Understanding My Matsah
by: Rabbi Avi Yagen – Research & Development @ JSOR
Matsah Shemurah and non-Shemurah
How did your matsah taste? Did they come cracked or whole? These are some common questions we overhear in chatter the day after. However, more importantly, as this central misvah and centerpiece of freedom that bedecks our stunning Seder, it is most importantly judged by its level of security from ‘ground to table.’
A wheat-free diet would be simple to describe and perhaps less detailed to adhere to. However, the misvah of Pesah is to eat wheat – however, prepared in such a way that it is not hamets. Therefore, the greatest level of security and care is needed for the production of kosher for Pesah wheat products.
The Torah teaches us ushmartem et hamatsot - “and you shall guard the matsot.” While anything we eat on Pesah must be guarded against being hamets, our Sages teach us that we have an additional misvah to be shomer, i.e., guard the matsah. Guarded matsah is referred to as matsah shemurah.
The level of guarding that is required is a discussion in the Halacha; some say that it is enough to watch it from when the flour meets the water since this is when it is most susceptible to becoming hamets. This is based on the fact that flour is normally processed and stored away from water and will not become hamets. However, nowadays, as it is common practice to soak wheat kernels in water during its processing, flour off the shelf, in general, is considered hamets.
Others say that the ‘guarding’ must begin from the time the kernels are milled. This was prevalent due to mills being powered by water.
A third opinion is that it must be guarded from the time of harvest, as any cracked kernels can become hamets if they come in contact with water or even moisture. This is referred to as shemurah meshe’at ketsirah.
It should be noted that wheat cut for matsah is done before the wheat is completely ripe so as to avoid the kernels being fully or overripe, thereby being susceptible to becoming hamets through even rain .
The common vernacular of Shemura used nowadays seems to be widely understood as Shemura from the time of the wheat being cut.
Many authorities say that if we do eat matsah that is fit for the seder, then we fulfill a mitsvah of the Torah every time we eat such matsah shemura throughout Pesah.
The Shulhan Aruch rules that it’s proper to be strict and use matsot that have been guarded from the time of harvest. While this is commonly accepted in regards to fulfilling our obligation of eating matsah by the seder, the matsah we eat the rest of Pesah is not obligated to be shemurah.
Hand Matsah and Machine
Which makes more crumbs? Which looks neater on the Seder plate? Is a handwritten letter worth more than a print? However, we must consider the process as part of the result.
This next point of consideration when buying matsot is that the matsot for the Seder must be prepared with the specific intention of the mitsvah of eating matsah. The last time that you visited a matsah factory, these words echoed in your ears…. “l’shem matsot mitsvah.”
The Halacha teaches us that the baking process, from mixing of the flour with water and onwards, must be done by a Shomer Shabbat over the age of bar/bat mitsvah. Some even have the grinding of the kernels into flour done with the intention of matsot mitsvah and, therefore, grind the flour by hand; this is known as “rehayim shel yad,” i.e., a hand-powered mill.
This leads us to ask, “How can this be accomplished with machine-made matsot?” This has been discussed by responsa of our great Rabbis over the past centuries since The Industrial Revolution. Some say that when a qualified person that can prepare matsah pushes the start button with the intention of matsot mitsvah, this is sufficient to be considered prepared with the proper intention. Others say that work being done by machine cannot have the human’s intention, and therefore one cannot fulfill the requirement of l’shmah having intention for the matsot of the Seder.
Because of these considerations, the proper way to fulfill the misvah of matsot for the Seder is through using A) hand-made matsot that are B) shemurah meshe’at ketsirah.
It is also commendable to use shemura meshe’at ketsirah throughout the entire Pesah, as these are most guaranteed safe from any hamets, and secondly, one fulfills an additional misvah.
After eating the afikomen, one cannot eat any other food so that the taste of matsah remains in his mouth and is not overridden by another taste. Like the taste of an exotic wine or expensive dish, we understand to savor this taste. However, it is not just about the taste, but rather the deep rich heritage and complexity of Torah that is invested in every bite, with value surpassing the most exotic of tastes.
May our palate soon merit to enjoy the taste of matsah together with korban Pesah speedily in our days. Amen.