Yachatz – Broken Matzos

When Moshe counts the Jews, each man of military age contributes a half-sheqel (Shemos 30:13-15). And similarly every year, the funds for the national qorbanos were collected by each donating a half-sheqel. Rav Shelomo Al-Qabetz famously gives the explanation for why a half sheqel — to teach that a person is incomplete when alone. We need to join together to be whole.

One of the Ran’s themes in his first derashah (discussed in the 3rd and 4th chaburos of the series at Zelmele’s Kloiz) is the idea that a compound will generally be superior to the components. Each element provides some qualities, and lacks others. However, if something is made of a diverse collection of such components, there are other components that provide what is lacking.

The Ran continues that what is true for elements and compounds is true for individuals and the community. He teaches that this is why Rabbi Yitzchaq (Sotah 40a) tells us “לְעוֹלָם תְּהֵא אֵימַת צִבּוּר עָלֶיךָ שֶׁהֲרֵי כֹּהֲנִים פְּנֵיהֶם כְּלַפֵּי הָעָם וַאֲחוֹרֵיהֶם כְּלַפֵּי שְׁכִינָה – always have the awe of the community upon yourself, for the Kohanim [when they duchaned in the Beis haMiqdash] had their faces toward the nation and their backs toward the Shechinah.” Chazal teach that the Qetores has to include Chelbonah, which has an unpleasant odor, to be kosher, to hint that when the community needs to convene a fast day for prayer, they must include even the sinners. The Ran says that what smells acrid when alone can highlight an enhance the other, positive, smells. And similarly, the negative qualities of the sinner has positive uses, and can make positive impact on the whole. People who are naturally generous could become extravagant were it not for the presence of miserly people in the community. Diversity in community leads to more people following the Middle Way in their Middos, and thus the presence even of sinners enhances the whole.

There is a similar theme to the step of Yachatz in the Seder. We break the middle Matzah (those who follow the Rif, the Rambam and the Gra break the bottom of two matzos), and we recite “ha lachama anya“. The gemara explains the label of lacha anya for matzah in two ways: either “lechem she’onim alav devarim harbei — bread over which many topics are answered”, or “lekhem oni — a poor person’s bread”. It is deflated, “ego-less” food. Lekhem oni means the matzah for the mitvah has to be simple flour and water, not egg matzah. It even means that we eat it the way poor people do, incomplete.

And like the half-sheqel, the half-matzah shows how we need community to be whole. In the same paragraph as we declare the matzah “lachma anya” we invite the poor and otherwise needy to join our table. We might have what they lack. But it is also “lechem she’onim alav devarim harbei“, what we don’t know, others do.

Matzah is about forming a healthy tzibbur, one that is greater than its parts, by each of us offering what the others need.

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