By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Every year around Pesach time, it is obligatory for someone to mention the oft-repeated joke, “Why is matzah called lechem oni? Because it makes the purchaser poor.” With hand matzos selling for as much as $26 a pound, it can certainly break the bank. The Abarbanel says that when the Jewish nation was subjugated in Egypt, their captors fed them matzah. Obviously, back then matzah was cheap food fed to prisoners and laborers. The expensive matzah we eat on Pesach is meant to recall the inferior food that was fed to us when we were prisoners.
The Gemara in Pesachim (36b) states, “One would have assumed that one only fulfills the mitzvah of matzah with pas hidra’ah; therefore the Torah states the word ‘matzos’ numerous times to teach us that even matzah fit for Shlomo HaMelech is valid for the mitzvah.”
What is pas hidra’ah? The Rif explains it is matzah or bread made solely of bran. The Ran is perplexed at this explanation. One only fulfills the mitzvah with dough that is subject to hafrashas challah, and matzah made solely of bran is not subject to challah! Moreover, the correct berachah on such bread would be Shehakol! On products containing only bran, such as All-Bran, the correct berachah is Shehakol. (Please note that Fiber One has been reformulated. Older versions of ArtScroll’s The Laws of B’rachos list the berachah as Shehakol. The primary ingredient used to be corn bran. With the reformulation, the correct berachah is mezonos.)
Rabbi Binyamin Forst, shlita, wrote that on oat-bran cookies, one recites a Shehakol (Pischei Halachah 8:53). However, Rabbi Forst says that the consumer should make sure there is no regular whole-wheat or -oat flour in the product. If there is, then the berachah would be Mezonos. Rabbi Vozner noted that most commonly sold bran-bread is not 100% bran but contains the other parts of the grain as well. On such bread, one recites HaMotzi. On 100% bran bread, one would recite Shehakol and would not need to wash or bentch (Borei nefashos would suffice).
The Gemara concludes that any matzah is fine, but nevertheless one may use pas hidra’ah. Would it be permitted to use all-bran matzah according to the Rif? The Rosh explains that the Rif wasn’t referring to all-bran matzah, just to whole-wheat matzah. The halachah is codified in Shulchan Aruch that one does not fulfill the mitzvah of matzah if it is made with 100% bran (454:1). In light of the Rosh’s explanation, the Gemara therefore should be understood as follows: One might have assumed that one must use whole-wheat matzah for the Seder; therefore the Torah wrote matzos extra times to teach us that even refined white matzah may be used for the Seder.
The notion of eating white bread is not a recent phenomenon. Numerous times, the Gemara states that white bread was considered more respectable than whole-wheat. Poor people and slaves, who had to consume inferior bread, were forced to eat whole-wheat bread. It was cheaper to make because more of the grain was used and there was less processing involved. However, the wealthy shunned whole-wheat and consumed white bread. We would have assumed that since our intention of eating matzah on Pesach is to recall the matzah that we ate as prisoners in Mitzrayim, we should specifically eat whole-wheat matzah. The Torah needed to inform us that refined white matzah is valid as well.
This leads to the following dilemma: Now that either whole-wheat matzah or white matzah made with refined flour is acceptable, which one is preferable? Whole-wheat may be healthier, but this question revolves just around matzah used at the Seder. Whole-wheat matzah would be a greater reminder of the matzah we ate as prisoners. On the other hand, the matzah is also meant to recall the bread that was not given time to rise when we left Mitzrayim. The Nechamas Yosef reasons that the Jews that left Egypt had enough time to prepare the dough and to sift it properly to eliminate the bran. They just didn’t have enough time to let it rise, because they left in great haste. Perhaps, then, refined white matzah is preferable to more accurately reflect the matzah consumed by the Jews who were gaining their freedom.
A matzah baker once told me that no one makes shemurah matzah with 100% refined white flour. It just doesn’t taste good. He said that they have a secret proprietary ratio of whole-wheat flour to refined flour to achieve optimum taste. In recent years, though, 100% whole-wheat shemurah matzah has become an option. (I have yet to hear an explanation for why some matzah bakeries charge more for whole-wheat matzos than regular. Shouldn’t whole-wheat be cheaper?)
It is interesting to note that the Mishnah Berurah says that the shiur for eating whole-wheat to fulfill the mitzvah of matzah on the night of the Seder is the same as the shiur for refined matzah. One does not have to deduct for the bran. The halachah would be different if one added bran to already-refined wheat flour. In that case, the bran would not count towards the minimum shiur and one would have to consume extra matzah to compensate. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.