Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
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Chapter Sixteen-Part Four

Rahatz, Karpas, Yahatz


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

14.Raĥatz – Washing Hands before Eating Karpas
After kiddush we eat the karpas, a vegetable. The Sages ordained eating karpas to create a change that will cause the children to ask why it is that tonight, unlike all other nights, we are eating a vegetable before the meal (Rashi and Rashbam on Pesaĥim 114a). Another reason given for this is that free people generally begin their meals with a vegetable appetizer, and so we do the same at the beginning of the Seder (Maharil).
The Sages ordained dipping the vegetable in a liquid, because this necessitates washing the hands before eating it, which is also a departure from the usual order of things. Ordinarily, the hands are washed only once at the beginning of the meal before eating bread. Thereafter, a variety of other foods are eaten. However, even if we dip these other foods in liquids, it is not necessary to wash our hands a second time, because hand-washing for bread covers the whole meal. At the Seder, though, we wash once before eating the karpas and a second time after reciting the Hagada, before eating the matza. The children therefore ask: "Why is this night different that, unlike all other nights, on this night we wash our hands twice?" (Tur and Beit Yosef 473:6). In addition, dipping the vegetable in liquid gives expression to our freedom, because this is the best way to eat it: not only does it serve as an appetizer, we even pamper ourselves by dipping it in salt water or vinegar, which enhances flavor and stimulates the appetite.
A full explanation of this law lies beyond the scope of this book, but suffice it to say that liquids conduct impurity ("tum’a") more effectively than solid foods. The Sages therefore ordained the washing of hands before eating a food that has been dipped in liquid. According to most Rishonim, this hand washing has the same status as hand washing before eating bread: both were instituted to avoid tum’a. Even though nowadays we do not observe the laws of ritual purity and impurity, the institution remains in force. Thus, just as one must recite the berakha of "al netilat yadayim" over the hand washing before bread, so must one recite this blessing before eating a food dipped in liquid. This is the opinion of Rambam and Rosh. However, according to R. Meir of Rothenburg (Maharam), Itur, and Tosafot (Pesaĥim 115a), there is a difference between these two types of hand washing: netilat yadayim before bread was instituted for purposes of sanctity and cleanliness, and thus even today hands should be washed for cleanliness before a meal. Consequently, this hand washing requires a berakha. However, netilat yadayim before eating a food dipped in liquid is only due to tum’a, and since these laws are not practiced nowadays, there is no need to wash hands before eating a food dipped in liquid. 12
In practice, we wash our hands before eating karpas, but do not recite a blessing, in order to fulfill all opinions: on the one hand, we wash our hands in accordance with the poskim who require it, but on the other hand, we do not recite a berakha because there are those who maintain that nowadays there is no need to wash hands before eating food dipped in liquid (SA 473:6).
If one mistakenly recites a blessing over this hand washing, he is not guilty of a berakha le-vatala (a blessing in vain), since he has acted in accordance with the majority of poskim, including Levush and Gra, who require a berakha when washing hands for a food dipped in liquid. However, the le-khatĥila ruling is not to recite a berakha, because we rule leniently in cases of uncertainty about berakhot. 13
Furthermore, if one mistakenly recites a berakha over the first hand washing, this does not exempt him from the second hand washing, and he must recite a blessing over it as well. This is because people are not meticulous about keeping their hands clean between the two washings. In addition, the time spent reciting the Hagada constitutes an interruption between the two hand washings, and therefore the Sages ordained washing hands twice at the Seder (see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:107; BHL 475:1; Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 7 n. 8).
As noted, the Sages ordained eating a vegetable dipped in liquid between kiddush and the recitation of the Hagada in order to change routine; all year long, we eat vegetables during the meal, after washing hands over bread, but at the Seder we eat a bit of vegetable before reciting the Hagada and before washing hands for the meal. Two things are unusual about this: first, we eat a vegetable before the meal, and second, we wash our hands twice instead of once (Rashi and Rashbam on Pesaĥim 114a; Tur §473). In addition, because we eat a vegetable before reciting the Hagada, our Seder meal is imbued with added importance, because the finest banquets generally begin with appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a pause for a different part of the program, after which the main meal begins (based on Baĥ).
The word "karpas" appears neither in the Mishna nor in the Talmud; we are only told that a vegetable is eaten before the Hagada is recited (Pesaĥim 114-115). But a few Rishonim (Maharil, Raavan) write that karpas should be used, because its Hebrew name alludes to the 600,000 men put to hard labor in Egypt (the Hebrew letters of the word karpas can be rearranged to spell "samekh parekh"; the letter samekh has a numerical value of sixty or 600,000, and parekh means hard labor). Though not mandatory, the Aĥaronim say that it is good to use karpas (SA 473:6, MB 19 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 49 ad loc.). However, there are differing opinions about what karpas is. Some say it is celery, and this is the widespread custom among Sephardim. Others say it is parsley, which is the custom of some Ashkenazim. Most Ashkenazim, however, use neither celery nor parsley, because there is uncertainty about what blessing to recite over them in the Ashkenazic custom. They instead use boiled potatoes. Each family should continue its own tradition. 14
We dip the karpas in salt water or vinegar and recite the berakha of "borei pri ha-adama" (Who creates the food of the soil) with the intention that it also apply to the maror that will be eaten later in the meal. It is not necessary to recline while eating karpas because some poskim say it alludes to the suffering of enslavement in Egypt, and therefore need not be eaten as a demonstration of freedom.
One must eat less than a kezayit of karpas. Though some Rishonim (Rambam) say that more than a kezayit of karpas should be eaten, it is best to avoid this. Eating more than a kezayit invites uncertainty about making a berakha aĥarona, since according to Ri, a berakha aĥarona is necessary, but according to Rashbam, one should not recite a berakha aĥarona, because the blessing over the karpas covers the maror we eat during the meal. Therefore, as said, it is best not to eat a kezayit of karpas. If one eats more than a kezayit of karpas, he should not recite a berakha aĥarona, because we rule leniently whenever there is uncertainty about reciting a berakha (Maharil; SA 473:6). 15
16.Yaĥatz – Breaking the Middle Matza
Three matzot are arranged on the Seder plate. After eating karpas, before reciting the Hagada, the Seder leader (and whoever else has three matzot in front of him), breaks the middle matza in half. One piece is saved for the afikoman, and the other is left between the two whole matzot (SA 463:6).
The reason for this is that the matza alludes to our poverty and enslavement in Egypt, and is hence called "leĥem oni" – "poor man’s bread" (Devarim 16:3). Paupers often eat partial loaves of bread because they are unable to buy whole loaves. So, in order to give expression to the poverty, we break the matza in half. We do this before beginning the Hagada since the Hagada should be recited in the presence of the matza. This is because the term "leĥem oni" also means "bread over which we ‘onim’ – answer or say – many things," and this means that the Hagada must be recited while the matza, in the form it will be eaten, is before us. This is why it must be broken in half before we begin the Hagada.
Nevertheless, on the Seder night, just like on every Shabbat and Yom Tov, there is a mitzva to recite ha-motzi over two whole loaves of bread/matza ("leĥem mishneh"). Therefore, we set the table with three matzot: the middle one is broken in half to give expression to leĥem oni, while the top and bottom matzot remain whole and serve as leĥem mishneh. (Later, when reciting "ha-motzi," one should hold all three matzot so that there is leĥem mishneh, and before reciting the berakha of "al akhilat matza," we put down the bottom matza and recite the blessing over the top and middle matzot, in order to highlight the broken matza to a greater degree.) 16
The larger piece of the broken matza is designated as the afikoman, and the custom is to wrap it in a napkin, in recollection of the verse, "The people took their dough before it was leavened; their kneading leftover dough was wrapped in their robes" (Shemot 12:34). Some people have a custom to place the afikoman on their shoulder for a moment, in remembrance of the Exodus, when people carried matzot on their shoulders (MB 473:59).
Afterward, we hide the afikoman and save it until the end of the Seder, when it is eaten in commemoration of the Paschal sacrifice (see sections 33 and 34 below).
In many homes, the children customarily "steal" the afikoman and keep it until the end of the meal, when they give it back in return for a gift. This helps them stay awake for the entire Seder. In my family, we give gifts to all children who remain awake until after the afikoman is eaten.
^ 12.. The laws of year-round foods dipped in liquid are discussed in SA 158:4, which rules that one must wash his hands without a berakha before eating them. However, MA cites Leĥem Ĥamudot that many do not wash their hands before eating foods dipped in liquid, and that they may rely on the minority of Rishonim who maintain that this law does not apply nowadays. SAH 158:3 states that we do not reprimand people who act this way, though it is better to wash one’s hands. MB 158:20 states that many Aĥaronim are stringent in this matter, though in practice many people are lenient, including many Torah scholars. They presumably base this lenient practice on the principle that when there is an uncertainty regarding a rabbinic law, we are lenient, since washing hands before eating is a rabbinic injunction (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 2:5). If so, however, why do we deviate from the standard practice on Pesaĥ night and wash our hands before eating karpas? See Taz 473:6, which uses this question to prove that we should be careful to wash our hands all year round. Netziv states in his Hagada, Imrei Shefer, that this is not a valid question, since during the Seder we do many things that used to be done during Temple times, including this hand washing.
^ 13.. If he recited a berakha accidentally, he should eat an egg’s bulk (kebeitza) of the vegetable, since one is only required to wash with a berakha on a piece of food this size (SA 158:2, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 158:20, and the opinion of Rashbatz quoted there).
^ 14.. See Mikra’ei Kodesh pp. 184-187 and Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:5:3 regarding the opinions about and customs of eating karpas. In general, the advantage of eating celery or parsley, in addition to the fact that they are actually karpas, is that they are eaten raw and stimulate the appetite. Moreover, they are usually eaten in small amounts, which makes it easier to eat less than a kezayit, as will be explained below. On the other hand, in Ashkenazic communities they were not generally eaten raw, and consequently one who eats them raw should recite the berakha of "she-hakol." But the berakha on karpas must be "ha-adama." Therefore, the custom in Ashkenazic communities is to eat cooked potatoes for karpas, on which the berakha is undoubtedly "ha-adama." In Middle Eastern and North African communities, where celery and parsley were eaten raw, one recites "ha-adama" over them.
It is worth adding that one should not use any food for karpas that is normally eaten outside the context of a meal – bananas and pineapples, for example – since it is not clear that they are being used as appetizers; rather, they look like separate foods that are eaten by themselves, do not seem different, and do not provoke questions. Vegetables, however, are usually eaten in the middle of the meal, so eating them before the meal is a change.
^ 15.. This dispute hinges on whether one must recite a berakha on the maror. According to Rashbam, a berakha is necessary, since the berakha of "ha-motzi" over the matza covers everything that will be eaten during the meal, meaning anything that is eaten with matza to provide satisfaction. But maror is not eaten for this purpose, so it is not covered by the berakha of ha-motzi. Therefore, one must have in mind when making the berakha on the karpas to cover the maror as well. By doing this, he exempts himself from making a separate berakha on the maror. However, according to Ri, one need not make a berakha on maror at all, since it is considered a food that is eaten in the context of the meal and hence is covered by the berakha on the matza. Accordingly, if one eats more than a kezayit of karpas, he must recite a berakha aĥarona. He should not wait until Birkat Ha-mazon, since it only covers food that was eaten during the meal, not before it. So if one eats a kezayit of karpas and does not recite a berakha aĥarona right away, he misses his opportunity to make the berakha.
Nevertheless, be-di’avad, if one ate more than a kezayit of karpas, he should not recite a berakha aĥarona. This is because we are lenient in laws of berakhot in cases of uncertainty. On the one hand, perhaps Rashbam is correct that the berakha on the karpas covers the maror, and since Birkat Ha-mazon covers the maror, it also covers the karpas, which is connected to the maror. (See BHL 473:6, which cites Gra that one must make a berakha and concludes that the matter must be explored further. Nevertheless, practically speaking, one should not recite a berakha about which there is doubt.) On the other hand, if one ate a kezayit and recited a berakha aĥarona afterward, he should not recite a berakha on the maror, since perhaps Ri is correct that the berakha on the matza covers the maror.
If it is true that one must eat less than a kezayit of karpas, why is one required to wash his hands? We know (SA 158:3; Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 2:6) that one only needs to wash hands for a piece of bread larger than a kezayit – kal va-ĥomer that one need not wash for a food dipped in liquid. Indeed, according to Rambam (MT Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 8:2) and many other Rishonim, one should specifically eat a kezayit of karpas (in a responsum he instructed his correspondent to recite a berakha aĥarona afterward). This was in fact the practice of the Vilna Gaon and several other Aĥaronim (although it is unknown whether they recited a berakha aĥarona afterward). BHL 473:6 leaves this issue unresolved. Perhaps according to Netziv (cited above in n. 12), who says that we wash our hands before karpas to remember what used to be done in the Temple, we can suggest that in the times of the Temple people would eat pieces larger than a kezayit, and they knew whether or not to recite a berakha aĥarona. Nowadays, however, since we do not know whether to recite a berakha aĥarona, we eat less than a kezayit to avoid uncertainty, and although technically we need not wash our hands to eat less than a kezayit, we do so anyway to commemorate what was done in the Temple. See also Kaf Ha-ĥayim 158:20, which states that there are some who learned from the status of karpas that the law of washing for vegetables is different than the law of washing for bread: for bread one only washes for a kezayit, but for vegetables one washes even for less than a kezayit.
^ 16.. According to Rambam, one sets the table with only two matzot and breaks the bottom one. There is no need for two whole matzot, because at the Seder one is supposed to eat leĥem oni, and so one matza is broken This is the custom of the Yemenite community, who follow Rambam.
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