Maror is second only to matzah as a food that expresses the essence of yetzias Mitzrayim.
Performing the mitzvah of maror provides us with a minor experience of our forefathers’ suffering during their many excruciating years of slavery in Egypt. While this commandment is clearly stated in the Torah,1 in the post Beis HaMikdash period (and therefore no Korbon Pesach), it has unfortunately been reduced from a mitzvah d’oraisa to a mitzvah d’rabbonon.2 Nonetheless, as with all the mitzvos of the Seder night, women, too, are fully obligated to perform this mitzvah completely, as are men.3 Since the original mitzvah had to be performed in conjunction with eating the Korbon Pesach,4 it, too, must be completed before midnight5 and many authorities do not allow one to recite the brocha once midnight has passed.6
The amount of maror one must consume should be equivalent to that of matzah, which is an amount approximately the size of an olive.7 Since many authorities believe that today’s olives have shrunken to a fraction of the size of those of yesteryear, one must eat much more than the volume of a contemporary olive to fulfill the requirement of eating matzah (a bit more than 28 grams/1 ounce). As today’s mitzvah of maror is a mitzvah d’rabbonon, a more lenient measure would suffice. However, one must be sure to consume slightly more than the minimum requirement to allow for the particles that remain between the teeth and are therefore not swallowed.
There are five types of vegetation that are acceptable for maror.8 The order that they are listed in the Mishna is the preferred order of fulfillment (i.e. the first example is regarded as the best type of maror).9 It might surprise the reader that chazeres, which is commonly identified as Romaine lettuce, is listed first and thus one should seek out this herb for maror, even at a higher cost. One’s first reaction to this opinion is that Romaine lettuce is not bitter, so why is it preferred? One explanation is that although early in the season it is not bitter, as the season progresses the level of bitterness in this plant increases. The same analogy applies to our sojourn in Egypt. While we were originally invited as royal guests, relatives of the viceroy, we were eventually demoted to slaves.10 Another explanation is that the Aramaic word for chazeres is chasa (mercy), recalling the mercy Hashem demonstrated during the Egyptian redemption.11
The great challenge of performing the mitzvah with chazeres is the multitude of insects infesting this herb. It is this fear that has many authorities looking at other sources of maror. One should not attempt to clean and check Romaine lettuce unless one has experience in identifying and removing these insects, as their coloring and tiny size camouflage them within all the crevices of the lettuce leaves. (See OK Vegetable Checking Guide.)
A recommended solution is to only consume the lettuce stalks, as they are easier to clean and check. However, today there are many brands of Romaine lettuce grown in conditions that protect them from insect infestation, sporting acceptable kosher supervision. As a result, it is possible to perform the mitzvah of maror using the most preferred herb.
A more radical approach is to utilize a different species of lettuce, since chazeres is loosely identified only as “lettuce” according to many authorities. (Some actually consumed Iceberg lettuce as maror.)
Botanists have traced the origins of modern lettuce to a wild type aptly named “Egyptian lettuce,” since this early version has been depicted in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians believed that this lettuce contained medicinal properties. It was extremely bitter and contained a white liquid in the leaves and stalks. The Romans were the first to cultivate lettuce into recognizable heads and it was only over many centuries of cultivation that the myriad lettuce types we know today were developed (based on climate, geography, etc.). It is quite probable that when Moshe Rabbeinu instructed the Jewish people to eat the Korbon Pesach with maror that it was this Egyptian lettuce that was utilized.
Possibly, when the Talmud discussed the need to neutralize the venom of maror (as discussed later), it was referring to the white sap contained in the Egyptian lettuce. According to botanical research, all lettuce is acceptable as maror since all varieties descend form the original Egyptian lettuce. (For a Halachic opinion on the use of other lettuce varieties, consult your local Orthodox rabbi.)
Some authorities have identified the second listed herb as endives or chicory and there are those who have the custom to utilize this herb for maror.
The most classic form of maror is listed third, the horseradish root. All of us recall the eye-watering, face-reddening experience of choking down this potent herb during the Seder. How is it that this apparently most bitter of herbs is not the favorite choice for maror?
Here is where the distinction between sharpness and bitterness is important. While clearly horseradish is the sharpest choice, it is the bitter quality of maror (which actually means bitter) that we seek. The taste buds of the tongue are capable of only tasting four aspects: sweet, sour, bitter and salt. The myriad other aspects of taste are only detected in the nasal cavity. (When someone has a cold all foods taste alike except for the four characteristics detected by the taste buds.)
Hence, it is important not to confuse sharpness, which horseradish possesses in abundance, with bitterness, which it contains in lesser quantities. In fact, some authorities require grating the horseradish so as to weaken the sharpness so that the bitterness can be unmasked.12
There are those who follow the custom to partake of both the Romaine lettuce and the horseradish for the initial olivesized portion (Minhag Chabad, Belz). However, all grating should be done Erev Pesach so as not to delay the Seder.
There are several theories as to the identities of the last two bitter herb types, but nothing definitive. If one is stuck without any source of identified maror, they should utilize an herb grown from the ground, which contains sap and is not dark green.13 However, the brocha will not be recited for such a maror choice. Maror may not be dried out, or soaked in liquor for twenty-four hours, or preserved in vinegar.14 It goes without saying that prepared white ground horseradish commonly available throughout the year, while possibly kosher for Pesach, still cannot be utilized for the mitzvah of maror on account of the vinegar contained within.
Regarding Romaine lettuce (or endives) grown hydroponically, there is a dispute among Halachic authorities whether the brocha recited on such produce is Ha’Adama or She’hakol (since it isn’t actually grown in the earth [adama]).15
While there is no direct Halachic source requiring Ha’Adama on maror (in fact some authorities will allow a Ha’Etz substitute as a last resort), the fact that the brocha on the karpas exempts the one on maror indicates that maror should be a Ha’Adama.
Another issue is that the Talmud compares matzah and maror to determine the characteristics of maror. One requirement is that both matzah and marormust be made from products that are purchasable with money for ma’aser sheini.16 This condition prohibits mushrooms, since they are not grown in the ground, so hydroponics might also fall under the category of not meeting ma’aser sheini qualifications, as well. Although hydroponic greens are less likely to be infested, since the growing requirements are so hygienic, nonetheless, these greens should not be used for maror.
As mentioned, the Ha’Adama for maror is recited on the karpas while having in mind to also cover the maror.17 Although there are several reasons for not reciting a separate brocha on the maror, the acceptable reason is that one is not eating maror with enjoyment in mind, rather one hopes to experience the unpleasantness. By extension of this concept, if one swallows the maror whole without chewing, the mitzvah obligation has not been fulfilled since the quantifier was bypassed.18 One should partake of maror directly after the matzah, since this is the order of the Torah verse.
Before consuming the maror, one dips it into charoses, which is reported to neutralize poisons contained in the maror.19 One wonders why the concern for this poison is limited to the Seder night, whereas all year long partaking of these herbs would not be cause for alarm. This question is even stronger because Seder night is known as the “night of the guardian,” when we are specially protected by Hashem. It is a time when we drink pairs, which is not normally done (2×2 cups which is dangerous according to the Talmud20); and we don’t complete Krias Shema after the Seder.
There are several answers to the question regarding poisons, including that since the consumption during the Seder is for a mitzvah even unlikely concerns are addressed, so one will not hesitate to eat the proper amount. (An added reassurance to the commonly held view that one is not damaged when doing a mitzvah.)
In addition, the evil forces look to stop mitzvah performance and would use any opportunity, even a slight disposition in the herb to interrupt the mitzvah, so we use the charoses to ensure we will perform this mitzvah. One makes no brocha on the charoses since it is only being applied to another food and is in fact shaken off the maror before the mitzvah.21
At the Seder
One should not linger over eating the maror and should be consumed as quickly as when eating the matzah. One obviously doesn’t recline when performing the mitzvah of maror. Ideally, one should utilize the maror on the Seder plate for the mitzvah, since this maror has been pointed to when reciting the Haggadah.
Following the mitzvah of maror, maror and matzah are eaten together following the opinion of Hillel. As it isn’t clear if Hillel’s opinion is dominant, one must eat maror by itself before satisfying the opinion of Hillel since according to the other rabbis, eating matzahwith maror will result in the maror, which is only d’rabbonon, will interfere with the taste of the matzah, which is d’oraisa, and if one proceeds straight to korech without eating maror by itself, then according to the rabbis the matzah whose obligation has already been satisfied, interferes with the maror which is still a d’rabbonon.22
However, if one only has enough matzah left for Afikomen, some say he should use it for korech since both the Afikomen and the maror have the status of d’rabbonon and do not nullify each other.23 Others say, however, that the last taste we should have in our mouth after the Seder is the Afikomen and now the maror will dilute that, so it is better to pass on the korech.
Some authorities recommend switching the type of maror utilized for korech from that of the original maror mitzvah. 24 It is the opinion of many that the maror utilized for korech does not need dipping in charoses, but many follow the custom of dipping anyway.25
May we merit what is spelled out in the last brocha of Maggid, that just as we were redeemed to have the mitzvos of matzah and maror (albeit d’rabbonon) on the Seder night, we should soon partake of the Pesach sacrifices in the Beis HaMikdash with the Ultimate Redemption.
1: Shemos 12:8 and Bamidbar 9:11.
2: Rambam, Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah, 7:12 and Maharil, Responsa, no. 158.
3: Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 472:12.
4: Rambam, Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah, 7:12.
5: Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 6.
6: Mishnah Brurah, Siman 477, Seif Kuf-Vov.
7: Mishnah Brurah, Siman 486, Seif Alef, Seif-Katan Alef.
8: Mishna on Pesachim 2:6.
9: Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim, 473:5.
10: Shemos 1:14.
11: Rava on Gemara Pesachim 39a.
12: Sha’alos U’Teshuvos, Sho’el U’Maishiv, Volume 6, Siman Yud.
13: Mishnah Brurah 473:46.
14: Shulchan Oruch 473:5.
15: Machazeh Eliyahu, Siman 28.
16: Gemara Pesachim 39a.
17: Mishnah Brurah 473:55.
18: Gemara Pesachim 115b.
19: Gemara Pesachim 116a.
20: Gemara Brochos 51b.
21: Shulchan Oruch HaRav, 475:11.
22: See Ran, Meiri & Milchamos Hashem on Gemara Pesachim 115a.
23: Shailos U’Teshuvos HaGrash Eiger, Chelek Alef, Siman Chof.
24: Haggadas Divrei Chaim, Hanhagos, Ois 16.
25: Rama, Shulchan Oruch, 475:1.