Crunching the Numbers
Let’s take 18 minutes—the halakhic time limit for baking kosher-for-Passover matsot—to talk about roots related to the word matsa.
Ma’agarim, the online Historical Dictionary of the Hebrew Language Academy, firmly insists that the root מ-צ-צ (mem, tsadi, tsadi). Others propose מ-צ-ה (mem, tsadi, heh), that root’s sister. Both of these roots mean to press, squeeze or s-uck out. But would a baker today agree that the dryness of matsa is due to the “squeezing” out of its liquid? Lexicographers Mordekhai Rosen and Ernest Klein suggest the root נ-צ-ה (nun, tsadi, heh), to hasten. In this case, matsa would mean “that which was made in haste,” coinciding nicely with the hasty exodus from Egypt, when the bread being baked for the journey didn’t have time to rise.
In Scripture, the noun מַצָּה (matsa) appears often as a “bread of affliction” and sometimes as a side dish accompanying various sacrificial meals. The verb מָצָה (matsah), to squeeze out, is found in a bizarre tale in the Book of Judges. Gideon, called by God to deliver Israel from her enemies, challenges Him to soak a fleece fabric with dew while leaving the surrounding grass dry. Next morning, we learn, וַיִּמֶץ טַל (va-yimmets tal), “[Gideon] squeezed dew [from the fleece]” and went to war. The root is also found in Leviticus, dealing with the ritual of pigeon sacrifice, where נִמְצָה דָמוֹ (nimtsa damo), [the bird’s] blood is drained out and then thrown against the altar. Eating matsa is a benign ritual in comparison.
The noun מִיץ (mits), juice, is so called because it involves squeezing, applying pressure. In Proverbs, we are told, מִיץ חָלָב (mits halav), “putting milk under pressure,” makes butter. For the wise author, therefore, מִיץ אַפַּיִּם (mits appayim), putting one’s patience under pressure, produces strife. In medical circles, מְצִיצָה (metsitsa), taking a drag on a cigarette, has many detractors, as does the מוֹצֵץ (motsets), baby pacifier, on which an infant sucks. Today, the act of מְצִיצָה בְּפֶּה (metsitsa be-peh), draining blood orally during ritual circumcision, is the subject of heated religious controversy.
For those who would like to take the lessons of these 18 minutes into the Intermediate Days of the holiday, some recommend to crunch on a piece of chocolate-covered egg matsa, מַצָּה עֲשִׁירָה (matsa ashirah), literally, enriched matsa. Or, take a forkful of מַצִיָּה (matsiyyah), a Hebrew version of Yiddish’s matza brei. After pouring a cup of boiling water into a תַּמְצִית (tamtsit), extract [of tea leaves], and taking a sip, you may contemplate all that matsa has wrought.