By Rav David Silverberg
The Gemara comments in Masekhet Pesachim (109a), “Chotefin matzot be-leilei pesachim bi-shvil ha-tinokot she-lo yiyshnu.” Literally, this means, “One grabs matzot on the nights of Pesach so that the children will not sleep.” The Rashbam brings several different interpretations of this difficult passage. One possibility, he writes, is that this refers to lifting the plate of matza in the air in order to arouse the children’s curiosity at the seder. Secondly, he writes, this perhaps means that we should eat matza quickly in order not to unnecessarily prolong the seder and thereby lose the children’s interest. Thirdly, the Rashbam writes, this might mean that we “grab” the matza from the children’s hands in the sense that we do not allow them to eat too much, as excessive eating may bring on fatigue and cause them to fall asleep.
The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 472:1) appears to follow a variation of the second interpretation, as he writes: “Mitzva le-maher le-ekhol bi-shvil ha-tinokot she-lo yiyshnu” – “It is amitzva to eat quickly so that the children will not sleep.” This halakha is presented in the context of the Shulchan Arukh’s ruling that the seder table should be set before the onset of Pesach so that the meal can begin as soon as possible. According to the Shulchan Arukh, then, this passage instructs that we should “grab” the matza in the sense of beginning the seder promptly so that the children will be able to remain awake.
Rabbenu Yosef Tuv Elem, in one of his hymns recited by some communities on Shabbat Ha-gadol (“Elokei Ha-ruchot Le-khol Basar”), expresses this halakha in poetic form: “Ta’anu la-chatof matza be-leilei pesachim kedei she-lo yiyshnu ha-perachim” – “They established that we grab the matza on the nights of Pesachim so that the ‘flowers’ will not sleep.” In formulating thehalakha, Rabbenu Yosef Tuv Elem refers to children as “perachim” – “flowers.” The Tolna Rebbe suggested that this reference perhaps sheds light on the requirement of “choftin matzot” to keep the children’s interest at the seder. Especially at the seder, we are to look at the children as “perachim,” as beautiful “flowers.” We are to overlook whatever challenges and disciplinary issues we face while raising them, and focus entirely on their quality of “perachim” – their “beauty,” how they enhance and enrich our lives. As they are to be the focal point of the seder, we need to look upon them with special love and affection. This concept underlies the requirement of “chotfin matzot,” the need to tailor the seder to suit the children and undertake measures to keep their interest and attention. The children – always, but especially at the seder– are the “perachim,” the magnificent “flowers” that adorn our home, and so the seder must revolve around them and be orchestrated in a manner that caters to their needs.
Originally appears on VBM