The Geder of Mitzvas Charoses
The Mishnah (Pesachim 114a) records a dispute between Chachamim and R’ Eliezer B”R Tzadok. Chachamim assert that charoses is not a mitzvah, while REBRT posits that it is a mitzvah.
The Gemara (ibid. 116a) cites an apparent dispute between R’ Levi and R’ Yochanan. R’ Levi states that charoses is zecher la’tapuach (the unique relationship between Hashem and Am Yisroel signified by tachas ha’tapuach orratich in Shir HaShirim, and the miraculous and painless births of the nashim tzidkaniyos in Egypt under apple trees [see Rashi and Tos. ad loc.]). R’ Yochanan, however, states that charoses comes zecher la’tit (the mortar used in the construction in Egypt; see Tos. ad loc. for a third zecher). Abaye then explains how the making of the charoses should reflect both the aspect of the tapuach and the aspect of the tit.
In the Peirush HaMishnayos the Rambam states that according to REBRT one makes a berachah on the eating of charoses, but that the halachah does not follow REBRT.
In Hil. Chametz U’Matzah 7:11, however, the Rambam writes that charoses is a mitzvah Me’Divrei Sofrim, that it is zecher la’tit, that therefore it is made is a manner that reflects the process by which tit is produced, and that therefore it is brought on the table on Pesach eve. The Lechem Mishneh asks the obvious question, that it would seem that the Rambam here rules according to REBRT, contradicting his ruling in the Peirush HaMishnayos. Moreover, the Rambam does not mention any berachah here, and thus seems to contradict his other assertion in the Peirush HaMishnayos - that if charoses is a mitzvah, it is associated with a berachah (see Rabbeinu Manoach to Hil. CuM 7:11 and the Tur, OC #475 for the reason there is no berachah on charoses).
The question is, obviously, what happened between the Rambam’s perspective in the Peirush HaMishnayos and his ruling in the Yad.
The Harerei Kedem (RYBS) 2:94, on the basis of a girsa in the Mordechai, Hil. Seder Shel Pesach and the Bigdei Yesha (loc. cit. #19) posits that according to REBRT’s understanding, one would have to eat a kezayis of charoses, because it is a mitzvah of achilah, while according to the Rambam’s definition of the mitzvah is only that one needs to place charoses on the table, not to eat it. It is only since the charoses is already on the table that the Rambam rules in Hil. CuM 8:2,6,8 that the karpas, matzah and morror are all dipped in charoses, so that “she’lo tihyeh biaso biah reikanis.”
Hence, continues the Harerei Kedem, according to the Rambam’s new definition in the Yad of the mitzvah of charoses, there is no berachah because it is not a mitzvas achilah.
However, according to the Harerei Kedem, the Rambam in the Yad rules in accordance with REBRT, and thus reneges on his ruling in the Peirush HaMishnayos. Originally the fact that we do not eat a kezayis nor make a berachah on the charoses led him to believe that halachah must be in accordance with Chachamim, but when he “realized” that one could define the mitzvah as one of placing the charoses on the table, he decided to rule in accordance with REBRT, as the Gemara cites Amoraim who argue concerning his position, thus indicating that they held that the halachah followed REBRT’s position.
It is obvious how difficult it is to accept that the Rambam completely reversed his position from the Peirush HaMishnayos to the Yad. It is also very difficult to accept that the Rambam would actually rule in accordance with REBRT over Chachamim.
V’asher al kein yeira’eh lomar that the Rambam does rule, in fact, in accordance with Chachamim. The Rambam - both in the Peirush HaMishnayos and the Yad - is consistent in this respect. His position is that this, in and of itself, was the machlokes between REBRT and the Chachamim - whether the mitzvah of charoses is a mitzvas achilah or a mitzvas hava’ah. The nafka mina is, of course, whether there is a berachah on the charoses or not: If the mitzvah is one of achilah, then of course it follows that it should have its own berachah. But if it is a mitzvah of hava’ah, it is no different than the other mitzvos hava’ah of the Seder - viz., the zero’a and beitzah - upon which no berachah is made.
But why, then, does the Rambam require all these dippings in charoses? Let the charoses just sit on the ke’arah like the zero’a and beitzah?
As far as this point is concerned, we must preface an answer with another question: Why does the Rambam only cite the tit aspect of the charoses, and not its tapuach aspect?
It seems that the omission may best be explained if we understand the Rambam to hold that the zecher aspect of the charoses is actually the subject of a dispute between R’ Levi and R’ Yochanan. Evidently, since the halachah normally follows the views of R’ Yochanan, here too the Rambam ruled in accordance with R’ Yochanan.
And, indeed, the difference of opinion between R’ Levi and R’ Yochanan is substantial: According to R’ Levi the zecher is of the yeshuah - the Chasdei Hashem already manifest in the unique tapuach relationship of Hashem and the Bnei Yisrael while the latter were yet enslaved in Egypt. According to R’ Yochanan, OTOH, the zecher is of the avdus - the sufferings of the slavery itself.
With this premise in mind, we may readily understand all the tibbulim in the charoses very well. To begin with, the Rambam has the karpas dipped in charoses. Our minhag, OTOH, is to dip the karpas in salt-water. Indeed, Hagahos Maimonios, Hil. CuM 8:3 cites several Rishonim who forbade dipping the karpas in charoses. What is the nekudas ha’machlokes?
One of the cited Rishonim who forbade dipping karpas into charoses is Rabbeinu Yechiel (he calls such conduct a minhag shtus!). The same Rabbeinu Yechiel, cited in the Hagahos Maimonios, Hil. CuM 7:9 emphasizes that the recipe of the charoses must reflect the reason given by the Yerushalmi - that it is zecher l’dam - the first makkah, also a zecher of yeshuah.
It is evidently for this reason that RY forbids the dipping of the karpas in charoses: The karpas’s dipping is meant to be zecher l’avdus. It is therefore our minhag to use salt-water, zecher to the tears of Bnei Yisrael while they worked as slaves. The zecher l’yeshuah aspect of charoses runs directly counter to that symbolism, and therefore charoses cannot be used.
However, according to the Rambam, charoses is only zecher l’avdus. It is therefore, in fact, appropriate to dip the karpas in the charoses. It is much for the same reason that the marror is dipped in charoses.
It remains, however, to understand why the Rambam has the matzah dipped in charoses. The question is compounded by the further question posed by the Hararei Kedem 2:95: Why does the Rambam not have the Korban Pesach (Hil. CuM 8:7) or Afikoman (ibid. 8:9) dipped in charoses? (His answer is that both the Korban Pesach, and the Afikoman, as a zecher l’KP, must be eaten “l’mashchah v’l’gedulah - in a princely manner, and thus by themselves, without any condiments.)
But according to our explanation, the distinction is simple and self evident: Korban Pesach is a zecher l’yeshuah. Hence, it would be inappropriate to dip it in charoses, which is zecher l’avdus. As far as the matzah is concerned, however, it inherently commemorates both the avdus, as lechem oni; and the yeshuah, as the food made in haste as the Bnei Yisrael sped from Egypt.
The two times we eat the matzah represent, respectively, the two aspects of its zecher. As the Rambam writes explicity (Hil. CuM 8:6), the Motzi Matzah is zecher l’avdus - and that is why we use a broken piece of matzah, because a poor person is accustomed to a broken piece of bread. It is therefore appropriate to dip the Motzi Matzah in charoses.
But the Afikoman, just like the KP it represents, is zecher l’yeshuah (which is doubtless why its taste is supposed to linger...). It is obvious, then, that according to the Rambam, it cannot be dipped in charoses.
Tein l’Chacham v’yechkam od...