Special Sandwich

hero image
23 Mar 2023

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Two thirds of the way through the ritual steps in the order of the Pesach Seder, after eating the matzoh separately and the bitter herbs separately, we come across korech, the sandwich of the matzoh and bitter herbs eaten together. This we eat before beginning the festive meal of the Seder. We do not recite a brachah. Instead, we say, “In remembrance of the Temple we do as Hillel did in Temple times: he would combine Passover offering with matzah and marror in a sandwich… to fulfill… They shall eat [the Passover offering] with matzoth and bitter herbs.”

The Talmud records a dispute between Hillel and the Rabbis as to the proper way to fulfill the mitzvah of eating the matzoh and the marror. Must they be eaten together, or may they be eaten separately. Today, since the Temple no longer exists, we satisfy both views. We eat the matzoh, representing the Pesach offering (as with the afikoman) and the marror separately, reciting a brachah over each, and then we eat them together as a sandwich, but without a brachah.

Mordechai, [a rishon], makes an interesting observation. If indeed the sandwich is meant to fulfill the mitzvah of korban Pesach as Hillel understood it, it should be eaten at the end of the meal, just as we eat the afikoman in lieu of korban Pesach. On the other hand, if it is meant to observe the mitzvoth of matzah and marror, it is appropriately observed here, before the meal. Because Hillel understood these mitzvoth to be observed together, in one unit, he would eat matzah ashirah/”rich” matzah (egg matzah?) during the meal, fulfilling the mitzvah of lechem oni matzah/ Matzah of affliction at the end of the meal, together with the korban Pesach and marror.

This dispute arises from different interpretations of one word, writes Rabbi Bernstein Darkness to Destiny. The Torah commands that the Pesach Sacrifice al matzoth umerrorim yochluhu/should be eaten with matzoh and better herbs. Since yochluhu is in the singular, the Rabbis debated whether it referred to each food individually, or to eating the three foods together, as one unit. Since the mitzvah could be fully observed only in Temple times when we actually ate of the Pascal lamb, the mitzvah of eating the bitter herbs is now only Rabbinically ordained. The matzoh, nevertheless, remains Torah mandated [“for seven days you shall eat matzah”] Therefore, the matzah must stand alone, and should not be combined with the marror in one mitzvah.

Interestingly, the source for Hillel’s interpretation comes not from the mitzvoth of the Seder commanded for the annual Seder, but from the laws for Pesach Sheni, the “second chance” Pesach for those who could not offer the Pesach sacrifice on its traditional date. What therefore is the deeper message in Hillel’s custom?

Rabbi Kluger notes that Hillel is combining two contradictory elements in his sandwich. While the Pesach sacrifice and matzah represent the freedom of leaving Egypt, the marror represents the bitter servitude. As Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon notes, the entire Seder is a night of contradictions. While vegetables and dips may be elements of elegant dining, the dip is reminiscent of the salt water of tears, not salsa, and the vegetable, the כרפס /karpas is an acronym for פרך ס /the backbreaking work of the 60 x 1,000 in Egypt. Then, although wine is a drink of freedom, we customarily drink red wine to remind us of the blood of the babies Pharaoh killed to use as his bathwater. Even the matzoh itself has a double identity. While it reminds us of our miraculous hasty deliverance from Egypt, it is also called lechem oni/the bread of affliction we ate during our enslavement.

These contrasts are nowhere more evident than in the beautiful imagery Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the elders witnessed at the foot of Sinai prior to receiving the Torah. They saw an image of God, and “beneath His feet was a likeness of a sapphire brick… like the essence of heaven in purity.”

As Rash”i explains, Hashem Himself kept a brick underneath His Throne of Glory as a constant reminder of the difficult enslavement of Bnei Yisroel. But that brick was a shining sapphire of rejoicing for the coming redemption. That same brick contained within it elements of both the pain and the joy. Pain and rejoicing are interconnected. The very radiance of the brick reflects the experience of the pain and is experienced in equal proportion to the depth of the pain.

Seder night becomes more joyous as we go through all the symbols of enslavement from darkness to light, increasing our level of joy and gratitude each step of the way. Korech is another symbol that connects the suffering to the joy. We eat it before the festive meal to create more joy during the meal.

Actually, the festive meal seems to divide our recitation of Hallel. While we recite the first two paragraphs of Hallel before the meal, we eat the meal and then continue with the remainder of Hallel. Given our discussion, Rabbi Bernstein suggests that our meal is not an interruption of Hallel, but an integral part of the Hallel/Praise itself, sanctifying the table to the status of an altar, and the meal to the shared offerings on the altar.

Since the meal itself has become a spiritual experience, one should maintain the elevated atmosphere of the meal by retelling the story. We focus not only on the exodus, but also on the enslavement, for the challenges and the oppression forged us into the nation we became. It is necessary to embrace the entire experience of Egypt, suggests Rabbi Kluger. We eat the matzoh and the marror together to link the enslavement to the redemption, to show the connection between the dark and the light, just as both the dark and the light together form one complete day.

In Halekach Vehalebuv, Rabbi Schorr suggests that the bitter enslavement itself was for our own good. As in every culture the Jewish people find themselves, we were in danger of assimilation. To protect us from assimilating into Egyptian culture, we had to remain distinct and separate. The discrimination and oppression kept us apart and preserved our national identity.

In the Bris Bein Habesarim/Covenant between the Halves, Hashem told Avraham Avinu that his descendants would be aliens in a land not their own, they will serve them and they will oppress them.. Rabbi Schorr suggests that since this was a progression, if Bnei Yisroel would have kept themselves separate and distinct as aliens, without assimilating, their condition would not have devolved into enslavement and finally oppression. If we remember that we are Jews first even as we live in exile among the nations, we will retain our identity without others forcing us to acknowledge it. [Somewhere in my early education, a teacher gave us a commentary on the passage of vehi she’amda/That promise (of being an eternal nation) That promise is why Hashem must sometimes resort to “someone in every generation trying to annihilate us”. If we don’t preserve our Judaism with pride, others will remind us of who we are with signs of shame and disgrace, followed by oppression. CKS] While we are in exile, we don’t recognize the good in the oppression. That is why we eat the marror only after recalling our redemption when, in hindsight, we can see the blessing within the suffering, and recite a blessing over the bitter herbs.

After a time in Egypt, we settled in and became comfortable there, not feeling ourselves in exile. Similarly, warns us Rabbi Schorr, we have become comfortable in our current exile, enslaved to technology or wealth, current manifestations of the culture of Sodom, the current forms of idol worship. The challenges we face are meant to help us break free from the alien lures of these cultures and emerge recreated. Rebbetzin Smiles reminds us of the imagery of the High Holy Days: “We are like clay in the hands of the Potter.” The clay gets pummeled, baked in a hot oven, painted on, but emerges as a beautiful vessel. So too, the difficulties Hashem exposes us to are meant to form us into the best individuals and the best nation we have the potential to be.

The world is indeed a beautiful place. But it is also full of challenges. It takes both to make us the best we can be, writes Rabbi Wolbe. Hashem runs the world through the two orders of chesed and mishpat, through loving kindness and strict justice. As King David writes in so many verses of Tehillim, he calls out to Hashem in both kinds of circumstances, in grief and in joy, he will sing Hashem’s praises through both the loving kindness and the justice, and raise up his cup in recognition of Hashem’s involvement every time he experiences salvation.

We tend to question Hashem’s “decision” when we experience difficulties or r”l tragedies. Do we also ask, “Why me?” when everything is good, when we achieve success, when we experience an unexpected blessing? Hashem is always with us, whether we are experiencing His rod or His supporting staff, both should provide comfort.

Because both the good and the difficulties come from Hashem and have meaning, we validate that connection through the sandwich that combines the two, and we recite half the Hallel before our festive meal and half after. We understand that the bitterness represented by the marror was also inherently good, writes Rav Dovid Cohen. Rabbi Frand, citing the Bei Chiya, gives us a profound insight into Hillel’s mindset that sheds light onto the deeper significance of his special sandwich. Upon returning home one day, he heard screaming coming from his city. Nevertheless, Hillel was convinced that the cries were not coming from his family. This was not because God would never bring calamity upon his home. Rather, Hillel had trained his family to accept everything that happens, good or seemingly bad, with full faith that whatever Hashem sends is ultimately good, even if we do not understand why. With this faith, no matter what may have happened, the cries would not have come from Hillel’s house.

Even when we do not understand, it is this vision of the future that gives us the belief that everything is a medium for redemption, both in our personal and national lives, and in the future, we will see it, and be able to praise Hashem as Hatov veHamaitiv/He Who is [all] good and does [only] good writes Rabbi Kluger.

We do not have that clarity and the Beit Hamikdosh today, so eating the marror is Rabbinical rather than from the Torah. Therefore, we are using the message and energy from our earlier history as a remembrance and symbol of our hope for the future. Even if today we cannot see the connection between the bitter and the sweet, we try to remember it and yearn for it.

Based on this understanding, some have the custom to kiss the marror at the Seder, notes Rabbi Schorr, for on that night we are transported to that image, to the full belief that there is a seder, a logical order to the world, albeit we do not yet see it. We acknowledge in full faith that both the darkness and the light are good. Even without a brachah, we should integrate the lesson of Hillel into our Seder. After all, the Seder itself has an innate order. We begin the Seder by pointing to the matzoh, the bread of affliction we ate in Mitzrayim that we hope to eat again as free men in Eretz Yisroel, and we conclude with l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim/Next year in Jerusalem. We try to live at least this night with Hashem’s presence in our lives.

We customarily begin the festive meal with a hard boiled egg to remind us to learn the lesson of self improvement. Otherwise the egg of a joyous offering will become the egg of Tisha B’Av mourning. But the joyous symbol of renewal is covered in salt water, as we do not yet see the redemption.

In a beautiful, hopeful thought Rabbi Bernstein cites Rav Yehoshua of Belz. The source for Hillel’s sandwich comes from the “second chance” Pesach; we may be concluding the Seder, but we can still be redeemed, see our Beit Hamikdosh, and offer our Pesach sacrifice this year on the “makeup date” of Pesach Sheni.

Download PDF