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Unleavened Dough of Exodus

I have what I believe is a very simple question on the Torah. Exodus 12:33-34 states that the Egyptians rushed the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and that as a result they carried their dough out unleavened, bundled on their shoulders. Afterwards (v. 39) the Torah states that after traveling to Sukkot, they baked their dough into matzah – since it was never given time to rise. Perhaps I’m missing something. Doesn’t the fact that they had to carry their dough imply that it had more time to rise rather than less? I know that matzah must be baked with 18 minutes of kneading the dough so it doesn’t have time to rise? Yet here the Torah seems to say their dough had not risen perhaps days later!

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for your very good question. The most straightforward answer is that dough only rises when it is at rest. And since the Children of Israel were traveling and carrying their dough on their shoulders, it was not given the chance to rise. Jewish law likewise states that dough which is constantly worked will not rise in an entire day (the familiar 18 minutes is really only the upper limit if it is left to rest; Shulchan Aruch O.C. 459:2).

This would be especially true if yeast were never added to the dough. Fermentation would altogether begin only after “wild” yeast spores would settle in from the air. And that too never occurred with the dough wrapped up and in transport.

Some of the commentators suggest further that the Jews were constantly working the dough while it was on their shoulders to keep it from rising during their travels (Ohr HaChaim Shemot 12:34, Me’am Lo’ez Shemot 10:15-16).

Although the above is the simple answer, there are fascinating Midrashic statements which offer more miraculous reasons. One is the Mechilta (parsha 14, commenting on Shemot 12:37) which states that the Children of Israel made the trip from Ramses to Sukkot in an instant, in fulfillment of God’s later statement – “I have carried you on the wings of eagles” (Exodus 19:4). Thus, Israel’s matzah was actually baked within 18 minutes.

The second Midrashic explanation is the Targum Yonatan (an early Aramaic translation and elaboration on the Torah) that the dough cooked in the sun as they were traveling –while on their shoulders. It thus stopped rising right away, although they only baked it after they camped in Sukkot.

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