A congregant asks: The Waldbaum’s calendar for March states that Matzahs must be eaten at the Seder but are optional for the rest of the holiday. Is this actually true?
Yes and No.
The obligation to eat matzah for the first night (the first two nights in the diaspora) is special and flows from (happily enough) this week’s special parasha – HaChodesh – in which we read that we are to eat the Pesach sacrifice over matzah and maror. It is understood that the requirements to eat matzah and maror stand even in our times when we do not have a Pesach sacrifice. Therefore we eat the matzah at our sederim after reciting two blessings: “who brings forth bread from the earth” and “who has commanded us to eat matzah”.
The Torah also says in many places that we should eat matzot for seven days (in one significant case it says six days). The surface meaning of these verses is active, i.e. they are telling us that we are supposed to be eating matzah every day of the festival. The classic rabbinic approach however is to read these verses passively: if we want to eat bread or its moral equivalent during the festival it has to be matzah and can’t be chametz, but there is no requirement to eat matzah. One could simply refrain from eating “bread”.
Among the later authorities, we find both those who hold that there is no requirement to eat matzah past the first (and in the diaspora second) night and those who hold that we are obliged to eat matzah every day of the festival. All agree (I think) that the blessing “who has commanded us to eat matzah” is only said at the seder.
Besides the halachic concerns there are the sociological issues. We are accustomed throughout the year to building our meals around bread. We wash our hands and make a motzi, and thus exempt ourselves from having to say individual blessings on each dish. Lechem in the Torah is used figuratively to refer to food because it is literally the foundation of the meal – in antiquity it is the container of the food and the utensil. Even today, it is hard to negotiate the shawarma without the wrap. It is hard for me imagine having a festival meal or even eating throughout the intermediate days without matzah as the anchor of the meal.
People who avoid matzah after the seder usually do so for one of three reasons. The first is a concern that our matzah is really chometz: because making matzah is so difficult we can’t trust that any of our matzah is not really chometz and therefore refraining from matzah is a religious necessity. I think this is a strange view of Jewish life, to say that the laws and customs that we are given are all a prelude to why we can’t do anything. Pesach is a season of joy and redemption, not abstinence. People also avoid matzah for health reasons, and for those people the passive understanding of the requirement to eat matzah throughout the festival can be relied upon to minimize discomfort.
The third and saddest reason that people minimize the eating of matzah is that they hate the matzah we have. This is sad but completely understandable because we have made our matzah very scary. We recite in our sederim the custom that Hillel had of making a wrap (korekh means “bending”) with matzah and the Pesach sacrifice while we are eating matzah that would shatter into brittle crumbs if you even look at it with the intention of bending. It is tragic that we have arrived at this place, and it is my hope that in learning to make our own matzah we will also learn to make matzah that people want to eat.