Ha Lachma Anya:
A Passover Riddle Explained

The paragraph "Ha Lachma Anya" that we read at the very beginning of the Haggadah is enigmatic. What exactly is going on here? Let's take it line by line:

Ha lachma anya, d'akhla avatana b'ar'a d'mitzrayim.

This is the bread of affliction, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.

Matzah has two symbolisms. It was the poor bread that we were forced to eat during our years of slavery in Egypt. And it was the bread of redemption that God had us eat as He hastened us out of Egypt into freedom.

Why is only one of these mentioned here? And if only one is to be mentioned, surely the more appropriate one would be the positive one?

We'll leave this question hanging and return to it further along.

Kol dikhsif, yeitei v'yeikhol;
kol ditzrikh, yeitei v'yifsach.

All who are hungry, come and eat;
All who are in need, come and partake in the Paschal offering.

The first part of this is fairly simple. It sounds like an invitation to the poor. But the second part?

Jewish law states that the Paschal offering may only be eaten by those who signed up to be part of that particular group of people earlier in the day. What would happen was that a group of people, called a Havurah, would all go in on a single animal, which they'd share. Anyone who wasn't part of this group before Passover started was forbidden to partake of that animal.

One answer that is given is that this line is not said to people outside, but precisely to members of the group. To the family. But this leaves a lack of symmetry that is disturbing.

The answer lies in another point of Jewish law. The Paschal offering may only be eaten "al ha-sova", or when you are full. It is basically dessert. You are supposed to eat until you are full and only then partake of the Paschal offering.

So in fact, the first part of this is not a call to the poor to come and eat. It, too, is a call to the family, to the members of the group, to come and eat if they are still hungry, so that they will be able to partake of the Paschal offering.

Hashata hakha, l'shana haba b'ar'a d'yisrael;
Hashata avdei, l'shana haba bnei chorin.

Now we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel;
Now we are slaves, next year we will be free men.

As we sit and say this, we know that we are not in fact slaves. But this is understood by most people metaphorically. So long as we are not sovereign in our own land we are indeed slaves of a sort.

But what of the first line? We say this even when we are actually in Israel. Some explain that this is because it is a statement representing all of the Jewish people. So long as any of us remain in Exile, this passage is relevant.

But there is a basic problem. In the second passage of "Ha Lachma Anya", we speak of the Paschal offering. And here we speak of being outside of the Land of Israel. The Paschal offering may only be brought in the Land of Israel. How can the second and third passages both be included?

And now we come to the resolution of the puzzle. For this is what "Ha Lachma Anya" is: a puzzle. It is a riddle which asks: Heichi dami? What is the case?

The only time in all of history when the Paschal offering could be brought outside of Israel was the very first time. The night before we left Egypt. And this explains the whole of "Ha Lachma Anya". On that night, our only experience of Matzah was as the bread of affliction that our fathers had eaten in Egypt. On that night, we were indeed still slaves. And as bittersweet and tragic as it is, we believed that the following year we would be free men in the Land of Israel.

When we say "Ha Lachma Anya," we are weaving a tapestry of history, and putting ourselves in it. It is a role playing game. We imagine ourselves as though we are back 33 centuries ago, awaiting God's redemption. "Ha Lachma Anya" sets the tone for the rest of the Haggadah.

Return to Lisa's World