30 Mar 2023 Pesach 5783: Insights Into Yachatz (Breaking the Middle Matzah)
Chag ha’Pesach 5783 is upon us. Zman cheiroseinu, the time of our freedom; Chag ha’Aviv – the festival of Spring; and Chag ha’Matzos – the festival of matzah. On leil ha’Seder, we sit around the table with family and guests, simultaneously reliving the slavery and re-experiencing the freedom of the Exodus. As we strive to fulfill the imperative of בכל דר ודר חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים – in each and every generation a person must see himself as if he left Egypt – we partake of different rituals, customs and mitzvos throughout Seder night that are meant to enhance our experience of may’avdus l’cheirus (slavery to freedom).
Everything we do on Seder night represents the dichotomy between slavery and freedom. We eat bitter herbs (bitterness of slavery) but dip them in charoset (sweetness of life). We dip a vegetable in salty water (to remember the pain and tears of the Israelite slaves), but dip like kings and wealthy men (representing freedom). We drink wine (simcha and geula) but remove a few drops of wine from the cup (demonstrating our sadness over the destruction of Hashem’s creations).
Towards the beginning of the seder, after Kiddush has been made and the first cup has been drunk, we have washed our hands, and dipped the vegetable in salty water, we come to Yachatz. With the three matzos (corresponding to the three Avos) in front of us (along with the ke’arah – seder plate) the middle matzah is broken in half. Half stays on the table with the top and bottom whole matzos, and the other half is ‘put away for later’ and becomes the Afikomen (eaten at Tzafun). It is the smaller half (or piece) which remains on the table between the two whole matzos, and the larger piece which is wrapped up for later.
The basic understanding of Yachatz is that just as a poor man or slave eats part of his portion now, and saves some for later (not knowing from where, or when, more provisions will come), as part of reliving the slavery experience, we put aside some matzah for later.
While Yachatz may not seem deeply moving or informative, we know that every aspect of Seder night is infused with meaning, holiness and purpose.
One interesting reason for Yachatz relates back to the prophecy of Avraham during the Covenant Between the Pieces (Bereishis 15), when he was informed that his children would be strangers in a land not theirs for four hundred years and they would be tortured and enslaved, and after they would leave with great wealth (these are pasukim we recite in Maggid at the Seder). Hashem told Avraham of the Egyptian bondage at the Bris bein Habesarim — the Covenant Between the Portions. At that time He instructed him to take three heifers, three goats and three rams and split them in half (Bereishis15:9). The three matzos of leil ha’Seder commemorate the three animals that Avraham was commanded to take, and the breaking of the middle matzah commemorates splitting them in half (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2834135/jewish/Yachatz-Breaking-the-Middle-Matzah.htm).
We can say that just as exile (brokenness) was foretold to Avraham – represented in the middle matzah that we break – so too, the promise of redemption was also foretold to him, and that with redemption, our nation would be whole and complete once again (represented in the whole matzos we do not break). Perhaps one of the whole matzos represents our geula from Egypt, and the other whole matzah represents the future geula that is yet to come, after all the brokenness that we suffer in exile.
Another reason, deeply related to our lives in this world and our trajectory to the Next World, is offered by Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l (1908-1995). He teaches that, “The minhag of Yachatz, whereby we break the middle matzah into two pieces, one larger and one smaller, with each being used for its defined purpose, is deeply symbolic. The smaller piece, the lachmah anyah, the poor man’s bread, is left on the ke’arah (Seder plate) along with the marror and the charoses. However, the large piece is hidden for the Afikomen to be snatched by the children, who will ask for a reward for its return, and it is then eaten at the end of the meal, al ha’so’vei’ah (upon satiation/with a full stomach).”
Rav Schwab cites a beautiful explanation for the symbolism of Yachatz, which he heard from his father, HaChaver R’ Yehudah Schwab zt’l. “He explained that the smaller piece of matzah, the lachmah anyah, represents Olam Ha’zeh (this world), with all its trials and tribulations. This piece is left on the Seder plate along with the marror and charoses, reflecting life in this world, with both its sweet and bitter experiences. However, the larger, main piece, which is hidden during the Seder to be eaten after the meal as the Afikomen, represents Olam Ha’bah (the World to Come), which is hidden from us during our lives in this world.
“The eating of this piece for ‘dessert’, al ha’so’vei’ah, when one is satiated after the meal, is symbolic of our reward in Olam Ha’bah, which we are granted only if we have first satiated ourselves in this world with a life of Torah and mitzvos. The children’s request for a reward before giving back the Afikomen is symbolic of our reward in Olam Ha’bah, which is granted to us by HKB”H if we have earned it” (The Rav Schwab Haggadah, Artscroll, p.57-58).
What a beautiful and hopeful interpretation of Yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzah. Life in this world is so often confusing, dark and difficult. The smaller piece, left in front of us, represents the ‘smallness’ of this world, along with its bitter(marror)-sweet(charoses) experiences. But so much of life and the meaning of what we see and experience here is hidden from us. Hence, the larger piece is hidden away from us, representing the greatness and truth of the Next World, which remains hidden from us in Olam Ha’zeh. But just as the children are rewarded for their efforts, and the Afikomen is eaten upon satiation, so too, we believe and know that in the Eternal World of Truth, we will bask in the glory of the Shechinah ‘al ha’so’vei’ah’, with satiation and reward for the Torah and mitzvos, the mesiras nefesh and deveikus, by which we lived our lives here.
וַיִּשְׁמַ֥ע אֱלֹקָים אֶת־נַֽאֲקָתָ֑ם וַיִּזְכֹּ֤ר אֱלֹקָים אֶת־בְּרִית֔וֹ אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶת־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶת־יַֽעֲקֹֽב
וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹקָים אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיֵּ֖דַע אֱלֹקָים
And G-d heard their groans, remembered His covenant with the Patriarchs, saw their pain and affliction, and G-d knew (Shemos 2:24-25). My father-in-law, Mr. Naftali Horowitz, once proposed that the four cups of wine we drink on leil ha’Seder correspond to the four leshons of Hashem’s mercy (delineated in these pasukim) being aroused to send Moshe the redeemer to save us.
Our galus is very, very long and very, very dark. As Hashem heard, remembered, saw and knew the travail of our forefathers in Egypt, may our Merciful Father hear, remember, see and know us and our pain. After close to 2,000 years of exile, while much remains ‘tzafun’/hidden from us, we ask Hashem to fulfill the fifth promise of geula: וְהֵֽבֵאתִ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ (Shemos 6:8).
And then, we will merit כּוֹס–יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם ה’ אֶקְרָא (Tehilim 116:13), to lift our cup in salvation and call upon the Name of Hashem, when we will drink the fifth and final cup of geula.
As we will read in the Haftorah of Shabbos Ha’Gadol: הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם, אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא—לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם ה’, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא (Malachi 3:23).
Halavay, would that we be zocheh to see the fulfillment of לשנה הזאת בירושלים הבנויה.
בברכת חג כשר ושמח,