What is the simple halachic reason that we use three Matzos when leading the Passover Seder? It is so we will have two whole, unbroken matzos over which to recite the blessing upon bread, ha-motzi--as we do at every Shabbos and Yom Tov meal—as well as one matzah to break during the Seder.

The two loaves of Shabbos and Yom Tov commemorate the two whole portions of manna that miraculously appeared every Friday, allowing us to dedicate the day of Shabbos to being with the Creator, rather than to gathering the day"s food. The third matzah of the Seder is broken, symbolizing Lechem Oni - the "bread of poverty". (Deut. 16:3) A poor person must ration his food, so he breaks his loaf and hides a portion to eat later.

The "Rif" (10th Century), and the "Gra" 18th Century) used only two matzos for the Seder. They ruled according to the opinion that we need only one whole unbroken matzah, and one matzah to break. The prevailing opinion today is to use three matzos, two whole matzos and one broken matzah.

Remez: the Hinted Reason for Three Matzos

The three matzos hint at the minimum three matzos that were offered in Temple times as a todah - a "thanksgiving offering". This offering was made when a person was saved from danger or released from prison. On Pesach, we give thanks for the Exodus from Egypt, which was like being freed from prison. [the "Mordechai"]

The three matzos also remind us of when Abraham is visited by the angels and he calls to Sarah, "Hurry! Three measures of the finest flour! Knead it, and make ugot (round breads)." [Gen. 18:6] The Midrash says this meal takes place on Pesach, and the ugos are matzos, made in a hurry so they do not become leavened.

Derash: the Expanded Reason for Three Matzos

The three matzos represent the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.["Rokeach"] They also represent the three categories of Jews: Cohein, Levi, and Yisrael. [the "Arizal"]

When we are preparing for the Seder, we stack the matzos in this order: first the matzah representing Yisrael on the bottom, then Levi above it, and finally the Cohein on top. In this order, their acronym is YeiLeCh, meaning "going" or journeying. The Seder is a process, a journey towards liberation.[The "Rebbe Rayatz"]

Sod: the Mystical Reason for Three Matzos

Our sages tell us, that, "A child does not know how to call "Father," or "Mother," until he tastes grain." [Talmud Sanhedrin, 70b.] This implies that the consumption of wheat is associated with our intellectual development. The Arizal, R. Yitzchak Luria, says that the three matzos symbolize the three forms of intellect: Chochmah - "wisdom", Binah - "understanding", and Da"at - "awareness".

The matzah on the bottom of the stack is the one that is combined with Maror to make koreich - the "Hillel sandwich." This matzah specifically embodies Da"at, a Divine Attribute that brings together opposites. Hillel"s sandwich brings together the intellect (matzah) and emotions (maror), or brings together redemption (matzah) and slavery (maror).

The middle matzah is broken into two pieces. This is an expression of Binah, whose function is breaking ideas down into fine details. The left brain. The larger of the two pieces is broken into five smaller pieces before it is hidden away as the afikoman. These five pieces represent the five levels of Gevurah - constriction, another "left-column" Attribute, which is just below Binah on the Tree of Life.

In terms of the Attributes, Binah is represented in the letter Hei, the fifth letter, a letter that is comprised of two parts, (a right vertical line connected to a horizontal line above, and a left suspended line to the left) thus the middle Matzah is broken into two, and then further into five.

The top matzah is consumed together with the remaining piece of the middle matzah, in fulfillment of the mitzvah of "eating matzah". Fulfilling a mitzvah is a manifestation of Chochmah, a higher intuition or faith in what is above and beyond us. Being that the top Matzah is connected with the letter Yud, a simple one point, the matzah is not broken.

In general, the numerical value of the word matzah is 135, which is the same as the combined values of the Divine names AV (72) and SaG (63). Av is associated with the sefira of Chochmah, and SaG is associated with the sefira of Binah.

Three & Four

Now we have an understanding of why we use three matzos. Another question arises: why should there be three matzos when the main numerical theme of the Hagadah text is "four"? What is the inner reason for three matzos but four cups of wine, and how can this inspire our Seder?

Our sages tell us (Talmud Shabbos, 104a) that the letters Gimmel and Dalet mean Gomel Dalim. The letter Gimel (in Hebrew, the number three) means gomel, "giver", and the letter Dalet (the number four) means dalim, "poor people", i.e. recipients of the "giver". Thus the relationship between three and four is one of giving and receiving.

This relationship can be understood through the following analogy. One person, "the giver", is considering how to communicate a subtle spiritual insight to another person, "the receiver". Before communication occurs, the insight has three metaphorical dimensions within the mind of the giver: depth, length, and breadth. "Depth" refers to the giver"s understanding of deeper meaning of the insight. "Length" refers to the giver"s ability to articulate the insight, taking it out of abstraction and giving it an understandable form. "Broadening" means the giver"s ability to develop practical implications of the insight.

The receiver is "poor" in terms of these three dimensions. However, when the giver finally communicates the insight, a fourth dimension is added to the three: relationship with the receiver. Thus, when "three" is received, it becomes "four". The giver"s insight now expands vertically and horizontally within the vessel of the receiver"s mind, and there is a unity between giver and receiver.

Our Redemption

In terms of our Exodus from Egypt, G‑d Al-mighty is the "giver" and we, the redeemed ones, are the "receivers". Eventually we reach a unity with Hashem, but first a relationship must be developed. In the beginning, as slaves, we are dependent, immature, and unable to receive. During the journey of redemption, we become ready to have a genuine relationship with our Redeemer.

We drink four cups of wine to represent the four expressions the Torah uses in reference to the Exodus: "I will take you out," "I will save you," "I will redeem you," and "I will take you to Me." The first three expressions are like the three dimensions of insight within the giver, and they imply "poverty" on the part of the receiver, for there is not yet an active receptivity or relationship. The fourth term, "take you to Me" implies a genuine relationship, a unity between the giver and the receiver. This is when communication finally occurs.

In the expression "I will take you to Me," the term "take" alludes to the "taking" of a marriage partner. [Talmud Kidushin, 2a] G‑d takes us to Himself in marriage when we reach Mount Sinai. Prior to this, we are still eating the bread of poverty, working on our freedom, and opening ourselves. Under the Divine wedding canopy, we sip the wine of Hashem"s Torah, and we receive the full depth, length and breadth of His insight. In Hashem"s embrace, we transcend intellect, and we are fully redeemed.

In Summary

The three matzos, as the "bread of poverty", are flat and relatively tasteless—representing the receiver in an empty, passive, open state. Therefore, the first three expressions of redemption, in which the receiver is passive, correspond to the three matzos. They also correspond to the three levels of intellect, Chochma, Binah and Da"as, before they are touched and ignited by Divine love.

Wine, in contrast to matzah, is full of taste, color and passion, representing the receiver engaged in a loving relationship. The four cups of wine thus represent the fourth expression of redemption, when we, the receivers, are mature enough to enter into intimate communication with Hashem. When our three intellectual sefiros are then ignited, we transcend intellect. We unite "three" and "four". This is the end goal of our redemption, and these are the energies we activate at the Seder, as we eat the three matzos and drink the four cups of wine.


Source: Excerpted from "The Iyyun Hagadah"