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  • Writer's pictureNitzotzos

Pesach - Three Steps To True Liberation

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין

This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is hungry let them come and eat, anyone who is needy let them come and participate in Pesach. Now we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free.

Chazal say, the end of something is always buried and hidden in the beginning. In the beginning of Maggid we have the strange paragraph of Ha Lachma Anya. It has been described as a declaration, an invitation and a prayer all in one.

There are a plethora of questions on this short introductory paragraph:

  1. In contrast to the rest of the Haggadah Ha Lachma Anya is written in Aramaic. Why?

  2. Ha Lachma Anya is placed in the beginning of Maggid, yet it seemingly has nothing to do with the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim. Why was it placed here?

  3. Ha Lachma Anya would indicate that “this” is the bread that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt, but this is not the bread that our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim, it's the food that they ate when they left Mitzrayim?

  4. The Mogen Avraham paskens that the correct nusach would be K’ha Lachma Anya or Ha K’lachma Anya, this is “like” the bread that our forefathers ate… but says that if one says our nusach they have not lost out. Why doesn’t the Mogen Avraham mandate his nusach? It sounds like the Mogen Avraham would allow our nusach l’chatchila. Why?

  5. The Zohar calls the Matzah the bread of emunah and of healing. Why here, at the outset of the Seder, is it referred to as lechem oni, the bread of affliction?

  6. Ha Lachma is obviously not an invitation - if that were the case we would have said Ha Lachma Anya in Shul. Even if we were to say it at home, at the very least we should open up the door (as we do later on in the Seder) to indicate that those who are outside are invited to join us. In fact, the Gemara (Taanis 20b) teaches that whenever Rav Huna had a meal he would open the door wide and declare - whoever is in need let him come and eat. The timing of this “invitation” is also strange. If we were going to invite people to our seder it certainly should have happened before Kiddush! Those who would in theory come now will have missed the first of the four Kosos. Why then do we say all who are hungry let them come and eat…? Who are we saying this to?

  7. If we are inviting the hungry should we not be offering them something more than poor man's bread?

  8. What's the difference between those who are hungry and those who are needy?

  9. What does it mean to invite some to celebrate Pesach with us? They can't join us in the Korban Pesach, it's too late! They have to be included before the Korban was shechted.

  10. What's the difference between now we are here and now we are slaves?

  11. At the end of the Seder in Nirtzah we declare, next year may we be in Yerushalayim. Why then do we say here at the very outset of the seder, next year may we be in Eretz Yisrael?

  12. There seem to be three disparate statements in Ha Lachma Anya. A statement about the Matzah, an “invitation” and our hopes for the future. What if anything unites these three statements?

There is a core question that confronts us as we begin the Pesach Seder - as we are clearly still in exile, why are we acting tonight as if we are free men? How can we celebrate a freedom that we have obviously not achieved? Furthermore, as Hashem is the one who took us out of Mitzrayim, how is it that this redemption was not eternal?

The exile in Mitzrayim was meant to be the only exile that Klal Yisrael had to endure. Had we been capable of withstanding the torture of 400 years in Mitzrayim there would have been an eternal redemption. Hashem saw that we could not stay in Mitzrayim for even one more moment and so He took us out of Mitzrayim early. Seen in this light, it is appropriate for us to see Yetzias Mitzrayim not as a complete redemption but as the beginning of a process of redemption. All of the exiles that we have endured throughout history are a continuation of the Golus Mitzrayim. What then was accomplished by leaving Mitzrayim? The Maharal explains that Yetzias Mitzrayim gifted us with an essential inner freedom. Not only was it a physical and political redemption but now internally and essentially we remain forever free. Though we will endure other exiles, in contrast to Mitzrayim where our core identity became that of a slave, we can now only be oppressed physically. Other nations throughout history have enslaved us but since the times of Mitzrayim we have never again become slaves.

With this in mind we can now understand the inner message of Ha Lachma Anya. Written in Aramaic, the language of Golus, we are highlighting our current exiled status. We say Ha Lachma Anya, this is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate when they were in the Land of Egypt. We do not say when they left the land of Egypt because in truth we never really left. We remain, in a sense, slaves in Egypt until this very day. It is not “like” the bread that our forefathers ate, it is the very same bread. We continue to eat the same bread of affliction that they ate when they were in Mitzrayim. While the Matzah will become for us a bread of faith and of healing, at this point in our journey it is the bread of affliction as we courageously face the reality that we remain in exile.

And while this may seem like no big deal, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to face the reality that we are in exile. It is far easier, especially in today’s day and age where we are enjoying unprecedented levels of freedom, to turn a blind eye to the truth of our exiled state. Owning our story means recognizing the sometimes harsh and always vulnerable reality that all is still not right in our world. We must still wait faithfully and patiently for our redemption. Seen through this lens, the phrase Ha Lachma Anya is a deeply emotional one. It engages the unfelt feelings of pain and heartbreak and loss that we ignore on a day to day basis. With great bravery we declare Ha Lachma Anya, we are still enduring the bitter exile of Mitzrayim and eating the same bread that our ancestors ate in Mitzrayim. And, in so doing, we move one step closer to healing. For us to heal we must first recognize that we are sick. Once we accept the reality that our Matzah is still a bread of affliction can it become for us a bread of faith and ultimately of healing.

Far from being three random statements, Ha Lachma Anya gives us a clear three step process necessary to end this bitter exile and achieve a Geula Shleima. Step one is the courageous recognition that we are still slaves in the process of leaving Mitzrayim. Step two is the recognition that we cannot leave Golus alone. The Jewish people are a single entity. The world is made up of distinct matter but the Jewish Nation is defined by her unique Godly soul. Not only are we united by a common cause but by a shared essence. We are called upon to love each other as we do ourselves because in truth while we live in a multitude of diverse bodies we are a single being. And because we are a singular breathing entity, every single Jew contains within themselves every other Jew. Wherever we go, we take every other Jew with us. Whatever we do impacts every other Jew. When one Jew celebrates we all celebrate. When one of us falls we all fall. We are not merely concerned for one another, we are responsible for one another because we are fundamentally interconnected. No one Jew can end this exile alone. It is something we must do together.

Knowing that we are not alone, that we are part of something larger than ourselves and that we have a responsibility to provide for one another empowers us to leave our slave mentality. A slave has no sense of self. Because they belong to another, they cannot be a part of something larger than themselves. Who is the self who would belong? The slave feels as if they are mere property. And because of this they think nothing of others. Why would someone who has nothing to give, nothing to offer, think that they have what to contribute to anyone else? Property does not take responsibility for others. In contrast, free men have dignity. They have a deep sense of belonging. They take responsibility. A free man knows that if they have and others need he is obligated to share.

Step two in the Ha Lachma Anya program of redemption is the internal recognition that those who are hungry must be given food. Those who are needy and have no food to eat, those who are lonely are invited to join our Pesach Seder. As we are still in exile, we are all equals in this home. The poor man who is lacking is not seen as the beneficiary of our Tzedaka but as a fellow traveler on this journey towards redemption that we are all taking together. Again, this is not a true invitation to outsiders. We don’t open the doors to our home as Rav Huna did; that was a legitimate invitation to others. Anyway, it’s too late for an invitation, the first cup of wine has already been drunk. In step two we declare to ourselves that we are people of dignity. Capable of recognizing that others are suffering both physically and psychologically and responsible for their welfare. Freedom in Judaism is not only about breaking the shackles of oppression but about leading spiritual lives where we can be of service to others. Ultimately we are a religion not only of rights but of responsibility. This is how we will leave behind our slave mentality and become free men.

Finally, we have step three in achieving true freedom. Unless we are driving for pleasure we do not simply get in our cars and drive. We must have a clear picture of our destination. If we want to attain a state of freedom we need to have a clear articulation of what freedom means. Notice that in step two of Ha Lachma Anya we took care of the physical needs of our impoverished friend by giving him food to eat (יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל) and only afterwards we took care of his psychological needs ( יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח), so too here we see that the first stage of freedom is returning to Eretz Yisrael. When someone is starving we must first give them food to eat to ensure their immediate survival before we can help them deal with their loneliness. Similarly, as long as we are exiled in strange lands, under the dominion of foreign forces, we are in a sense starving. We cannot focus on our inner state of freedom if physical oppression threatens our very existence. The first step of Geula is an expression of our need to return to a space where we are the masters of our destiny. The second step is to recognize that ultimately true freedom is internal not external. Even if we are in Eretz Yisrael with righteous Jewish kings leading our nation, it is still possible for a person to be a slave to themselves. Rather than controlling our more animalistic urges, we often seem to be subservient to them. The truly free person has total autonomy over themselves.

A wise woman once told me that hope is everything. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l explains the difference between hope and optimism. “Optimism is the belief that the world is changing for the better; hope is the belief that, together, we can make the world better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to hope.” A slave has no hope for the future. They have no agency to create change. With no sense of self they cannot join with others. Only free men can hope for a better tomorrow. In the final stages of Ha Lacham Anya we clearly state our vision for a free future. We proclaim with great hope that now we are here but next year we will be in Eretz Yisrael, masters of our physical destiny. Now we are here but next year we will be free men, masters over our animalistic urges.

We can now understand why this is placed at the very beginning of Maggid. Telling the story of Mitzrayim is not an academic endeavor. We are meant to see ourselves as actually leaving Mitzrayim. Ha Lachma Anya is a beautiful introduction to the visualization of the night as it gives us step by step instructions to leave Mitzrayim and achieve true liberation. May we merit to see the final stages of redemption speedily in our days.

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