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Thought for the Day: Best Way to Fulfill Mitzvah of Eating Maror

I know someone who makes a big deal about eating the large shiur of fresh grated horseradish at the seder each year.  He is not satisfied unless his face turns beet red and he cries real tears. Mild choking is extra credit.  Very dramatic.  Hardly necessary, nor even halachically desired, as we shall discuss, בעזרת השם.  This guy I know who does this didn't grow up frum and thought he was doing the right thing... and it was entertaining for everyone when I did this each year.  Live and learn.

First of all: what is maror?  The Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch. 473:5) lists five vegetables that can be used: romaine lettuce, chicory, horseradish, חרחבינא, and -- last be certainly not least -- מרור.  A few notes before we get into the meat of things.  First of all, note that I've translated the second item on the list is chicory, not endive.  The confusion seems to stem from Belgiam Endive, which is a kind of chicory, not an endive at all.  Second, it's really difficult to find a good translation for חרחבינא; the Mishna Brura doesn't comment on it at all, in fact.  The best I could do is Eryngium campestre, whose common name is "field eryngo"; feel more educated now, do ya?  All we really care about is the common ones: romaine lettuce, horseradish, and מרור.  Just to spice things up, we'll work our way backwards from מרור.

Seems a bit odd to say one of the things you can use for מרור is מרור, doesn't it?  The Mishna Brura (sk 35) explains that it is yet another vegetable that was know to them and called מרור because it was particularly bitter.  Ok, but why can I use other things than מרור to fulfill the mitzvah d'oraisa of eating מרור?  The best explanation I heard was from R' Dovid Cohen of the CRC.  The word מרור is being used in two ways: (1) There is a class of herbs/vegetables that is called מרור.  Not all herbs in that family are bitter, just as not all oranges are orange.  (I love that I have a kosher way to slip an orange into this discussion; a nice shtukh to reform rabbis everywhere.)  (2) a particular herb in that family.  For you Java programmers: (1) is מרור with a capital מ, while (2) is מרור with a lower-case מ.

Now we are left with romaine lettuce and horseradish; both tasty, neither bitter.  Romaine lettuce will become bitter if you leave it in the ground to grow too long; but we didn't, so it isn't.  Horseradish seems to have been chosen in Europe over romaine lettuce because of insect infestations, not because it was sharper and could make you cry.  The stalks are a bit bitter, but the Mishna Brura says (end of sk 38) that he sees many people pushing themselves to eat that stalks and he just doesn't understand why.... the leaves work just as well and are easier to eat.  In fact, the Taz (sk 5) says that leaves are preferable specifically because they are easier to eat, so you'll fulfill the mitzvah with more gusto.

That's the problem with learning... facts keep interfering with my cherished preconceived notions.


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