What is Matzo ?
Matzo means "unleavened bread" in Hebrew. Matzo is both the symbol of affliction and slavery, the unleavened bread which the Hebrews ate as slaves in Egypt, and matzo is also a symbol of physical and political freedom which the Hebrews attained after leaving Egypt. Its place in the story of Passover or Pesach also makes it symbolize the transition from the bitterness of slavery in Egypt to the sweetness of physical and political freedom after leaving Egypt. Matzo also symbolizes the nearness of G-d to the Hebrews, for as the Hebrews were preparing to leave Egypt and only had time to bake unleavened bread, G-d was near to them, ready to guide them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Finally, the simple ingredients of matzo - water and flour - as well as the flatness of the unleavened bread as opposed to the puffiness of leavened bread, symbolizes "poor man's bread" as well as "humility" and "humbleness", as opposed to the puffiness of one's ego that characterizes a wealthy person as symbolized by leavened bread.
Matzo symbolizes the universal goal of humankind: to transform oneself and one's group from a situation of social, religious, political, and physical slavery to social, religious, political and physical freedom. This goal can also be extended to include psychological freedom from personal enslavements I.E. troubles that are causing one to be enslaved in stress. Therefore, matzo not only has its symbolisms in the Passover/Pesach story, but also serves as a continuous symbol of achieving social justice in all generations past, present, and future.
For most Jewish people, three sheets of matzot or matzos are used for the Seder rituals. Those who follow the opinion of the eminent Lithuanian rabbi known as the Vilna Gaon [Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797] use only two matzos for the Seder rituals. Together with the five or six other symbolic foods of Passover/Pesach (depending on the authoritative rabbincial opinion one follows), the two or three matzos are arranged in various ways on the Seder plate (again, depending on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows), either together with the Seder plate and the five or six other symbolic foods, or the two or three matzos are set apart from the other symbolic foods on the Seder plate and are placed either on a tray, cloth, or another plate, stacked one on top of the other. In addition, in lieu of stacking the two or three matzos on top of one another, a special bag known as a matzo cover which contains three compartments - one for each sheet of matzo - is used, and the arrangement of the five or six symbolic foods together with the two or three matzos in the matzo cover again depends on the authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows. In lieu of the matzo cover, some Jewish people use a napkin and place the two or three matzos in the folds of the napkin.
What do each of these three matzos symbolize in the Seder rituals? Each of these sheets respectively symbolizes a social grouping of Hebrews in the following order of religious status: (1) the Kohanim ("priests" in Hebrew); (2) the Levi'im ("assistants to the priests" in Hebrew), and (3) the Yisraelim ("Israelites"; collectively speaking, the remaining members of the Hebrew people). Why are the three matzot or matzos placed together, whether on a separate plate from the Seder plate or on the Seder plate? The three matzot or matzos are placed together to symbolize the unity of the Hebrew/Jewish people. It is unity which gives us our strength and our power to survive. It is in the opening to Step #5 of the 15 steps for conducting the Seder - known as Magid or Maggid, meaning "to preach" in Hebrew, that the three matzot or matzos are introduced to the Seder participants as the "Bread of Affliction". Furthermore, in Step #4 of the 15 steps, known as Yachatz, meaning "to divide" in Hebrew, the middle matzo of the three matzot or matzos is divided into two halves - one a smaller half and the other a larger half - with the larger half known as the "Afikoman" or "Afikomen", and is the Hebrew word for the Aramaic words "Afi Kuman", meaning "dessert", or from the Greek words "Epikomen" or "Epikomion", meaning either "that which comes after" or simply, "dessert". The Afikoman or Afikomen is then hidden away in the household for the children to find it, and the one that finds it will return it to the Seder leader and ask for a small payment in return for the Afikoman or Afikomen. A variation of this ritual is that the Afikoman or Afikomen is set aside in a convenient place whereupon the children find and take the Afikoman or Afikomen, hide it, and then ask the Seder leader for a small payment for its return. Although this ritual was likely created to maintain the interest of the children throughout the Seder, which can extend for a few hours, there exists a symbolism that the Afikoman or Afikomen, which is broken into pieces and eaten at the end of the Seder by all the participants after the children return it to the Seder table I.E. the dessert, represents a final taste and reminder of the dual themes of slavery/freedom which it symbolizes in the form of matzo. Finally, in Steps #7 and #8 of the 15 Steps, known together as Ha-Motzi/Matzo ["Ha-Motzi" means either "Took Out", "He (G-d) Took Out", or "He (G-d) Will Take Out", and of course, Matzo means "Unleavened Bread"; the two rituals, Ha-Motzi/Matzo are often said together to show the close association of G-d with matzo and in turn, of G-d and matzo with the Hebrews], the upper matzo and the second and smaller half of the middle matzo are broken into pieces and distributed to all participants at the Seder. The purpose of this ritual is to make the participants more aware and grateful of the bounty - in this case, the matzo or unleavened bread - which G-d provides to humanity.
What type of matzo can be used at the Seder? Only matzo that is made with water and one of the five religiously prescribed grains can be used for the Seder. These grains are: barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat. In addition, in order to be classified as matzo, the entire process, from the grain first coming into contact with the water up to and including the completing of the baking of the matzo dough, must be completed in under 18 minutes (originally, the authoritative rabbinical opinion stated that it was under 24 minutes, but most Jewish people follow a later authoritative rabbinical opinion which stated that the entire matzo-making process was to be completed in just under 18 minutes).
Despite the minimum requirements of matzo dough consisting of one of the five religiously prescribed grains and water, there are those that prefer to eat what is known in Hebrew as "Shmurah Matzo" or "Shemurah Matzo" ("Watched Unleavened Bread" or simply, "Watched Matzo" in Hebrew; alternative transliterated spellings: "Shmura Matzo" or "Shemura Matzo"). Unlike "regular" matzo whose grain was watched by a qualified rabbi from the time the grain came into contact with the water to make the matzo dough up to and including the completion of the matzo-making process, Shmurah matzo or Shemurah matzo uses grain that was watched by a qualified rabbi from the time of its harvest or cultivation up to and including the time it came into contact with water to make sure that no water touched the grain before the time the grain came into contact with water to make the matzo dough, which would otherwise have rendered the grain unfit to be used, since it would have become leavened by the time it would have been used with the water to make the matzo dough. After the water comes into contact with the grain, the qualified rabbi continues to watch the matzo-making process for Shmurah matzo up to and including its completion in under 18 minutes or under 24 minutes, depending on which authoritative rabbinical opinion one follows. In addition, the water that will be used for the matzo dough also has to be watched by the qualified rabbi to make sure that it does not accidentally come into contact with anything that is leaven.
What type of water is used to make matzo, be it regular matzo or Shmurah matzo? The water that is used for making matzo dough can only be fresh, cold spring water drawn from a spring which is then allowed to settle, then is filtered, then stored and cooled overnight to room temperature just prior to making the matzo dough. Bottled spring water or tap water cannot be used to make matzo. As with regular matzo, the qualified rabbi continues to watch the process of making the matzo dough for Shmurah matzo or Shemurah matzo after the water comes into contact with the grain to eventually form the dough after rolling, kneading, and shaping it. The rabbi follows through until the completion of the baking of the matzo dough to ensure that no other ingredients and liquids come into contact with the matzo dough which could cause the matzo dough to become leavened. Before baking the matzo dough, the utensils used in the process as well as the oven are thoroughly cleaned to ensure this is the case.
The flour produced from the grain that is used in making the matzo dough - be it barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat flour - must be completely dry and is also stored in a dark, cool place overnight just prior to being used in the matzo-making process. Why store both the water and flour in a dark, cool, place overnight just prior to making the matzo? This is done so that the rate of leavening or fermentation will not be increased, which would otherwise necessitate having to complete the entire matzo-making process in an even shorter period of time than under 18 minutes. Finally, both the water and flour are watched by the rabbi that is in charge to ensure that no other ingredients or liquids come into contact with the water and flour until the matzo-making process has begun.
The difference between Shmurah and non-Shmurah matzo is in the level of quality control for the grain that is used for making the matzo. The qualified rabbi only watched the grain for the non-Shmurah matzo or "regular" matzo from the time the water first came into contact with the grain to make the matzo dough up to and including the completion of the baking process whereas the grain for the Shmurah matzo was watched by the qualified rabbi from the time the grain was cultivated or harvested until the time the grain came into contact with the water to make the matzo dough and up to and including the completion of the matzo-baking process. In both cases, as mentioned, only fresh spring water that was filtered and stored and cooled overnight to room temperature prior to making the matzo dough can be used to make matzo, and the water must also be watched to ensure no contact with leaven has occurred. Finally, in both cases, the matzo-making process is continuously watched until its completion by the supervising rabbi to ensure no other ingredients or liquids come into contact with the matzo dough which would otherwise render the matzo dough chametz or leavened and consequently, unfit for use and consumption during Passover/Pesach. Therefore, due to the close supervision of the grain beginning from the time it is harvested or cultivated as compared with supervision of the grain beginning only from the time it comes into contact with the water to make the matzo dough, Shmurah matzo ensures an extra level of quality control for the grain in the matzo-making process.
There are two types of matzo shapes: round and square. Shmurah matzo is usually - but not always - round in shape while non-Shmurah matzo is usually square in shape. Matzo is either handmade or machine-made; Shmurah matzo is most often handmade.
According to the Jewish laws for Passover/Pesach, matzo that is made with additional ingredients besides water and one of the five religiously prescribed grains can only been eaten by those who cannot easily digest the standard matzo. These include the infirm, the elderly, and young children. A popular type of "enriched" matzo or non-standard matzo is egg matzo made with - you guessed it - eggs. Matzo that is made with additional ingredients beyond the two basic and standard ingredients: water and flour, is called "Matzo Ashirah" in Hebrew, meaning "Enriched Unleavened Bread" or simply, "Enriched Matzo".
The role of Matzo in the Festival of Pesach is so important that the illustrious Rabbi Gamaliel I Ha-Zaken or Rabbi Gamaliel The Elder (9 C.E. - 50 C.E.), the grandson of Rabbi Hillel I Ha-Zaken or Rabbi Hillel The Elder (about 50 B.C.E. - 10 C.E.), once taught that, "Whosoever does not mention the three symbols of Pesach (or Passover) has not fulfilled his duty (to commemorate or celebrate Pesach or Passover). They are: Pesach (or Paschal lamb), Matzo, and Maror".