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Whose Water : Pesachim 42a

Written by Anonymous

Rav Yehudah said: “A woman should only knead the dough for Matzah with Mayim Shelanu (water that has rested overnight).” Rav Matnah expounded this teaching in Papunya the day before Pesach. The following day all the residents brought their pitchers to him and said: “Give us water.” (They had misunderstood when he had taught the requirement of Mayim Shelanu which is pronounced exactly the same and can also be translated as ‘our water’!) He replied to them: “I intended: ‘with water that rested overnight’.” (Gemara Pesachim 42a) What can we learn from this Talmudic passage? Beit Yosef1 cites the opinion of the Yereim who discusses the fact that the Gemara relates the story of Rav Matnah and the people of Papunya. He writes that it seems that this story took place on Pesach itself. The people came to bake Matzah, expecting to buy water from him. Suddenly, they found out that they had misunderstood his lesson from the day before, and that instead of buying water from Rav Matnah, it was necessary to use water that had stayed overnight. Unfortunately, this meant that they had not prepared any water overnight for this purpose, and they had no water to use for that day’s Matzah. Nevertheless, the Gemara does not report this as being any type of crisis. The people were not told to go hungry or without Matzah. We see from here, reports the Yereim, that the requirement of Mayim Shelanu is not indispensable. If one does not have this type of water, he may prepare Matzah even without it. Others say that the story can lead us to a different conclusion: because the people were lacking in water “from overnight”, they left water sitting for 12 hours during the day to make the Matzah. This is understandable, according to Rashi, because the reason for Mayim Shelanu is to allow the natural heat of water drawn from the ground to dissipate. (Alternatively, Maharam Chalavah2 suggests that the movement of the spring water in its underground channel gives it the nature of making dough rise quicker. Therefore it is left out overnight to rest before it is used for baking Matzah.) Leaving the water to sit after being drawn is not due to anything intrinsic about night, but simply to have it removed from the ground for a short duration, in order to reduce its ability to hasten leavening. The people of Papunya did not go hungry, not because they disregarded the need to have Mayim Shelanu, but because they satisfied this halachah by allowing the water to rest for a while that same day3.4 Finally, Sfat Emet notes that the point of the story is that a Torah teacher must be exceedingly careful in the wording he uses to teach halachot to the general public, because unlearned people might misunderstand him and arrive at inaccurate conclusions. 1. Orach Chaim 455 2. cited in the article “Water for Matza Baking” in Meorot HaDaf HaYomi, Vol. 353 3. Based on the article “The lessons of the people of Papunya” in the Daf Yomi Digest Number 365 from the Chicago Centre for Torah & Chesed 4. In countries such as Australia it may be quite hot at night before Pesach and water left out overnight may in fact heat up rather than cool. Therefore, some Poskim rule that there is no option but to draw Mayim Shelanu and bake Matzot months earlier when it is winter. Furthermore, due to the hot climate, the dough for Matzot should be prepared in an air-conditioned room. (Mikraei Kodesh II 7; Matzot Mitzvah 6:76)

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