Ha lachma anya…
This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry should come and eat, all who are in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Now we are here, next year may we be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year may we be free people.
As we prepare our homes and kitchens for Passover, we can take a few moments to prepare our souls as well. The text, “Ha lachma anya,” that we read at the beginning of the maggid (storytelling) section of the Passover Hagaddah, is a text that I return to each year with gratitude. I am grateful for the wisdom of Judaism in providing this deeply meaningful text as the opening to our Pesach story. Matzah is the bread of affliction, or destitution, as it is referred to in this translation. We love to make jokes about how the matzah afflicts our systems, but as we know every joke has some truth behind it.
There are endless rabbinic commentaries that teach about the nature of this food. As the bread of poverty, it was seen as something that helped our enslaved ancestors endure hunger and allow their stomachs to feel fuller than they actually were. As the bread of affliction, we aren’t just talking about the digestive challenges that matzah offers us, but the idea that with this discomfort that it causes us, we become more aware of what we eat on other nights. And by eating this ritual food once a year, we also become aware of how the memory becomes somewhat distant each year until we taste it again, connecting us to the generations that came before us and to those who will follow. One of my favorite commentaries addresses the “chametz” that exists in our own egos. The eating of matzah can be a yearly practice reminding us not to let ourselves get too puffed up.
When we hold up the matzah at the beginnings of our seders at our various tables, I hope we feel all of those things. And I hope that we also access the rest of what we are told in Ha Lachma Anya - stating aloud that we should open our tables to those in need, renewing our connection to the land of Israel, and committing ourselves to address the ways in which we ourselves are still fettered and working against injustice and toward freedom for all people whenever we are afforded that privilege.
Cantor Kerith Spencer-Shapiro