Structure and Order in Mishna Pesahim
At first glance, it seems clear that Pesahim should be included amongst those tractates that are arranged chronologically. This group includes Shevi’it, Chapters 1-6 of Shabbat, Yoma, and others. The tractate begins with “One the eve of the fourteenth [of Nisan] and ends with “After midnight, the Paschal offering renders the hands unclean.” Between these terminal points, the Mishna traverses the following units: the morning of the fourteenth (Chapters 1 and 2), the afternoon of the fourteenth (Chapter 4 ff.)1, a chronological description of the Paschal offering – its slaughter (Chapter 5), roasting, and eating (Chapter 7) – and a description of the Seder night (Chapter 10).
Yet interspersed among these laws are collections of halakhot (e.g., the end of Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, Chapter 6, and Chapter 8) that are not directly connected to the chronological principle. The Mishna even occasionally deviates from the chronological order, such as in mishnayot 5-8 of Chapter 2, which deal with the mitzvot of the Seder night – the Paschal offering, matza, and maror. Nevertheless, by and large the tractate’s framework is chronological.
I wish to address several issues related to the tractate’s structure, as well as their theoretical ramifications. I will focus on the first chapter of the tractate, but along the way we will touch on other chapters as well.
The tractate begins with a remarkable topic: bedikat hametz, the search for hametz. Nowhere else do we find a mitzva to eliminate a biblically forbidden object from our homes. Even though one can fulfill this mitzva by mentally nullifying (being “mevatel”) the hametz (3:7). Nevertheless, the Sages insisted that ideally one must eliminate hametz by seeking it out and destroying it.
The halakha’s insistence that we leave no hametz remaining is emphasized in 2;1, where Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages dispute whether one must incinerate the hametz or it is sufficient to “crumble it and throw it into the wind or cast it into the sea.” The Sages’ position is formulated in terms which suggest a parallel between hametz and avoda zara (foreign worship, i.e., idols and idolatry), regarding which Rabbi Yosi requires annihilation by “pulverize[ing] it and throw[ing] it into the wind or cast[ing] it into the sea” (Avoda Zara 3:2)2. It is further stated about avoda zara (ibid. mishna 6):
- They render one unclean like vermin (sheretz), as it states: “you shall utterly detest it (shaketz teshakethenu)” (Deut. 7:26). Rabbi Akiva says: [they render one unclean] like a menstruating woman, as it states: “You will banish them like a menstruating woman. ‘Get out!’ you will say to it” (Isa. 30:22).
Avoda Zara also must be eliminated from our homes (ibid. 1:9). The laws of seeking out and destroying hametz create a rough equation between hametz and the abhorred, impure (tamei) objects of idolatry.
The first mishnayot of Pesahim indicate the extreme nature of the requirement to destroy the hametz. The mishna (1:1) insists that we search by lamp light, and as the Tosefta (1:1) elaborates:
- …because searching by lamp is much better. Though there is no prooftext for this, there is an allusion to it: “And it will be that at that time, I will search out Jerusalem with lamps” (Zeph. 1:12), and it states: “The lamp of God is the soul of man” (Prov. 20:27).
It is hard to avoid the impression that the halakha views the vigorous search for hametz as a symbolic enactment of the meticulous spiritual inspection described in the verses cited in the Tosefta (as well as in the Bavli and Yerushalmi). Be this as it may, the severity of the requirement to seek and destroy hametz is quite clear. The obsessive nature of this demand is illustrated impressively by the fact that the Mishna’s only way of evading the need for re-inspection due to the rather far-fetched fear that “perhaps a rat dragged [hametz] from house to house,” was to argue: “if so… there is no end to this matter” (1:2)3.
What is the source of this obsessive need to eradicate the very existence of hametz fromthe home? This question has already been addressed by Rashi, who links the duty to seek out hametz with the dual prohibition “it shall not be seen/it shall not be found” (Pesahim 2a, s.v. “bodkin”), and by Tosafot (ad loc., s.v. “or le-arba’a asar”), who explain that there is concern that one will err and eat hametz on Pesach since it is permissible all year4. Yet it seem that the Mishna itself implies, through the order and structure of Chapter 1, a different perspective on the matter. Chapter 1 can be divided by content into three parts:
|I. Mishnayot 1-3:||The mitzva of searching for hametz|
|II. Mishnayot 4-5:||Times for the onset of the hametz prohibition and for annihilating the hametz|
|III. Mishnayot 6-7:||Added impurity (tumah) during incineration for sanctified foods (kodshim) that must be burnt|
Of special interest is the connection of these parts to each other within our chapter.
Section I focuses on the search for hametz, but at the end (1:3) mentions the annihilation (bi’ur) of hametz. According to Rabbi Yehuda, the “hour of bi’ur” serves to indicate one possible time for the search. Section II continues discussing the division of the fourteenth of Nisan vis-à-vis the status of hametz, and establishing “the hour of bi’ur” is at the center of this section. The connection between sections II and III can be discerned through the dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yosi in mishna 7 whether the fact that severe tumah can be incinerated together with less severe tumah can serve as a precedent for incinerating pure teruma with impure teruma on Pesach. This dispute addresses the incineration of teruma on the day before Pesach, mentioned by Rabban Gamliel at the end of section II (mishna 5). Thus, the following structure emerges through the entire chapter:
- The search for hametz on the night of the fourteenth (I); the search for hametz during the day of the fourteenth as well, according to R. Yehuda (end of section I).
- Hametz becomes forbidden and is destroyed on the fourteenth (II)
- Burning teruma that is hametz on the fourteenth (end of section II)
- Defiling sacred foods in the course of incinerating them, due to tumah or because they are hametz (III)5.
The chapter thus begins with the search for hametz (I) and ends with its annihilation (III). Section II serves as a bridge between the opening and concluding sections:
- (a) Mishna 4 link to the “hour of bi’ur” from mishna 3, while mishna 5 connects with the burning of kodshim from section III.
- (b) The prohibition against eating hametz from section II is the link between the search for hametz and its destruction; the prohibition even begins before the onset of the obligation to destroy the hametz.
In the transition from section I to section II there is a change to the “hour of bi’ur,” which becomes the hour of burning specifically. Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages dispute this in 2:1, but it is clear from our chapter that everyone agrees that the most commonly practiced mode of bi’ur is burning. It seems that the reason for choosing this mode of destruction is rooted in two equivalences that the Mishna makes between hametz and the prohibitions related to kodshim that were rendered disqualified. In mishna 5, Rabbi Yehuda attests that the signal used by the court’s emissary to notify the people of the onset of the prohibitions against hametz was – cakes of a thanksgiving offering that had become disqualified by remaining overnight (see the commentary of R. Ovadia of Bertinoro). We have already seen that Rabbi Meir compares the burning of hametz with the burning of impure kodshim6. The first analogy is not coincidental, as is evident from Rabbi Yehuda’s exegesis in a beraita cited by the Talmud (Pesahim 27b-28a): “‘You shall not leave over’ applies to notar (leftover sacrificial food) and ‘you shall not leave over’ applies to hametz. Just as notar must be burned, so too hametz must be burned.”7 The laws of eliminating hametz after the onset of its prohibition is derived from the laws of kodsim that were disqualified because the time to eat them expired8. It is thus only natural that the symbol for hametz would be kodshim cakes, which are hametz, that had been disqualified because it is notar.
The purposeful nature of the connection between hametz and tumah is evident from the repetition of this comparison at the end of Chapter 3:
- If one is traveling to slaughter his Paschal offering, circumcise his son, or attend a betrothal banquet at the home of his father-in-law, and he remembers that he has hametz in his home: if he can return, destroy it, and return to his mitzva, he should return and destroy; if not, he annuls it in his heart…
- Similarly, one who left Jerusalem and remembered that he is carrying meat of kodshim: if he has passed Mt. Scopus, he should burn it on the spot. If not, he should return and burn it before the Temple, using wood from the altar. For what quantity must one return? Rabbi Meir says: for an egg’s-bulk (“kebeitza”) in both cases. Rabbi Yehuda says: for an olive’s bulk (“kezayit”) in both cases. But the Sages say: meat of kodshim for a kezayit and hametz for a kebeitza.
The Bavli (49a) explains the dispute over the quantity for which one must go back:
- Rabbi Meir maintains that returning is like rendering it tamei: just as it is rendered tamei [only in the quantity of] a kebeitza, so too one must go back for a kebeitza. But Rabbi Yehuda maintains that returning is like the prohibition: just as a kezayit is prohibited, so too one must return for a kezayit.
It thus emerges that Rabbi Meir has a triple equation among: kodshim that were rendered unfit because they were taken out from within Jerusalem’s walls, hametz, and tumah. The Sages, however, equate hametz to kodshim taken out of Jerusalem in one respect (that one must return for it) and to tumah in another respect (the requirement of a kebeitza)9.
Why are the laws governing the prohibition and destruction of hametz on the fourteenth of Nisan connected to the laws of notar and tumah? It seems that this issue is linked to the source of the prohibition against hametz, which in turn is linked to the laws of sacrificial offerings. Hametz is not only forbidden on Pesach, rather: “no leaven or honey may be turned into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord” (Lev. 2:11). Even with regard to Pesach, the prohibition of hametz is tied to the Paschal offering: “You shall not offer the blood of My offering with hametz, and the fat of My festival offering shall not be left over until morning (Exod. 23:18); “you shall not slaughter the blood of My offering with hametz; the offering of the Pesach festival shall not be left over until morning” (ibid. 34:25); “Eat no hametz with it; for seven days eat matza with it, the bread of poverty…” (Deut. 16:3). Each of these verses was interpreted by Tannaim to prohibit eating or keeping hametz starting from midday on the fourteenth10. How does the Paschal offering differ from other sacrifices? With regard to other offerings, it was forbidden to bring the offering together with hametz; bringing the Paschal offering, however, demanded a general prohibition against eating hametz and even its removal from homes and physical destruction. Moreover the Paschal offering requires not only the absence of hametz, but the presence of matza: “they shall eat it with matzot and merorim” (Exod. 12:8). The prohibition of hametz and the obligation to eat matza are also linked, as Scripture spells out: “Eat no hametz with it; for seven days eat matza with it.”11
Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun addressed the idea behind the requirement to eat matza and the prohibition of hametz in his article, “Hametz and Matza on Pesach, on Shavu’ot, and with Bread Offerings” (Megadim 13 , pp. 31-32). He suggests that hametz is everyday bread, symbolizing, on one hand, wealth and satiation, but on the other hand impermanence and temporality. Matza is the “bread of poverty” symbolizing dependence on God, along with durability and eternity. The redemption from Egypt, and the Paschal offering that symbolizes it, must be accompanied by this “bread of poverty,” representing entry into the divine realm, rather than the “bread of wealth” which represents the human realm.
Pursuant to this idea I would suggest viewing hametz as, in a sense, “matza that became unfit.” We are commanded to eat the Paschal offering “with matzot and merorim.”12 Moreover, the Torah addresses “matza that became hametz” as a sort of kodshim that were rendered unfit, which must be eliminated. Notar and tamei are two types of kodshim that became unfit, and hametz is similar to each of them in a different respect. It is similar to notar because both are “caused by time.”13 On the other hand, it is similar to tumah because the Torah commands us to keep our distance from it and its from us – like “You will banish them like a menstruating woman. ‘Get out!’ you will say to it” (see above).
Moreover, tumah symbolizes degeneration and ephemerality14 – a corpse is the ultimate source of tumah. This can be reinforced with the rabbinic identification, in numerous sources, of hametz with “the leaven in the dough,” a metaphor for the evil impulse. R. Yoel Bin-Nun has already pointed out (op. cit. p. 28) the logic and justification for this comparison. In times of redemption, when the Paschal sacrifice is offered, one must sanctify his home and table by removing the bread of tumah and eating the bread of sanctity15.
The common denominator between kodshim that became tamei and notar is that both are burned. The disqualification of kodshim generates an obligation to burn it; thus, the destruction of hametz in the mishnayot of Chapter 1 is presented as its incineration. It is possible that the link between the obligation to seek out and destroy hametz and kodshim that became tamei is indicated another way as well. The word “ner” (“lamp”) is mentioned in two different contexts in the Mishna: the search for hametz is performed by lamp light, and in mishna 6 Rabbi Akiva attests: “During the times of the priests they did not refrain from lighting oil that had been rendered unfit by a tevul yom16 in a lamp (“ner”) that had been rendered tamei by one who became tamei through a corpse.” The lamp of mishna 6 is one in which impure teruma was burned. Through this analogy, this gezeira shava, between the lamp of mishna 1 and the lamp of mishna 6, the Mishna links the search for hametz with the burning of tumah. Perhaps the Mishna wants to allude that the tool used to search for the hametz symbolizes the ultimate fate of the hametz that will be found.
Chapter 1 of Tractate Pesahim relates to the private home of every Jewish individual and the elimination of one of the most common daily items from it. Nevertheless, more than half the chapter deals with matters of sanctity, the Temple, and their purity. We can now understand this based on the connections we have found between the prohibition of hametz and that of notar and tamei, and based on the foundation of the prohibition of hametz within the laws of the Paschal offering. In all of Tractate Pesahim, there is not even one chapter that does not allude to the Paschal offering and/or to the connection between the laws of the day before Pesach and the realms of the Temple and purity.
|2:8:||“One does not cook the Paschal offering…”|
|3:8||“Similarly, one who left Jerusalem and remembered that he is carrying meat of kodshim…”|
|4:1||The prohibition on doing work the day before Pesach (see Yerushalmi ad loc.)|
|4:4||Eating roast foods on the night of Pesach|
|Chapters 5-9:||Laws of the Paschal offering|
|10:1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9.|
This theme is especially prominent in Chapter 10, where the Mishna oscillates between the Temple and its destruction throughout. The end of mishna 3, “and in the Temple they brought the body of the Paschal offering before him,”17 implies that the earlier part of the mishna was not addressing Temple times. Similarly, in mishna 6, Rabbi Akiva utters a prayer that the Temple be rebuilt. Yet most of the chapter describes a Seder based on the Paschal offering. Even the first words of the chapter, “Erev Pesahim,” are best interpreted as “the evening on which the Paschal offerings are sacrificed” (Tosafot 99b, s.v. “erev Pesahim”)18.
In several respects, Chapter 10 provides provides closure for circles that were opened in Chapter 1. There is the chronological circle – from “the eve of the fourteenth” to “after midnight” on the fifteenth – which we addressed above, but here we will note two other points that connect Chapter 10 back to our analysis of Chapter 1.
First we note that, in addition to the Paschal offering, there is another component of the Seder night that serves as the central hinge of most of this chapter – the four cups of wine. The chapter can even be divided into three parts, based on the order of the cups:
- Mishnayot 1-3: First cup
- Mishnayot 4-6: Second cup
- Mishnayot 7-9: The third and fourth cups and the end of the Seder.
Each part of the chapter begins with wine (mishna 1: “Four cups of wine…”; mishna 4: “They pour a second cup for him…”; mishna 7: “The third and fourth cups…”) and concludes with the Paschal offering (mishna 3: “the body of the Paschal offering”; mishna 6: “and there we will eat from the sacrifices and Paschal offerings”; mishna 9: “the blessing on the Paschal offering exempts that of the sacrifices…”). Just as Chapter 1 contains various sorts of allusions to the Paschal offering without explicitly mentioning it, so too drinking wine is implied at the beginning of the tractate, in the early mishna19 about “two rows in the cellar.” The tractate opens with the need to inspect the wine cellar and ends with the Seder night, in which drinking wine and eating the Paschal offering combine to form the cornerstone of the meal and the Hagada. Thus, Chapter 10 connects to the opening of Chapter 1. And at the end of Chapter 10, “after midnight, the Paschal offering renders the hands tamei… and notar renders the hands tamei.” Just as the hametz of Chapter 1 is considered some sort of notar and is treated as something “tamei,” at the end of Chapter 10 the Paschal offering itself becomes notar, which renders the hands tamei. Thus, the end of Chapter 10 completes the circle that was opened in the second half of Chapter 1.
- 1 The beginning of Chapter 4, which forbids working on the afternoon of the fourteenth everywhere, also alludes to this time.
- 2 A further parallel between Avoda zara and hametz is that both can be mentally nullified (bittul) – see m. Pesahim 3:7, m. Avoda Zara 4:4 ff. Several Rishonim addressed the connection between hametz and idolatry, finding a biblical allusion in the juxtaposition of “make for yourself no molten gods” with “observe the Festival of Matzot” in Exodus 34:17-18. See the sources cited by Rabbi M. M. Kasher in Torah Sheleima 19:300-302 as well as R. Kasher’s explanation for the connection.
- 3 A further parallel between Avoda zara and hametz is that both can be mentally nullified (bittul) – see m. Pesahim 3:7, m. Avoda Zara 4:4 ff. Several Rishonim addressed the connection between hametz and idolatry, finding a biblical allusion in the juxtaposition of “make for yourself no molten gods” with “observe the Festival of Matzot” in Exodus 34:17-18. See the sources cited by Rabbi M. M. Kasher in Torah Sheleima 19:300-302 as well as R. Kasher’s explanation for the connection.
- 4 It is possible that such a consideration underlies the biblical prohibitions of “it shall not be seen/found” (see Exod. 12:15).
- 5 A similar analysis of this chapter’s structure can be seen in the article by J. A. Seidman, “The Language of Tractate Pesahim” (Hebrew), Mahanayim 55 (5721).
- 6 I do not mean to suggest here that these two realms are identical halakhically, but that the Mishna intends to draw a parallel between them. We will address the significance of this comparison below.
- 7 Mekilta, Pascha 8 records this derivation with a different formulation (“caused by time”), and according to most textual witnesses it is attributed to Rabbi Yosi. However, there are textual witnesses that have Rabbi Yehuda as well, and he is also the one who attested to the use of expired thanksgiving cakes in 1:5.
- 8 According to the baraita in the Talmud and Mekhilta, Rabbi Yehuda’s disputant does not argue with him in principle, but merely claims that this is a “rule that is invoked stringently at the beginning but will eventually cause leniency.”
- 9 The connection between hametz and notar on one hand and tamei on the other can be understood based on the existing halakhic connection between notar and tamei, which appears in the last mishna of the tractate: “pigul (sacrifices slaughtered with the intent to be offered outside the Temple) and notar render the hands tamei.” It is interesting that, there too, the Talmud (121a) cites a dispute over whether the relevant measure is a kezayit, the relevant measure for the prohibition to eat it, or a kebeitza, the relevant measure to render it tamei. It should also be noted that “pigul, notar, and tamei” are a common triad in the Mishna, e.g. Ma’aser Sheni 3:2, Makot 3:2, Zevachim 3:4-5, Chulin 8:6, and others.
- 10 Mekhilta, Kaspa 20 (p. 334); Sifrei Devarim 130 (p. 187); Pesahim 5a. The opinion of Rabbi Akiva (5a) and Abaye (4b) is that the prohibition of hametz on the day before Pesach is derived from Exodus 12:15. One of the basic presuppositions of this article is that the progression of these mishnayot does not reflect the view of Rabbi Akiva and Abaye. On whether hametz was forbidden on the first Pesach in Egypt, see Pesahim 96 and R. Mordechai Breuer, Pirkei Mo’adot, Jerusalem:5746, p. 123.
- 11 In several instances, the Sages derived laws from the juxtaposition of the requirement to eat matza and the prohibition against eating hametz. See Pesahim 28b and 35b and R. Breuer, Pirkei Mo’adot p. 142 ff. R. Breuer’s idea is to distinguish between the prohibition again hametz, which in his opinion is linked to “the Festival of Pesach” (the fourteenth of Nisan) and the mitzva of matza, which is linked to “the Festival of Matzot.” There is much to say about this, but this is not the place.
- 12 This was stated about the first Pesach in Egypt, but applied to Pesach for all generations as well. R. Breuer, Pirkei Mo’adot p. 132 ff., distinguishes between the first Pesach, at which eating matza was part of the fulfillment of eating the Paschal offering, and Pesach for all generations, where eating matza is a fulfillment of two requirements (one for the Festival of Matzot and the other as part of the Paschal offering). However, once again, this is not the place to discuss the ramifications of his insights on this issue.
- 13 See above, n. 9. The time factor might be linked to the status of the fourteenth of Nisan as an independent holiday. See at length Breuer, Pirkei Mo’adot, pp. 93-162; Y. D. Gilat, “The Uniqueness of the Fourteenth of Nisan,” Chapters in the Development of Halakha (Hebrew), Jerusalem: 5752, pp. 123-134. In my opinion, these ideas provide a strong basis for understanding many details in the progression of mishnayot in this tractate, but this lies beyond the scope of the present article.
- 14 See Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Lev. 11:46-47 and elsewhere in his writings.
- 15 Philo, De Specialibus Legibus, Book II, §145 states: “At this time, every home is invested with the outer form of a Temple.” He also states there that the entire people slaughters its offerings “for on this day everyone is granted the status of a priest.” See Y. N. Epstein, Introduction to Tannaitic Literature (Hebrew), p. 329.
- 16 One who has already immersed and is awaiting sunset to become pure again – i.e., a low level of tumah.
- 17 I have quoted the manuscript version of the text, according to which the first part of the mishna deals with outlying areas while the latter part deals with the Temple. See Epstein, Introduction to Tannaitic Literature, p. 330. The print version has “in the past they would bring before him,” which implies that the first part addresses the post-Temple era.
- 18 Tosafot cites the alternate text (“Arvei Pesahim”) and the other interpretation (“the evenings of Pesach”), but the text and explanation cited in the main text are to be preferred, as was shown by Tzarfati, “Erev Pesahim,” Leshoneinu 41 (5736), p. 21-28.
- 19 Which is already the subject of dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.
מסכת פסחים פרק א
א,א אור לארבעה עשר, בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר. כל מקום שאין מכניסין בו חמץ, אינו צריך בדיקה; ולמה אמרו שתי שורות במרתף, מקום שמכניסין בו חמץ. בית שמאי אומרין, שתי שורות על פני כל המרתף; בית הלל אומרין, שתי שורות החיצונות שהן העליונות.
א,ב אין חוששין שמא גררה חולדה מבית לבית, וממקום למקום; אם כן מחצר לחצר, ומעיר לעיר–אין לדבר סוף.
א,ג רבי יהודה אומר, בודקין אור ארבעה עשר, ובארבעה עשר בשחרית, ובשעת הביעור. וחכמים אומרים, אם לא בדק אור ארבעה עשר, יבדוק בארבעה עשר; אם לא בדק בארבעה עשר, יבדוק בתוך המועד; לא בדק בתוך המועד, יבדוק לאחר המועד. ומה שהוא משייר–יניחנו בצנעה, כדי שלא יהא צריך בדיקה אחריו.
א,ד רבי מאיר אומר, אוכלין כל חמש, ושורפין בתחילת שש; רבי יהודה אומר, אוכלין כל ארבע, ותולין כל חמש, ושורפין בתחילת שש.
א,ה ועוד אמר רבי יהודה, שתי חלות שבתודה פסולות ומונחות על גב האיצטווה–כל זמן שהן מונחות, כל העם אוכלין; ניטלה אחת מהן, תולין–לא אוכלין ולא שורפין; ניטלו שתיהן, התחילו כל העם שורפין. רבן גמליאל אומר, חולין נאכלין כל ארבע, ותרומה כל חמש, ושורפין בתחילת שש.
א,ו אמר רבי חנינה סגן הכוהנים, מימיהן של כוהנים לא נמנעו מלשרוף את הבשר שנטמא בוולד הטומאה עם הבשר שנטמא באב הטומאה, אף על פי שמוסיפין לו טומאה על טומאתו; הוסיף רבי עקיבה, מימיהן של כוהנים לא נמנעו מלהדליק את השמן שנפסל בטבול יום בנר שנטמא בטמא מת, אף על פי שמוסיפין לו טומאה על טומאתו.
א,ז אמר רבי מאיר, מדבריהם למדנו, ששורפין תרומה טהורה עם הטמאה בפסח; אמר לו רבי יוסי, אינה היא המידה. מודה רבי אליעזר ורבי יהושוע, ששורפין זו לעצמה וזו לעצמה. ועל מה נחלקו: על התלויה ועל הטמאה–שרבי אליעזר אומר, תישרף זו לעצמה וזו לעצמה; ורבי יהושוע אומר, שתיהן כאחת.