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Bo 5768

By: Rav Ari Shames

Are women obligated to eat matza? (for those that do not have patience to make it to the end of the shiur, the answer is definitely yes!). More precisely, why are women obligated to eat matza, after all this should be a clear case of a time bound- positive mitzvah, where the rule of thumb is that women are exempt? The same question can be extended to the various other mitzvoth that we encounter in our parsha all relating to Pesach.


One direction that we could explore would be to include women in the obligations based on the rule of  “af hane hayu b’oto hanase”- women were equally involved in the miracle and therefore should be equally involved in marking the event. The Gemara applies this to the drinking of the four cups on seder night, the reading of the meggila on Purim and the lighting of the candles on Chanukah. Many of the commentators are bothered by the limited use of this rule, why do we not apply the same logic to sitting in the sukah, eating of the matza and many other issues that we do on holidays that are designed to commemorate miracles. (See our comments on Hallel on Chanukah in a previous shiur


Tosafot in Pesachim (108b) explain that the rule of “af hane…” applies only to mitzvoth on the Rabbinic level and cannot be applied to obligate women in mitzvoth from the Torah. Rav Soloveichick (I have heard this quoted in his name but I have not seen it in print) suggests that the criteria for applying the rule is the nature of the mitzvah in question. If the mitzvah is a demonstrative act expressing the publicizing of the miracle, then we apply the rule of “af hane…” if however this is not the case, even if the foundation of the mitzvah is related to a miraculous event then we would apply the rule. In other words, drinking of four cups of wine on Pesach was not only established because of the exodus from Egypt but in addition it itself expresses the freedom that we have gained, by a clear act that could not have been performed without the miracle. Matzah, on the other hand symbolizes the miracle but does not clearly demonstrate and publicize the miracle (this of course opens up a discussion of the purpose of the matza which is a complicated, on one hand it seems to be the "bread of affliction" while on the other hand we need to eat it while leaning which would classify it along with the "freedom" mitzvoth).


The Gemara in Pesachim (43b) offers a different reason for the obligation of women in the eating of matzah. “Women are obligated in the eating of matzah, as it says ‘You should not eat chametz for seven days, you should eat matzah’ anyone who is obligated in the negative command of eating chametz is obliged as well in the eating of matzah as well”.


The juxtaposition of the two commands is meant to signal to us that there is a basic connection between the two. The gemara concludes that this connection is meant to overpower the general rule of exempting women in time bound positive mitzvoth.


A similar concept is applied in the gemara Brachot in relation to the obligation of women in saying Kiddush on Friday night. Here, as well, we would have assumed that women should be exempt as it is a time bound positive mitzvah. The logic that obligates women in Kiddush is the connection between the words “Shamor” and “Zachor” in the opening line of the two versions of the Aseret Hadibrot. Zachor indicates a positive mitzvah, that of Kiddush; while Shamor indicates a negative mitzvah, the prohibition of doing work on Shabbat. From the fact that they are “interchanged” in the sets of Commandments, the gemara concludes that anyone who is obligated in the negative mitzvah is obligated in the positive one as well.


The Meshech Chochmah makes a very interesting comment on this week’s parsha that clarifies these two halachot. If we take a close look at the verbs associated with Pesach in our parsha we notice an overabundance of the word “shamor” and all of its various forms:


Shemot 12:6 Mishmeret (the Korban Pesach)

Shemot Ushemartem (the matzot)

Shemot Ushemartem (the day)

Shemot Ushemartem (Korban Pesach)

Shemot Ushemartem (Korban Pesach)

Shemot Shemurim is used twice (Pesach night)

Shemot Veshamarta (Pesach)

Shemot Veshamarta (Pesach)

Shemot 34:18 Teshmor (Pesach)

Devarim 16:1 Shamor (Peasach)


The list is quite impressive and in each and every case the fascinating thing is that the Torah is not referring to a negative commandment. In general we are taught that the use of “heshamer” “pen” and “al” infer negative commandments, however in this case all of the references to “shamor” are all positive in nature.


The Meshach Chochmah claims that this is the real logic behind the obligation of women in eating of matzah on Peasach. It is not the simple juxtaposition of chametz and matza (the positive and the negative) but rather the underlying theme of all Pesach issues that are “tainted” by the negative verb, even when talking about the positive mitzvoth.


What makes this idea even more interesting is that the same phenomenon happens when it comes to Shabbat. The words "shamor" appears frequently and noticeably in contexts of the positive mitzvah.


Shemot 31:13 Teshmoru

Shemot 31:14 Ushmartem

Shemot 31:15 Veshamru

Vayikra 19:3 Teshmoru

Vayikra Teshmoru

Vayikra 26:2 Teshmoru

Devarim Shamor



The Meshech Chochma points out that this solves a problem presented by Tosafot in several places. Tosafot are bothered by seemingly arbritrary nature of the above drashot and asks why women are exempt from tzitzit is they are mentioned in the same passuk as the prohibition of shatnez. Why would we not apply the same logic that all who are obligated in the negative (shatnez) should, as well, be obligated in the positive (tzitzit). According the the Meshech Chochma the question doesn't even begin. In is not simply the proximity of the mitzvoth but rather the very nature of how the Torah refers to the mitzvoth that defines the obligation. When it comes to tzitzit we have no such impelling evidence to see a change in the basic nature of a positive mitzvah.

There is little doubt after having seen these lists, that Chazal had a very exact reading of the texts and that the seemingly arbitrary drasha is actually very solidly grounded in a careful reading of the text.


Of course it is at this stage that I leave you to explore the philosophical implications of this idea on your own. What are the differences between positive and negative mitzvoth and how does it effect our thinking when one crosses the road from the positive to the negative? If you have any ideas please let me know


Shabbat Shalom

Rav Shames