From Parshat Tazria Vol.9 No.26
Date of issue: 3 Nissan 5760 -- April 8, 2000
The Mitzva of Charoset
by Rabbi Howard Jachter
In this issue, we will present Rav Soloveitchik's analysis of the Mitzva of Charoset. We will conclude with an important practical ramification of this analysis.
Mishna and Gemara
The Mishna (Pesachim 114a) presents a disagreement between the Sages and Rav Elazar ben Tzadok as to whether Charoset constitutes a Mitzva. The Sages argue that it does not, while Rav Elazar ben Tzadok argues that it does. The Gemara (Pesachim 116a) explains both of the opinions recorded in the Mishna. It explains that the Sages believe that Charoset merely serves to blunt the bitter taste of the Maror. The Gemara subsequently presents two explanations of Rav Elazar ben Tzadok's opinion. One explanation is that the Charoset serves to remind us of the mortar used by our ancestors in Egypt to build for Paroh when they were slaves. A second explanation is that the Charoset serves to remind us of the Tapuchim (apple trees) in Egypt. Rashi and Rashbam explain that the Jewish women in Egypt would painlessly and quietly give birth beneath the apple trees so that the Egyptians would not discover that a Jewish male was born.
We should note that the second explanation is the source of the practice of Ashkenazic Jews to use apples to make Charoset. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, (cited in Nefesh Harav pp. 209-210) however, argues that the word Tapuach refers to a citrus fruit such as an Etrog (see Tosafot Taanit 29b s.v. Shel Tapuchim, which supports Rav Soloveitchik's argument). Based on this point, Rav Hershel Schachter places a citrus fruit in his Charoset instead of apples. This practice is supported by the Gemara (Pesachim 116a), which mentions that since the Charoset serves as a reminder of the Tapuach, the Charoset should be acidic. Citrus fruits are distinctively acidic but apples are not.
The Gemara in Pesachim continues and teaches that we should add spices to the Charoset to remind us of the straw in Egypt. Before spices are ground up, they are long and stringy and thus resemble straw. The straw that we remember likely refers to the decree made by Paroh that we must gather our own straw for building (Shemot 5:7). The Gemara concludes with a quote from Rav Elazar ben Tzadok. He notes the practice of the merchants of Jerusalem, who would announce before Pesach, "Come and get spices for the sake of the Mitzva."
Rishonim - Tosafot and the Rambam
Tosafot (s.v. Tagrei) notes that the practice of the Jerusalem merchants seems to indicate that the opinion of Rav Elazar ben Tzadok is accepted as normative. The merchants would have been corrected by one of Jerusalem's many sages if their announcements were Halachically inaccurate. Tosafot cites the celebrated poem of Rav Yosef Tuv Elem, which states that Charoset constitutes a Mitzva in accordance with Rav Elazar ben Tzadok's view.
In addition, Tosafot cites some additional sources that serve as the basis for our practice regarding the process of making Charoset. Tosafot cites the Talmud Yerushalmi that states that the Charoset serves as a reminder of the blood in Egypt. Tosafot notes that this is the source for adding wine to the Charoset. Tosafot also cites the Teshuvot Hageonim that states that the ingredients of the Charoset should reflect the food items that the Jewish People are compared to in Shir Hashirim. Included in this list are nuts and almonds, which Ashkenazic Jews customarily add to their Charoset. The Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U'matza 7:11) mentions that raisins and dates should be included in the Charoset.
The Rambam's rulings regarding Charoset appear to be contradictory. In his commentary to the Mishna in Pesachim, he rules in accordance with the opinion of the sages that Charoset does not constitute a Mitzva. In the Mishna Torah (Hilchot Chametz U'matza 7:11), however, the Rambam rules in accordance with the view of Rav Elazar ben Tzadok that there is a rabbinical obligation to have Charoset at the table. The Lechem Mishna in his commentary to this Halacha notes the contradiction in the Rambam's rulings. He notes a second contradiction between what the Rambam writes in his commentary to the Mishna and in the Mishna Torah. In the commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam asserts that according to Rav Elazar ben Tzadok one must recite a Beracha upon consuming Charoset: "Al Achilat Charoset." However, in the Mishna Torah, where the Rambam rules in accordance with Rav Elazar ben Tzadok, the Rambam makes no mention of reciting a Beracha on the Charoset. The Lechem Mishna writes that the Rambam must have changed his mind from the time he wrote the commentary to the Mishna to the time he wrote the Mishna Torah. (We should note that the Rambam wrote the commentary to the Mishna as a very young man and wrote the Mishna Torah much later in life. Interestingly, Rav Aharon Adler, Rav in Ramot, Israel; has documented hundreds of instances in which the Rambam changed his mind from the commentary to the Mishna to his Mishna Torah in an unpublished doctoral dissertation for Bar Ilan University.)
Rav Soloveitchik's Explanation
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in the Siach Hagrid 74-77) explains the conceptual basis for the Rambam's change. In the commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam believed that Rav Elazar ben Tzadok thought that it is a Mitzva to eat Charoset. Accordingly, Rav Elazar ben Tzadok would require us to recite a Beracha of "Al Achilat Charoset" on Charoset. The Rambam, in turn, does not rule in accordance with Rav Elazar ben Tzadok, since in practice the Rambam observed that no one recites a Beracha on Charoset. In the Mishna Torah, on the other hand, the Rambam believes that Rav Elazar ben Tzadok does not understand the Mitzva of Charoset to be one of eating the Charoset. Rather, the Mitzva is to have the Charoset present on the Seder table to enhance the recounting of the exodus from Egypt and to be available for dipping. Hence, even according to Rav Elazar ben Tzadok, we do not recite a Beracha upon Charoset since there is no Maaseh (specific concrete act of Mitzva performance) associated with this Mitzva other than its being present on the Seder table. Accordingly, since there is no common practice running counter to the opinion of Rav Elazar ben Tzadok, the Rambam accepts this opinion as normative, as indicated in Pesachim 116a.
Rav Soloveitchik's insight that there is no Mitzva to eat Charoset sheds light on the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling (Orach Chaim 475:1) that the Charoset should be removed from the Maror before consuming the Maror. In addition, the Mishna Berura (475:17) rules that one should remove the Charoset from the Maror we use for Korech. Since the Charoset can neutralize the bitter taste of the Maror and there is no Mitzva to eat Charoset, Halacha requires that we remove the Charoset from the Maror.
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