Pesach Thought – Torah Themes

Pesach Thought

Achieving Holiness

The Pesach seder opens with a curious Aramaic declaration of “ha lachma anya, this is the bread of affliction that our forefather’s ate in Egypt, anyone who’s hungry may enter and join us…” (The bread of affliction refers to the matzah which slaves ate in Egypt as it was a cheap and poor men’s bread which we now remember.) What is this about and why are we opening the seder with it and in Aramaic, unlike the rest of the hagaddah which is in Hebrew?

Fascinating Historical Connection

When Yosef Hatzaddik was appointed viceroy to Pharaoh in Egypt his job was to store away the food during the years of plenty and to provide for the nation when the famine he predicted hit.

The verse in Bereishis (43:23) tells us that the Egyptians requested food during the famine and Yosef responded, “I now own you as my slaves, behold, here are some seeds (הא, ha lachem zarah), take them and plant them in the ground.”

The kabbalistic Sefer Kanfei Yonah (R’ Menachem Azariah de Fano, Italy, 1548 – 1620) makes a number of interesting comments here (quoted by Yalkut Reuveni, Vayigash p. 22). He says that the gematria of “Ha lachma anya, עניא לחמא הא” is 210, the number of years that the Jews were in Egypt. This hints to the reason that the Jews were in Egypt in galus for those 210 years. Yosef brought down the letter hey, which represents bris milah and procreation, to Egypt and this was a mistake. He gave over this holy power to the evil forces. Because of this, the Jews had to suffer in the hands of Egypt and be afflicted there until they rescued their holiness. The Zohar says that the letter hay represents procreation and the bringing of children into the world. Avram couldn’t have children until his name was changed to Avraham, with the addition of a hay. Sari couldn’t have children until her name was changed to Sarah, by adding a hay. Thus, we open the haggadah talking about the weakened and poor hey (hey lachma anya), which caused the galus. The redemption took place when the Jews elevated themselves to a higher level and regained that holiness.

What exactly is this about?

Letter Hay

Chazal tell us that with Yud-Hay (ה-י) Hashem created worlds. This refers to olam habah, the yud, and olam hazeh, the hay. This work is a place of perfecting ourselves, through our actions, to get to the place of ultimate reward, olam habah. Yosef is called Yehosef (יהוסף), with the added hay, because he perfected himself and brought himself to the highest level of using this world for kedusha, holiness. His “sin” above refers to the general state of the Jews, they were disconnected. Yosef had been sold down to Egypt because of jealousy and division and so the nation was weak. It was through their coming together and focusing on growth, something they did during their 210 years in Egypt, that was the merit that allowed them to finally be redeemed. The hay had been put back into holiness and taken away from Egypt. The Jews were fruitful and multiplied.

Chometz vs. Matzah

The only difference between the word chometz, חמץ, versus matzah, מצה, is the letter hey (ה). Both contain mem and tzadi, but differ in either the ches or hey. It is specifically because the hey is poor, hey anya, that it remains matzah and does not become chometz (Gra, Perush Hahagaddah).

Our job in life is to be productive and to accomplish all that we can. This is represented by the letter hey in matzah. It represents a proper application of “ushimartem es hamatzos, which is read by Chazal as “hamitzvos”, we strive to keep the matzah pure and not allow seor sheb’isa, chometz, our yetzer harah to rule (See Berachos 17a).

The Invite

This is why we open the seder with the phrase ha lachma anya. It introduces the fact that we are acknowledging that being in Egypt was an opportunity for the nation to perfect itself and regain its holiness. We say it in Aramaic, the common spoke language in Talmudic times, to make sure that every understands it. It is even deeper, though.

The Arizal explains that the word Targum (Aramaic) has the same numerical value as “tardaima, slumber.” When Hashem put Adam to sleep in a slumber and split man and woman, this represents the divide between Hebrew and Targum. This divide represents the guf and neshamah. The Hebrew is the neshamah and the Aramaic is the guf. We must elevate the guf (letter hay) by using it for Torah (letter yud). This is why all of Talmud Bavli and Zohar are written in Targum, Aramaic. That is the external part of Torah. When we learn it and plumb the depth, we arrive at the inner world of Torah knowledge, represented by Hebrew, the Holy Tongue. Targum is din, and it needs to be surrounded by the verse twice (during shnayim mikrah), which softens it and elevates it (see Essay on Parshas Lech Lech for further elaboration).

Sefer Machzik Beracha (473:6) states that one should actually pronounce the opening words as “Hey lachma anya.” I have not seen this done, and one should follow his family custom, but it certainly gives attention to the hey which is the heart of the lesson enumerated here.

We strive to be holy, to maintain the mitzvos, matzah, and to use this world as a place for us to imbue with Godly presence.

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