): “[the] eating of matzah, even though it has no taste by itself [suggests its meaning] … This is why we eat it as the afikomen (the last thing we eat at the seder meal) without other foods which might impede its “lack of taste” so that we might feel our attachment to the “taste” of the matzah even though we do not sense its “taste or meaning”. (adapted from Sfat Emet Moedim 2 – Pesach 5631, Or Etzion ed. p. 153)

Might I suggest what he is trying to say here? I think it is quite profound. The Sfat Emet wants us to appreciate that there is a deeper religious truth in eating matzah. Performing this mundane act of eating at a festive meal is a cosmic act. It is meant to teach us that true knowing can sometimes be in not knowing. Clinging (Devekut) to the “taste – meaning” of matzah which has no taste can mean attachment to the One who is beyond our knowing. If we affect this wisdom at our sedarim, we have raised our awareness to a whole new level. No longer is the wise child asking just a lawyerly question; instead, he/she is involved in seeking out an ultimate truth – how to build a relationship with God.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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