Chametz and Matzah in Pesach Mitzrayim


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Conflicting Verses: Why Refrain from Chametz?

After the Plague of the Firstborn, the Children of Israel were chased out of Egypt, leaving no time for their dough to rise:


(לט) וַיֹּאפוּ אֶת הַבָּצֵק אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם עֻגֹת מַצּוֹת כִּי לֹא חָמֵץ כִּי גֹרְשׁוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לְהִתְמַהְמֵהַּ וְגַם צֵדָה לֹא עָשׂוּ לָהֶם.  

(39) And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.

The simple reading of this verse suggests that had there been more time, the Israelites would have baked not matzah, but rather leavened bread.  However Hashem's directive of Shemot 12:15 suggests that, already before the Exodus, Hashem commanded that the nation refrain from chametz and eat matzah for seven days:


(טו) שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם כִּי כׇּל אֹכֵל חָמֵץ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי.

(15) Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; howbeit the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

If so, regardless of being chased out, the people should have eaten matzah and not bread!  How can these two verses be reconciled?  Did the nation refrain from chametz due to Hashem's command or because of the speed of the redemption?

Structure of Shemot 12: Commands and Fulfillment

Chapter 12 is replete with legal directives and Moshe's relaying of these to the nation.  A close look at when each set of laws is given might bear on the questions above.

In 12:1-20, Hashem speaks to Moshe about both the Pesach offering (12:2-13) and the seven day holiday of Chag HaMatzot (12:14-20).1  Moshe immediately relays the laws relating to the Pesach (12:21-27), but makes no mention of Chag HaMatzot.  The latter directives are relayed only in Chapter 13:3-10, after the Exodus.  Chapter 12 then continues with the narrative of the Exodus but ends with yet more laws regarding the Pesach (12:43-49).2  This structure raises several questions:

  • Relaying of laws – Why does Moshe relay only some of Hashem's directives before the Exodus, saving others for afterwards?  If the laws of Chag HaMatzot were meant only for later, why does Hashem bother to tell them to Moshe beforehand?  Is it possible that despite the textual silence, he nonetheless relayed them?  What does this say about whether the Israelites in Egypt observed the seven day holiday and its accompanying laws of chametz and matzah?
  • Why divide the directives? Why are the directives regarding the Pesach offering split into two sections, and why are the second set mentioned only after the Exodus?  Were these not observed in Egypt?  However, if so, why does the following verse state that the nation did as Hashem commanded?
  • For the present or future? Finally, by only some of the laws is there explicit mention that they apply to future generations (see 12:14 and 17 regarding Chag HaMatzot and 12:24-27,3 48-494 and 13:5 regarding the Pesach). Does this imply that these laws did not apply to the Israelites in Egypt?  Or, alternatively, does it suggest that while these directives applied to both the present and future, the other laws applied only to the present? 

Taken together, all these points make the reader question: which laws were kept in Egypt, which only by future generations, and which by both?  What was Pesach Mitzrayim like?  Were the laws of chametz and matzah observed in Egypt or only in later generations?

Summary Table

The chapter's structure can be summarized as follows:

12:1-20: God's command to Moshe
  • 1-13: Laws of the Pesach offering
  • 14-20: Laws of Chag HaMatzot
12:21-27: Moshe's command to Israel
  • 21-27: Laws of the Pesach offering
  • -------
12:28: Israelites fulfill command
12:29-42: Plague of the Firstborn and Exodus from Egypt
43-49: God's command to Moshe
  • Laws of the Pesach offering
12:50: Israelites fulfill command
12:51: Summary statement: Exodus
13:1-2: God's command to Moshe
  • -------
  • 13:1-2: Laws of redemption of the firstborn
13:3-16: Moshe's command to Israel
  • 13:3-10: Laws of Chag HaMatzot and Pesach
  • 13:11-16: Laws of redemption of the firstborn

Additional Questions

  • Chag HaPesach and Chag HaMatzot – How closely related are Chag HaPesach and Chag HaMatzot?  Is the reason for eating matzah on both the same?
  • Matzah in Devarim 16 – In discussing the laws of chametz and matzah, Devarim 16:3 writes, "שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תֹּאכַל עָלָיו מַצּוֹת לֶחֶם עֹנִי כִּי בְחִפָּזוֹן יָצָאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם".‎5  How does this understanding of the commandment connect to that given in Shemot?
  • Which is the focus?  How do the prohibition of chametz and the positive command  to eat matzah relate to each other?  Which takes precedence?  Is the prohibition the main element and matzah simply a substitute for those who want to eat "bread"?  Or is eating matzah the focus, while the prohibition of chametz serves only to highlight it?