I wrote this d’var Torah for the board meeting last night. (Unfortunately, I didn’t attend because I have a bad cold). Maybe it will be helpful for your seder?
Two weeks from tonight, God willing, we will be gathered around tables in order to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We will say, “הא לחמא עניה די אבלו אבהתנה בארעא דמצרים,” “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” We hold up the matzoh at this point though we are still many page turns away from eating it.
Something about this idea has always troubled me. Sure, matzoh is the bread of the poor, it is quick and inexpensive to make. However, isn’t it also the bread of freedom? It says in Exodus, “they [the Israelites] baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.”1 Why is it that the rabbis who constructed the liturgy of our seder meal call matzoh the poor person’s bread and not the bread of freedom?
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg suggests that the rabbis start the Maggid, the telling, section of the haggadah this way precisely because it is the ultimate equalizer.2 Perhaps the rabbis of old were concerned that we would forget the beginning of the story and focus only on the positive outcome–we end up free people. Another possibility is that the rabbis want each of us to be prepared to challenge the status quo like our ancestors who fled Egypt. Therefore we all sit with this hard, plain matzoh before us, the same bread of oppression our ancestors ate.When we taste that matzoh we are simultaneously taken back in time and transported to the table with the empty plates belonging to the oppressed worker, the slave laborer, of one of the 963 million people around the world who cannot exit the cycle of hunger.3
We will say again at the end of this paragraph, “השתא עבדי לשנה הבאה בני חורין, now we are slaves, next year may we all be free.” May we each come to know the end of oppression even as we work towards this end for all people.
כן יהי רצון
1. Ex. 12:39.