Midnight Approaches and I haven’t Eaten the Afikomen by Rabbi Avram Schwartz

This teshuvah is the fifth in a new series of teshuvot related to the yamim tovim. Each teshuvah is introduced with a small biography of the author, and teshuvot are chosen to reflect a diverse range of halakhic approaches featuring pre-modern and modern poskim from different geographical areas. Thanks to Rabbi Avram Schwartz (YCT ’17) for selecting and translating these teshuvot. We hope that the studying of these teshuvot will enhance your preparation for the hagim.

Rabbi Avraham Bornsztain (1838-1910) was first Sochatchover Rebbe. He was a leading posek of the 19th century. His responsa, Sheilot U’teshuvot Avnei Nezer cover all 4 sections of Shulhan Arukh. A student of the Kotzker Rebbe, his Eglei Tal is a model of conceptual thinking and remains a critically important work on the laws of Shabbat.

The gemara in Pesahim (7b) discusses why certain mitzvah blessings start with al, “on” (e.g., “on the shaking of the lulav”) and others start with li’, “to” (e.g., “to sit in a sukkah”). Two criteria emerge from this discussion: If the mitzvah to be performed can only be done by the person himself and not his agent, and the blessing comes before the mitzvah and not after, we use the li’ form. Otherwise, the al form is used. In the following responsum, Avnei Nezer explores why we recite al akhilat matzah and al biur hametz, since based on the above criteria, the li’ form of the blessing should be used. Following this, Avnei Nezer advises what one should do if midnight is approaching, and one has still not eaten the afikomen.

Avnei Nezer concludes that the mitzvah of matzah is not completed with the act of eating; the mitzvah is only fully fulfilled once midnight has arrived. Similarly, our performance of mitzvot should not be passing moments. For a life of mitzvot to be meaningful, their impact must stay with us. The taste of the matzah must remain in our mouths.

שו”ת אבני נזר אורח חיים ס’ שפא

א) נתתי אל לבי לעיין בענין ברכת “על אכילת מצה” “ועל אכילת מרור.” ומהראוי היה לברך “לאכול,” כיון שהוא מצוה שאי אפשר לקיים על ידי שליח. והרמב”ן (פסחים ז.) והר”ן (פסחים ד. בדפי הרי”ף) כתבו באמת ב”ל” לאכול. אך גירסת ספרים שלנו בפרק ערבי פסחים (קיד:) על אכילת כו’.

והלבוש (תעה:א) כתב משום דבעל הבית מוציא כל המסובין שייך יותר על אכילת כו’. ותירוץ זה אינו עולה למנהגינו שכל אחד מברך לעצמו ומכל מקום מברכינן “על.” והחק יעקב (סי’ תלב) כתב לפי שאין משנין לשון תורה “על מצות ומרורים” וכו’. ותימה דמה ענין על מצות ל”על אכילת”:

ב) ולפענ”ד נראה ליתן טעם מה שמברכין “על ביעור חמץ.” ולכאורה הי’ יותר ראוי לברך “לבער” דודאי להבא משמע. ועיין בתוספות ור”ן. ולפענ”ד נראה כיון דמצוות ביעור נעשה בהגיע פסח. דאין הביעור מצוה מצד הזמן שנעשה בו הביעור, רק מצד הפסח שבא אחר הביעור. וכיון שבהגיע פסח כבר נתבער החמץ שייך יותר לברך “על ביעור” דמשמע נמי לשעבר ולא “לבער” דלא משמע אלא להבא לבד:

ג) ובזה יש ליתן טעם דמברכינן “על אכילת מצה ומרור” לראב”ע (פסחים קכ:) דאכילת פסח עד חצות ויליף מגזירה שוה ד”ועברתי בארץ מצרים בלילה הזה” מה להלן עד חצות אף בלילה הזה דכתיב באכילת פסח עד חצות. והדבר יפלא. שהרי העברה בארץ מצרים הי’ ברגע חצות ממש, ואיך יליף לאכילת פסח עד חצות. וצ”ל כיון דאי אפשר לאכול בחצות ממש שאין בו המשך זמן כלל, והמעשה צריך המשך זמן, על כורחך הפירוש שבחצות יהי’ כבר הבשר פסח נאכל. וכן במצה דיליף מפסח, וכל שכן מרור דכתיב גבי פסח. ואם כן כיון דמצוות מצה ומרור שבהגיע חצות יהי’ כבר נאכל יותר טוב לברך ב”על” כנ”ל:

ד) ובזה יש ליתן טעם שאין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן. שאסור לאכול לאחר הפסח. ולהנ”ל יש לפרש כיון שהמצוה בהגיע חצות, אם כן צריך שיהי’ טעם פסח אז בפיו שלא יהי’ כלה אכילת פסח מכל וכל. על כרחך שיהי’ טעם מצה אז וישאר אז רושם מהמצוה:

ה) ועל כן נראה לדינא למאן דאמר אין הפסח נאכל [אלא] עד חצות. והוא הדין מצה. דלאחר חצות מותר לאכול. ובלאו הכי נראה כן דודאי אין חיוב שישאר טעם פסח ומצה בפיו רק בזמן המצוה. ועל כן נראה דאם בתחילת הסעודה או באמצע רואה שהוא קרוב לחצות. יאכל כזית מצה על תנאי אם הלכה כר’ אלעזר בן עזרי’ יהי’ לשם אפיקומן. וימתין עד לאחר חצות ויאכל סעודתו. ואחר כך יאכל שנית אפיקומן ויוצא ממה נפשך. אם הלכה כראב”ע דעד חצות יוצא באפיקומן ראשון. ואחר חצות מותר לאכול דברים אחרים ואם הלכה כרבי עקיבא דעד שיעלה עמוד השחר יוצא באפיקומן השני.

Responsa Avnei Nezer, OH 381

1) I decided to consider why it is that the blessing we make on matzah and maror is “al akhilat x” (on the eating of X) and not “le’ekhol x” (to eat X). As this is a mitzvah which one can only do oneself (not via an agent), it would be more fitting to make the latter blessing. Indeed, Ramban and Ran’s text of the blessing is le’ekhol. However, our text of the Talmud in Chapter Arvei Pesahim (Pesahim 114b) reads al akhilat.

Levush (475:1) writes that the reason we use this form is because the person leading the seder makes the blessing on behalf of everyone. This answer does not explain our practice in which every seder participant makes the blessing for themselves and, nonetheless, we use the “al akhilat” form of the blessing. Hok Ya’akov (432) writes that the form follows the language of the verse, “You shall eat [the Pesach sacrifice] with matzah and maror (al matzot umrorim, Num. 9:11).” But this too is problematic: What does the phrase “[eating the Pesach sacrifice] with matzah” have to do with “al akhilat matzah”?

2) In my opinion we can explain this through reference to the blessing on the destroying of hametz – “al bi’ur hametz.” At first blush, it would have made more sense to bless “li’vaer” (to destroy hametz), as the blessing is made immediately prior to the performance of the mitzvah. In my opinion, we use this form of the blessing because the mitzvah has already been done when Pesach arrives. The mitzvah of destroying the hametz is not fulfilled at the time that action takes place, rather, when one enters the holiday of Pesach with the hametz already destroyed. As such, it makes more sense to me to make the blessing of “al bi’ur hametz as this form refers to both the future and the past,rather than “li’vaer” which only refers to a future action.


3) This point helps to explain why, according to the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, we make the blessing “al akhilat – “on the eating of matzah” and “on the eating of maror.” His position is that one must eat the Pesach sacrifice by midnight, deriving it through a gezeirah shavah (identical phraseology) from the verse describing the plague of the firstborn: “And I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night”(Exodus 12:12); just as the plague of the firstborn was until midnight, so too the Pesach sacrifice, which is eaten “on that night” (Exodus 12:8), is eaten until midnight. This is curious – the plague of the firstborn took place exactly at midnight! How can he derive from this that the sacrifice is eaten the entire night until midnight? The reason must be that since it is not realistically possible to eat at the exact moment of midnight, as the activity of eating requires some extended period of time, it must mean that the Pesach sacrifice must already have been eaten at midnight. The same is true for matzah, the halakhic requirements of which are derived from the Pesach sacrifice, and all the more so for maror which is commanded in the same verse as the sacrifice. Namely, the mitzvah for both of these is that come midnight, they must have already been eaten. The blessing is therefore al akhilat, “on the eating of,” [as this is the form used when the blessing does not immediately precede the mitzvah act].

4) With this we can explain why “one may not eat the afikomen (dessert or other foods) after the Pesach sacrifice.” As stated, the mitzvah is that at midnight the sacrifice must have been eaten. Thus, when it is midnight one must still have the taste of the sacrifice in one’s mouth so that the activity of eating has not totally passed. To achieve this, it is necessary that the taste of matzah be present so that some trace of the mitzvah persist till midnight.

5) Therefore, it seems that as a matter of halakhah, according to the opinion that requires that the Pesach sacrifice, and likewise the matzah, be eaten by midnight, it would be permitted to eat after midnight. Putting aside our discussion, it stands to reason that this is so, since there is no need for the taste of the Pesach sacrifice and the matzah to remain beyond the time of the mitzvah. It seems then that if one notices during the seder meal that midnight is approaching, he should eat a ki’zayit of matzah and stipulate that if the halakhah is in accordance with R. Elazar ben Azaryah, then this eating should be for the sake of the afikomen matzah (which represents the Pesach sacrifice). He should then wait for midnight to pass, and then continue eating his meal. At the end of his meal, he should eat the afikomen matzah again; he then fulfills his obligation according to all points of view. If the halakhah is in accordance with R. Elazar ben Azaryah, he fulfills his obligation with the first afikomen matzah that he ate, and he is permitted to continue eating after midnight. And if the halakhah is in accordance with R. Akiva and the Pesach sacrifice may be eaten until daybreak, he fulfils his obligation with the second afikomen matzah that he ate.