Ha Lachma Anya -thoughts based on an ancient Yemenite commentary

The Hagada begins with a very short summary of the seder in Aramaic. Aramaic was the common language at the time when the Hagada was formulated, and the Rabbis wanted to begin with an overview easily accessible to all.

The first thing we identify is the matzah as bread of the poor. This focuses attention on why we eat matzah. Usually we eat something either because it tastes good or because it is healthy, but matzah is neither of these – the only reason to eat matzah is the mitzvah.

(This also explains the other laws which the Rabbis derived from “lechem oni”. First, we may not use matzah kneaded with anything other than flour and water. To add other ingredients would be to focus on its taste, taking away from its exclusive mitzvah identity. second, it is “lechem sheonim alav devarim harbeh” a bread which is the basis for the telling of the story of yetziat mitzraim. The reason for eating matzah is exclusively to serve as a basis for retelling this memory.)

We then extend this focus on impoverished bread to recognizing the needs of others. We turn to inviting those in material need, “all who are hungry come and eat” (A sentiment which, ideally, we would express all year – see Taanit 20b – but, at least on Pesach, we express that aspiration explicitly). Then we extend our invitation to those who want to partake in the educational experience of Pesach.

But how can we invite people to join in the Pesach, we don’t have a korban to invite people to join– furthermore, even if we did, only a person who joined in advance may eat from the Korban Pesach? Thus, the purpose of this statement is not practical, rather it is educational. This invitation is addressed to all of the people of the world, including non-Jews, inviting them to join in the lessons of Pesach. The Torah is universal in objective and any human being is welcome to join the Jewish people in the Pesach service, and develop the closeness to God attained through studying and living these ideas. However, to join in the korban requires gerut, the pesach is not about having a special party, rather it is about developing knowledge of God, therefore it is only open to those who want to satisfy the human hunger for knowledge. We extend the scope of our seder from a national festival to being a response to human needs, both biological and spiritual, an opportunity which we cannot limit to ourselves and those close to us.

Finally we apply the idea of redemption to ourselves. The seder is not just a commemoration of past redemption, but rather is meant to awaken in us a proper understanding of redemption, arousing a desire and hope for the future redemption. A redemption which will only come about through the merit of Tzedakah (Hilchot Matnot Aniyim 10:1). We look forward to a future time when we are no longer subjugated to the cruel order of politics, and we can return to Israel to a political order oriented towards gaining knowledge of God and following His ways. (While we now have the blessing of a Jewish state in Israel, we still have a political order essentially like those of the other nations oriented towards pleasure, power and ego, rather than towards human flourishing through knowledge of God and an ethical life. We are grateful for the blessing of having a State, but pray for its full realization).

With this Paragraph, Chazal have helped us introduce our Seder. Making a statement of the objective of our discussions of Yetziat Mitzraim – to transform how we live and to lift our aspirations and hopes towards a full redemption when the world will be filled with knowledge of God.

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