PESACH – IT’S NOT ABOUT MAROR

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

Maror. Eating it at the seder is a mitzva. 

The eating of maror, though, isn’t governed by all the rules that govern the seder’s other special foods – korban Pesach and matzah. One such role is the “shiur,” the requirement to eat the requisite amount – at least an olive’s worth – of korban Pesach and of matzah.

Those shiur rules, though, don’t necessarily apply to maror. Eating just a bit of maror may address our obligation.[1]

Why, though, is this so? Why don’t the shiur rules apply to maror?

This question’s answer lies in the following possuk: “And it [the korban Pesach meat] will be augmented with maror.”[2]

This possuk indicates that maror augments korban Pesach meat. That means that maror isn’t a food but is, rather, a condiment that augments food – the way mustard augments our meat today. Condiments like these eaten as relishes not as foods that are meant to satisfy hunger. That’s why so small quantities of all condiments- including maror suffice.[3]

If maror is, indeed, a condiment then it – like all condiments – is less significant than the food that it accompanies. That would explain why maror, unlike korban Pesach and matzah, doesn’t need a “shiur.”[4]

Why, though, is maror less significant than korban Pesach and matzah? 

This question’s answer lies in realizing what each of these foods is meant to evoke.

Korban Pesach is meant to evoke the first korban Pesach we ate, right before we left Egypt. To prepare that korban our ancestors needed to courageously slaughter a lamb – an Egyptian deity, while they were still slaves, right under their master’s eyes.

Korban Pesach, then, evokes courage. That’s something positive. That’s something worth focusing on. So we enshrine korban Pesach – and the positivism that it represents – as a primary seder food.

Matzah, as per the following possuk, also evokes something positive: “They left [Egypt]..and they baked the dough that they took … as matzos…because they … couldn’t tarry [and have enough time to allow the dough to rise into bread].”[5]

Matzah, then, evokes our miraculous exodus. That, too, is something positive. That, too, is something worth focusing on. So we also enshrine matzah as a primary seder food.

Yes, the Torah also calls matzah “bread of affliction.”[6] It’s called that because matzah is eaten by hurried slaves who don’t have time enough to let their dough leaven and rise into bread.[7] It’s also called that because it requires just two basic ingredients – flour and water- that even slaves could procure.[8] But matzah, as we noted, also evokes the positive. And given that we’re meant to see life’s positives outweighing its negatives – matzah is viewed positively. 

Maror, on the other hand, evokes only the following negative sentiment:[9] “Why do we eat maror? Because they embittered our lives.” [10] We eat maror – and evoke the bitter – because we must remember the bitter because “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” 

But remembering bitterness doesn’t equal highlighting it. And we don’t highlight bitterness because doing that would plant bitterness’ acid in our hearts and souls. That acid would then eat away at anything and everything positive.

We, therefore, eat only enough maror to “remember” bitterness – not a shiur’s worth. 

This isn’t, of course, just about maror.

It’s about all of life’s places and spaces.

It’s about not repeating the following heartbreaking story.

The bird had been free. He’d floated in the sky where he caught gnats for lunch. He swam in the lake where he caught fish for dinner. His was a beautiful reality.

He wanted to preserve that reality by avoiding bad incidents. To achieve that, he adopted the following habit. For every mistake, he would put a pebble in a pouch that he carried on his back. Those pebbles would remind of past mistakes, thereby, helping him avoid future mistakes.

After one bad incident, he placed one pebble in his pouch. That pebble created no problems. It was, actually, a healthy reminder of what to avoid. But then there was another incident, so one pebble became two. Two pebbles then became four which then became eight. 

Weighed down by eight pebbles, he couldn’t fly or swim. He couldn’t catch gnats or fish. He survived – but only by catching insects on the ground. All the while, though, he continued collecting pebbles. He continues this way until twelve pebbles became sixteen. At that point, the poor bird couldn’t walk. And so, weighed down by all his pebbles, the bird died.

Like that bird, we can accumulate pebbles of mistake and bitterness.

Sometimes – like by that bird – those accumulations are deliberate.

And sometimes those accumulations well up inside us against our will.

No matter what the cause, we must downplay those feelings of bitterness by focusing on whatever positives – good relationships, good experiences – life allots us. Focusing on the right, bright and light can push bitterness into the recess of our minds.

This Pesach, let’s not just clean our homes.

This Pesach, let’s also clean our hearts of all bitterness. 

This Pesach, let’s remember that it’s not about maror.

 

[1] Rosh, Pesachim 10:25

[2] Loose translation of Shemos 12:8

[3] We now eat a kezayis of maror at the seder. That kezayis, though, does not address the mitzvaof maror per se. That kezayis of maror addresses an unrelated beracha issue. At a certain point in
time, our rabbonim instituted that berachos be said before we perform mitzvos- including, of
course, eating maror. Once a beracha on maror was instituted, we were required to eat a kezayis
of maror to validate that beracha. Our kezayis of maror is, therefore, not about the maror, but
rather about the beracha

[4] The shiur rules also apply to matzah, as per the possuk Shemos 12:18.

[5] Shemos 12:39

[6] Devarim 16:3

[7] Sforno, Chizkuni ad. loc.

[8] Netziv ad. loc.

[9] Although see an iconoclastic Ibn Ezra in the Peirush HaAruch on Shemos 12:8 who notes that
maror was eaten as a sign of affluence.

[10] The Pesach Haggadah’s reason for marror.