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The Music of Halacha: Shabbat 19: Shabbat Words

“A mensch tracht, und Gott lacht,” A person plans, and God laughs. I was planning to take a Pesach break from writing a Music of Halacha about Shabbat, but God had different plans. We have been focusing on Creative Decisions and the laws of Borer – Sorting. Well, the laws of Borer confronted me at every one of the Pesach meals. Shockingly, there were broken Matzot in the boxes and I needed whole Matzot. A broken Matzah is not suitable for the Seder, at least not until we break it, or for the Lechem Mishna of the other meals. This Halachic disqualification identifies the broken piece as being a different “type” than a whole Matzah. Therefore, one may not remove the broken pieces from a box of whole Matzot, as this constitutes removing the undesirable items –the broken pieces – from a mixture of different types – whole and broken pieces.


(There is a permissible way to do it, called “Siluk” – Removing. Perhaps we will examine this law at a different time.)

Although removing the undesired broken Matzot from the box is prohibited, removing whole Matzot is permitted if they are needed for immediate use.

Our question was: What is considered immediate use? The Matzah is basically a showpiece during Maggid, the heart of the Seder and its role in show and tell does not require whole Matzot. Does the Matzah’s place on the Seder table and plate meet the criteria of “Immediate Use”? Are we permitted to select whole Matzot from a box with both types, whole and broken, in order to prepare the Seder plate?

It is not a difficult question. The answer is obviously, “Yes!” The Seder plate is an essential part of the evening. Although the plate is not an Halachic requirement, it still is considered an important part of what we are doing and that is considered an immediate need. The idea is for us to recite the story – Maggid – over the Matzah we will eat. There is a powerful relationship between Maggid and the Matzah. The Maggid enhances the quality of the Matzah.

The Seder is not the only time when there is such a powerful relationship between words and food: When we say Kiddush, Havdalah, or recite the blessing at a Brit Milah or wedding, we use a cup of wine. We use the physical wine to reify the spiritual idea of the blessing.

It is not only when we recite the blessing over a Mitzvah: Each and every time we recite a blessing before we eat we enhance the spiritual quality of the food.

If we cannot recite every blessing with this awareness, perhaps we can use the Shabbat meals to reflect on and appreciate the power of our blessings. We can use the Kiddush to create a physical expression, the wine, of a powerful spiritual concept, and we can use our blessings to enhance the food we eat. The first step of having a truly Shabbat meal is to remember that there is a powerful connection between our words and the food we are about to eat. Perhaps that will help us remember to be more careful with our speech around the Shabbat Table.

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