Class Notes - Class #5


Class #5 – Class Notes


The mitzvot for this class are about hametz and matzah.  We will read them out of order, to deal with closely related topics together.  These mitzvot are related to the prior mitzvot about korban pessah, and there is very little new in the author’s shorshei hamitzvah sections for this week’s reading.


First, let’s deal with mitzvah #10, the mitzvah to eat matzah.  Our author does not discuss this mitzvah very extensively. He does not give a definition of matzah, although the dinei hamitzvah section lists the kinds of things one would need to know in order to bake matzah.  The mitzvah applies on the opening night of pessah, at the time of the mitzvah of korban pessah, so one is required to eat matzah on the first night of pessah.  The mitzvah is not dependent on korban pessah, so it applies at all times and places.  There is no affirmative duty to eat matzah during the rest of pessah, but, if you want some kind of bread, matzah is your only choice.

          It is a positive mitzvah, so there is no punishment for breaking it.  But the beit din has the power to force someone to comply.  We have seen this principle before.  Here, though, as the mitzvah only applies at a very limited time, it’s hard to see how this would work in the real world.


Now on to the several mitzvot about hametz:

Mitzvah #9 is a positive mitzvah to remove all hametz in our possession before pessah starts.  Again, this discussion is short on details.  The dinei hamitzvah lists all the things you would need to find out in order to comply with this mitzvah:  what constitutes removing the hametz, where one has to check and where not, at what time, how to do this mitzvah if one will be traveling on pessah, what to do if erev pessah comes out on Shabbat.  The author does tell us that the hametz must both be cleared away and be voided by the spoken word. 

Our author does not define hametz; a definition of hametz might have helped make some of the other related mitzvot clearer.  Here is an oversimplified definition: If you start with one of the five species of grain (wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye) and you leave that flour or grain resting in contact with water for eighteen minutes or more, if the product is edible, you have hametz.  If you continue working the dough so that it is not at rest, then the product does not become hametz.  Note that our current practice is much stricter, but this is the theory of what is hametz.

          The mitzvah applies at all times and places, for men and women.  Since this is a positive mitzvah, there is no punishment for breaking it. There is a matching negative mitzvah, that hametz not be found in one’s possession on pessah. (Mitzvah #11.)  There is no punishment for that either if one violated it by failing to get rid of one’s hametz, a passive violation.  We have already seen that one is only punished if one does an affirmative action to violate a mitzvah.


          Mitzvot #11 and #20 should be looked at together.  Mitzvah #11 is a negative mitzvah, forbidding someone to have hametz in one’s possession on pessah.  This is the negative mitzvah that corresponds to the positive mitzvah #9.  We will see many of these positive/negative pairs of mitzvot in our study.

          The translation in the introductory paragraph on this mitzvah is confusing.  The passage distinguishes “hametz”, a finished food product, from “seor,” sourdough.  (Despite the translation, none of this is about our modern type yeast.)  Both of those items have the same rules. 

Look at the source verse for this mitzvah.  It says, “seor (sourdough) should not be found in your houses” on pessah.  Hold on to that language when we compare this mitzvah to mitzvah #20.

           Here, we have a bit more by way of shorshei hamitzvah.  Matzah is produced very quickly, unlike regular risen bread, which takes more time.  Since the Jews were in a hurry coming out of Egypt, the matzah seems to fit the circumstances.  This notion is familiar from our haggadah text.

          The dinei hamitzvah section of this essay is a bit more sophisticated than what we have seen before.  It is still a list of topics for further study.  This time, though, the topics seem to be things about which one could make an argument for different answers.  Try arguing some of them; then argue against the conclusion that seemed intuitive to you.

          The punishment section repeats a notion that we have seen earlier:  this is a negative mitzvah, so in theory it is punishable by malkos, lashes, but only if the violator did an affirmative act to violate the mitzvah.  If the violation is passive, the violation is not punishable.

          So far, the only shiur we have seen is a k’zayis, which is the definitive shiur for the act of eating.  We should not assume that one is permitted to own a whole k’zayis or hametz on pessah.  This issue of ownership is not necessarily the same as the issue of eating, so the trigger point may not be the same.

          Now look at mitzvah #20.  Note the source verse, “hametz should not be seen for you and seor shall not be seen for you in your borders” on pessah.  Our author points out that this verse should not be read as two mitzvot, one about hametz and one about seor; rather this is one mitzvah, and the repetition in this verse is to tell us that hametz and seor have the same rules.

Our author does not help us with a different problem: what is the difference between mitzvah #11 and mitzvah #20? The source verse for this mitzvah refers to both hametz and seor, whereas mitzvah #11 refers to seor.  The source verse for this mitzvah prohibits hametz being “seen”; the source verse for mitzvah #11 refers to hametz being “found.”  This mitzvah refers to hametz in “your borders” whereas the verse for mitzvah #11 refers to seor in “your dwellings.”  The Gemara, in Pessachim 5b, includes an argument that distinguishes these two mitzvot. If you own hametz, and keep it on your premises where it can be seen, you have violated both mitzvot.  If you own that hametz but it cannot be seen, you have violated mitzvah #11 but not mitzvah #20.  If you have hametz on your premises that belongs to someone else, even if it can be seen, you have violated mitzvah #20 but not mitzvah #11.  But our author does not make that distinction, and neither does Rambam in his Sefer haMitzvot.  This is the only case where our author presents two mitzvot without explaining how they require different things.  He does not explain why these two count as two separate mitzvot.  I cannot explain this anomaly, but I can assure you it won’t happen again.

          By now, the punishment section should be clear, as we have had this content explained several times before.


We are left with mitzvot #19 and #12, both of which are related to the prohibition of eating hametz.

          Mitzvah #19 is the more straightforward.  It prohibits eating hametz on pessah.  Our author still has not defined hametz. 

          Dinei hamitzvah include topics a little less central:  what grains can become hametz, what happens if the grain is mixed with fruit juice instead of water, what happens if the grain gets wet early in the process, what is the status of dishes and pots used for hametz.

          The punishment section in the ending summary is also familiar material.  The punishment for eating a k’zayis of hametz on pessah is karet, if the violation is intentional, b’mazid.  If the violation is b’shogeg, the violator brings a korban hattat.  This should be a familiar pattern by now, and the terminology should be familiar, too.


          Mitzvah #12 is more complex.  Rambam and Ramban have very different understandings of this mitzvah.  First we will explain this mitzvah according to the Rambam, and then we will go on to Ramban’s understanding.

          The source verse for this mitzvah instructs not to eat  mahmetzes” on pessah.  This is a new term; all the other mitzvot have been about hametz or seor.  This new term suggests there is a third category of prohibited food.  According to Rambam, the new category is hametz mixed in with non-hametz.  This mitzvah is about the prohibition on eating hametz mixed with other stuff, and that prohibition has different rules from the prohibition of eating hametz all by itself.  For example, a bowl of oatmeal would be an example of hametz.  An example of mahmetzes, according to our author, is kutah habavli, a food product mentioned in the Gemara.  (Actually, the Babylonian amoraim liked it a lot, and the Israeli amoraim thought no one in his or her right mind would eat something like that.)  It seems to have been some sort of yogurt with crunchies.  This category of mahmetzes is also called ta’aroves hametz.

          Until now, we have said that the shiur for eating is a k’zayis.  That is an oversimplification, and we get more information about the complexity in this mitzvah.  In order to have eaten something, for halachic purposes, one needs to eat a bite (k’zayis) within a reasonable amount of time.  That time is “k’dai achilas pras,” the amount of time it ordinarily takes to eat half a loaf of bread  (think half a pita.)  It is possible to eat a k’zayis of something, but to take so much time to do it that the act does not constitute ordinary eating.  Think about eating cake one crumb at a time; even if you manage to ingest a bite, if it takes ten minutes, that’s not an ordinary act of eating.

          (If you are working from the translation, this passage is especially confusing.  Another way of expressing the maximum amount of time allotted to eat a k’zayis in order to have done an act of eating is to say that it is the amount of time it takes to eat three eggs.  Basically, it takes about as much time to eat half a loaf of bread as it takes to eat three eggs.  The translator uses the eggs analogy rather than the loaf of bread analogy that appear in the Hebrew.)

          We need to understand this time limit on the definition of eating because it is particularly germane to this mitzvah.  The issue is whether one has eaten a k’zayis of hametz, but the hametz is mixed into some other non-hametz food.  How much of the mixture you need to eat in order to ingest a k’zayis of hametz depends on the proportion of hametz in the mixture.  If the hametz is a small enough proportion, you will need to eat a lot of the mixture in order to violate this mitzvah, and that might take you longer than the time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread.  If it does take longer, you haven’t violated this mitzvah.

          According to Rambam, this is a separate mitzvah from the prohibition on eating hametz, which, according to the verse, is punishable by karet.  This prohibition of eating ta’aroves hametz is punishable by malkos, like any ordinary negative commandment for which another punishment is not specified. 

          What happens if you eat ta’aroves hametz, but you eat less than a k’zayis of hametz?  According to Rambam, you have not violated a Torah commandment.  But you have violated a rabbinic prohibition, and that is punishable.  This is the first time we have seen a punishment for something prohibited by the rabbis but not the Torah.

          We have seen several times that the punishment for violating a negative Torah prohibition is malkos, lashes.  We will find the mitzvah that defines that later in our study.  That punishment is subject to several limitations, and cannot be more than 39 lashes.  The punishment for breaking negative rabbinic commandments is also lashes, called “makas mardus”, “lashes because of rebellion.” Ironically, because this punishment is rabbinic, it is not constrained like the Torah punishment of malkos.  The rabbis could decide to hit you as many times as they wanted to.  (We really know nothing about whether any of these punishments were ever administered.  We are dealing here with the theory articulated in the Gemara, at a time when the rabbis did not have authority to administer these punishments at all.)

          Ramban has an entirely different view.  According to Ramban, hametz is hametz, and it doesn’t matter what it is mixed into.  For that reason, Ramban does not count this as a separate mitzvah.  He understands the variation in language in the source verses as teaching us that something can become hametz if it is leavened with seor, or with another source of live yeast, such as the dregs from wine.

          Thus, according to Ramban, if one eats a k’zayis of hametz mixed into non-hametz, and one eats that k’zayis of hametz within the time limit of k’dai achilas pras, the time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread, one has violated mitzvah #19, and is punishable with karet.  There is only one mitzvah, and it has one set of rules. 

          Ramban has another disagreement with Rambam, this time on the topic of what happens if you eat less that a k’zayis of hametz mixed in with non-hametz.  According to Ramban, that act is not punishable at all, although the act is a violation of Torah law.


          In looking at these mitzvot, we see our author experimenting with different teaching techniques.  We saw in mitzvah #11 that the topics for further study in the dinei hamitzvah section were a little more interesting.  Here, we see our author explaining a conceptual disagreement between Rambam and Ramban as to whether ta’aroves hametz is prohibited by a separate mitzvah, or by the general prohibition on hametz.  Then the author takes us through the process of following up the implications of that conceptual difference.  These are trends we will see become major themes in our author’s pedagogy.

          The pattern we see here, understand a conceptual disagreement and then follow through its implications will become a major theme of the mitzvot in the first half of Sefer haHinnuch.  It is a crucial skill in the study of Gemara and halachah, where the argument often runs in reverse:  we have a disagreement about the outcome of a case, and we need to try to understand what the conceptual basis for the disagreement is.

          A part of the dispute between Rambam and Ramban is about what happens if someone violates a mitzvah, but does not do so by the entire shiur, the entire minimum requirement.  This type of problem is called “hatzi shiur,” “half a shiur.”  We will revisit this topic as well.