“This is the Bread of Affliction…. Next Year, May We Be Free Men.”

Hay Lachma Anya, “This is the bread of affliction” is the opening passage of the Haggadah.1 We do not, however, recite this passage before Kiddush at the beginning of the Seder, but shortly afterwards, for it marks the beginning of the story of the exodus from Egypt.2

This is why a) This passage is recited directly after the heading Maggid (the recitation), and b) During the recitation of this passage, we lift up the Seder plate,3 or according to Lubavitch custom, we uncover the matzos, since the story must be told in the presence of the matzos.4

From this, it is clear that our intention in reciting this passage at the beginning of the Seder is not only to invite guests to our table. Indeed, were this the only purpose, the declaration should be made directly after coming home from shul, or even while in shul, where it is possible for people to hear the invitation. Instead, this passage serves as the beginning of the story of the exodus.5 Therefore it would be inappropriate to recite it before the section of the Haggadah entitled Maggid.

A question arises: Why is the passage Hay Lachma Anya placed in the section of Maggid ? How is it part of the recitation of the story of Pesach? Moreover, why is it placed at the very beginning of that section, indicating that it summarizes the story, when it doesn’t appear to say anything about the exodus?6

Also, the content of the passage itself is problematic. It contains three bars which seem to have no connection to each other. The first bar states that the matzos on the table are “the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt.” The second serves as an invitation to others to join in our Pesach celebration, and the third is a wish that although “this year we are here” and “slaves,” “next year” we will be “in Jerusalem” and “free men.”

Sequence Within the Passage

There are commentators who explain the connection between the first two bars of the passage as follows: The Talmud7 states that when a person hires Jewish workers, he must provide food while they work. Since all Jews are “descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov,” they should be regarded as “the sons of kings,”8 or as “kings”9 themselves. Therefore even if an employer provides a feast fit for Shlomo at the height of his reign, he would not fulfill his responsibility. Accordingly, the employer’s only option is to make an agreement with his employees at the outset that he is giving them ordinary fare.

Similar concepts apply with regard to inviting guests to the Seder. Since the invited guests are like the sons of kings, or kings themselves, the most sumptuous feast would not be sufficient for them. Therefore, before issuing his invitation, the host clarifies that what he is serving is “the bread of affliction.”

But this explanation is insufficient, for it does not explain why the matzah is referred to as “the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt.” Why the latter phrase?

An explanation is also offered for the connection between the invitation to the guests and the bar that follows: “This year… next year….” Our Sages state:10Tzedakah is great because it brings the Redemption near.” Therefore we express our hope that the merit of inviting guests to the Pesach seder will hasten the Redemption, and then, “next year,” we will celebrate the seder in Eretz Yisrael as free men.

This explanation, however, is also inadequate, for it does not account for the fact that the two elements found in the third bar are mentioned in separate sentences: “This year, we are here, next year may we be in the land of Israel. This year, we are slaves, next year may we be free men.” According to the above explanation, both points could have been mentioned in the same sentence, thus: “This year we are here and slaves; next year may we be free men in the land of Israel.”

At G‑d’s Seder Table

The above difficulties can be resolved based on our Sages’ interpretation of the verse:11 “He tells His words to Yaakov, His statutes and judgments to Yisrael.” Our Sages explain12 that this implies that “what G‑d Himself performs, He tells the Jews to perform,” and what He commands the Jewish people to do, He Himself does.

This implies that on Pesach night, G‑d also recites the passage “This is the bread of affliction,” for when the Jews are in exile, G‑d is also in exile, as it says:13 “In their affliction, He is also afflicted.” And when the Jews will be redeemed, G‑d will also be redeemed, and thus the prophet quotes G‑d as proclaiming: “My salvation will come soon.”14

What is exile? The state in which an entity is constrained and its qualities hidden. Its existence remains intact, but it is denied expression.

These concepts apply with regard to G‑d’s “exile.” Even in exile, created beings are brought into existence and maintained by a G‑dly life-force. And yet this G‑dly life-force is not perceived. It is constrained and hidden.

Why is G‑d in exile, as it were? Because of the exile of the Jewish people.

This is the intent of the first bar of the passage Hay Lachma Anya. Anya literally means “poverty,” and in an ultimate sense, poverty involves a lack of knowledge, as our Sages comment:15 “a poor man [is lacking] solely in knowledge.” The term “our ancestors” refers to the supernal intellectual faculties. They are described as “ancestors” for they generate the supernal emotions.16 Thus the phrase “This is the bread of poverty which our ancestors ate” can be rendered: “Our lack of knowledge dissipated the supernal intellectual faculties,”17 causing a diminished awareness of G‑dliness in this material realm.

This pattern was seen in the Egyptian exile (the archetype for all subsequent exiles; indeed, all subsequent exiles are called by the name Egypt).18 Pharaoh, king of Egypt, stated:19 “I do not know G‑d,” i.e., he did not want to know about G‑dliness. And he was supported by his countrymen; all the people around him agreed with this approach.

The redemption of the Divine Presence comes about through the redemption of the Jewish people. This is indicated by the second bar: G‑d invites the Jewish people: “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.” Despite the darkness of exile, G‑d promises that whoever hungers for the knowledge of G‑d20 will be satisfied.

Moreover, G‑d will not give only what the person lacks.21 As soon as their immediate needs are met, the Jews will reach a higher level of understanding, and will desire spiritual wealth. The satisfaction of this desire is alluded to in the statement: “Whoever is needy, come and partake of the Pesach offering.” The Pesach offering is to be eaten after one’s hunger has been sated22 This is the approach of the wealthy: to receive in a stately and impressive manner, not merely to meet one’s needs.

The third bar focuses on the goal and outcome of the Pesach feast: the wealth of knowledge which will accrue to the Jews. Although “this year we are here, next year we [will] be in Eretz Yisrael.”

(When we say “next year we [will] be in Eretz Yisrael ,” we are not resigning ourselves to wait a year for the Redemption. Instead, the intent is that the Redemption should take place immediately, and so the next Seder will naturally be conducted in Eretz Yisrael.)

Eretz Yisrael has a figurative as well as a literal meaning. The word eretz ארץ , meaning “land,” shares a connection with the word ratzon רצון , meaning “will.” Thus our Sages say:23 “Why was [Eretz Yisrael] called eretz ? Because it desired to fulfill the will of its Creator?” Yisrael is an acronym for the Hebrew words meaning: “There are 600,000 letters in the Torah.”24 Thus Eretz Yisrael refers to a desire for Torah.

This will be the outcome of the Jews’ participation in the Seder and their acquisition of the knowledge it brings. Moreover, this wealth of knowledge will lead to material wealth, for all material entities are echoes of their spiritual counterparts. As a result, the Jews will attain Eretz Yisrael, and their desire will be for the Torah.

Our Sages say:25 “The daughters of Israel are becoming; it is poverty which makes them unattractive.” The genuine desire of every Jew is for good.26 It is merely poverty poverty in a material sense and a dearth of knowledge in a higher sense that obscures this desire.27 When poverty is removed, the Jews’ inherent beauty will be revealed, as it is written:28 “You are entirely beautiful, my beloved; there is no blemish in you.”

“A blemish” refers to a lack in the observance of the 248 positive commandments which parallel the 248 limbs of the body29 or in observance of the 365 negative commandments which parallel the body’s 365 sinews.30

Attaining Eretz Yisrael in this manner means that “next year, we [will] be free men.” When every Jew’s desire is focused on the Torah and its mitzvos , we will become free, redeemed from exile by Mashiach (for he will come in “a generation which is entirely worthy”31).

This will mark the beginning of the Redemption. As the Rambam writes:32

A king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply into the study of the Torah and… observes its mitzvos [He will] build the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel.

At that time, we will all proceed to Eretz Yisrael , led by Mashiach. May this take place soon.

From Redemption Past to Redemption Present

Based on the above, we can appreciate why this passage is placed at the beginning of the narrative; it embraces the entire story of the exodus.

As mentioned previously, Egypt is the archetype for all subsequent exiles, and the exodus from Egypt is the archetype for all subsequent redemptions, including the ultimate Redemption. Indeed, the exodus and the ultimate Redemption display certain similarities, as indicated by the prophecy:33 “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show [the people] wonders.” And the purpose of telling the story of the exodus is to stir the faith of the Jewish people, and in particular their faith in the coming of Mashiach. (Therefore the Haggadah is recited in the presence of matzah, “the bread of faith.”)34 This faith will bring about the coming of the actual redemption, following the paradigm of the exodus, when: “In the merit of [their] faith, our ancestors were redeemed from Egypt.”35

This is particularly true in light of our present situation, when the darkness of exile grows deeper from day to day, echoing the prophecies of the Talmud.36 In such circumstances, it is possible for a person to despair. Therefore we announce at the beginning of the Haggadah that despite the darkness of the exile, G‑d invites every Jew, including the hungry and needy, to place requests before Him, and promises the supplicants that they will both “eat” (i.e. satisfy their needs) and “celebrate the Pesach” (be granted a wealth of knowledge). This will lead to the time when we will all come to Eretz Yisrael as free men. May this take place soon.

(Adapted from Sichos 2nd Night of Pesach, 5720)

The wise [son]: What does he say?… You should reply to him, [teaching him] the laws of Pesach: One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice.

The question asked by the wise son, and the answer given him have been discussed by commentaries on the Haggadah. Among the questions asked are: Why of all the laws of Pesach does the Haggadah mention: “One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice”? The wise son wants to know all the laws relevant to Pesach “the testimonies, statutes, and laws.” It seems fitting that the answer should involve many laws of the Seder, not only one, and the last law at that.

Also, the wise son’s question: “What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws?” is problematic. Since he is “the wise son,” he should know the laws. So what’s the intent of his question?

The above comments must be considered in light of the principle that the exposition of the Haggadah follows a pattern of question and answer.37 Thus when a man does not have any children, his wife must ask him the four questions, and if he is unmarried, he must ask the questions himself.38

In this light, we can understand the questions asked by the wise son. He knows the answers and yet he must ask, because that is the pattern of the Seder.

The Torah has assigned the questions and answers to four categories of sons, and it is apparent that the highest is the wise son. Thus his question “What are the statutes…?” must represent the most elevated form of inquiry.

This is particularly true in light of the interpretation of the AriZal39 that the four sons parallel the realms of Atzilus, Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah.40 The wise son thus parallels the realm of Atzilus, and his question must be the most elevated possible. This surely reinforces the queries mentioned above, and indeed raises others: Where is the wisdom and the depth in the wise son’s words? Why couldn’t the same question have been asked by someone with far less Torah knowledge?

And how does the answer “One may not eat any dessert….” embody the depth of understanding necessary to satisfy the wise son? Indeed, this answer is explicitly mentioned in the mishnah41 and it is stated that “at ten, one begins study of the Mishnah.”42 So anyone who has studied the Mishnah knows this law.

A Commitment that Transcends All Distinctions

As mentioned previously, the wise son parallels the realm of Atzilus , which is characterized by an all-encompassing sense of bittul, utter selflessness. This is the influence of Chochmah, koach mah, which is revealed in the realm of Atzilus. Thus a person who is characterized by bittul is called a chacham , “wise.”

When a person is concerned with himself, there is a difference between his approach to the various mitzvos. When he understands the reasons behind a mitzvah, he will observe it with more satisfaction than those which must be observed simply because of kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke. Such a person can appreciate the division of mitzvos into three categories:

a) chukim, “statutes which I have ordained, decrees which I have issued,”43 which we keep even though we do not understand the motivation;

b) eidus, mitzvos which possess a rationale that we can appreciate, although we would not have instituted these mitzvos on our own initiative; and

c) mishpatim, mitzvos which our understanding mandates, as our Sages said:44 “If Heaven forbid the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from a cat, and [the prohibition against] theft from an ant.”

But when a person’s approach is characterized by the all-encompassing bittul which stems from Chochmah the level of Atzilus the distinctions between the mitzvos make no difference to him. He fulfills all of them simply because G‑d commanded him to do so. Moreover, he derives satisfaction from the observance of all the mitzvos, even from those which he does not understand. Indeed, it is those mitzvos which offer him the most complete satisfaction, for he knows that this is G‑d’s will, as the well-known adage goes:45 “Even if we were commanded to hew wood….” For were we to have been commanded to do so, we would experience the same pleasure chopping wood as in fulfilling a mitzvah like tefillin.

This is the core of the wise son’s question: “What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws…?” Why must the mitzvos be divided into categories? The utter bittul of chochmah does not appreciate such distinctions.

Moreover, the wise son can be interpreted as asking not only why the eidus and mishpatim are different from chukim, but questioning the chukim themselves. For the all-encompassing bittul of chochmah goes beyond even the scope of chukim.

With regard to the chukim, it is said: “They are statutes which I have ordained, decrees which I have issued; you have no permission to question [their observance].” This implies that the person addressed experiences a certain amount of self-concern. Although he is forsworn not to question, and to persevere with kabbalas ol , the very fact that he must be given such a directive indicates that his identity has not been entirely sublimated.

When, by contrast, a person is characterized by an all-encompassing sense of bittul, and nothing besides his Master concerns him, he need not be given such a warning. Just as it is unnecessary to warn a commander not to question his command, so too, such a person will not question. His approach is above that of chukim; kabbalas ol is beneath him. For kabbalas ol implies that one is subjugating one’s nature out of a higher commitment. In this instance, the person’s commitment reflects his nature, for he is totally given over to his Master.

On this basis, we can understand the passage beginning: “The wise [son]: What does he say…” The soul of every Jew is essentially pure, on the level of Atzilus.46 Nevertheless, it has descended through the spiritual realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah until it has become enclothed in a physical body.

It is the level of the soul which is “pure” [its attribute of chochmah,] that asks: “What are the testimonies, statutes, and laws…?”

And the question continues “which G‑d our L-rd commanded you,” i.e., the question is directed towards the created beings of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, which are characterized by division and diversity. At its source, the soul appreciates the observance of the mitzvos on a higher plane; they are all expressions of complete bittul.

(On a deeper level, even the word mah, “What is” can be understood to be part of the wise son’s question. Mah is identified with the all-encompassing bittul which characterizes Atzilus. And yet Atzilus seeks to rise above its own level, and on the planes above Atzilus even this level of self-nullification is inappropriate. For self-nullification implies the existence of a self which must be nullified, and above Atzilus the level to which the wise son aspires there is no conception of individual existence. Therefore even the level of mah is part of the wise son’s question, for he wishes to rise above that as well.)

Where Limitation and Transcendence Meet

The wise son’s striving is satisfied by the reply: “One may not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice.” Pesach, the Hebrew term for the Paschal sacrifice, means “leap,”47 jumping from one level to another rather than proceeding in an orderly sequence.

This pattern was reflected in the revelation of G‑dliness at the time of the exodus: “the King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed to them”48 “in His glory, by Himself.”49 This is a level above all four spiritual realms.

(These four realms are alluded to in the expressions: “I and not an angel,… I and not a saraph,… I and not an agent,… I and no other.”)

Moreover, this revelation was expressed in Egypt, “the nakedness of the land”50 a land “full of idols.”51 Egypt exists at a level much lower than the realm of Atzilus, the wise son’s level. Indeed, it is lower than Asiyah, the wicked son’s level. The wicked son is Jewish, and even an utterly wicked Jew possesses a soul which rests upon him, at least in an encompassing manner,52 and his body stems from kelipas nogah. In contrast, the Egyptians stem from the three utterly impure kelipos.53 More specifically, we are speaking about idol worship, a sin equivalent to the entire Torah.54 Obviously, drawing down G‑d’s essence into a place “full of idols” is a leap which bypasses any orderly sequence.

One might think that since a leap is necessary, there is no need for any order at all. For that reason, the Haggadah mentions “the laws of Pesach,” indicating that even the Paschal sacrifice which is associated with a leap that exceeds all ordered progression, has its laws, i.e., its pattern of progress. In this context we can apply our Sages’ statement:55 “Do not read halichos, ‘paths,’ but rather halachos, ‘laws.’ For laws reflect patterns of progress from above downward, and from below upward. And thus there are many laws regarding the Paschal sacrifice: that it be set aside on the tenth of Nissan,56 that it must be slaughtered a certain way, and how it must be offered and eaten. For G‑d desires that even those qualities which transcend limitation be expressed in an orderly manner.

This constitutes the answer to the wise son. He is taught that it is necessary for eidus, chukim, and mishpatim to exist even when one’s Divine service is motivated by the essence of the soul, which transcends all division. For G‑d’s intent is that this essential level be expressed in a pattern of service that recognizes the distinctions between eidus, chukim, and mishpatim.

So that the Taste Will Linger

And why may one not eat any dessert after the Paschal sacrifice?

We are told that the Paschal sacrifice must be eaten at the conclusion of the meal, in an important and pleasing manner.57 Also, after eating the sacrifice, no other food should be eaten so that its taste lingers in our mouths.

This combines two seemingly contradictory factors. On one hand, one should not partake of the Paschal sacrifice to satisfy one’s hunger. Nevertheless, one must derive satisfaction from partaking of it.

The explanation is that the Paschal sacrifice is not eaten to fulfill a lack, but to provide one with an experience of wealth, an affluence that transcends what is required by one’s existence, and which is above one’s power. And from this, one should derive pleasure and satisfaction, i.e., one’s pleasure and satisfaction should come from an entity which transcends one’s existence entirely.

To explain: The connection between the essence of the soul and the essence of G‑d which transcends the soul’s conscious powers must be drawn down within those powers as well, beginning with the power of intellect. For this reason, the mitzvos which one observes must include, not only eidus and chukim, but also mishpatim mitzvos which can be comprehended by mortal intellect. For our transcendent bond with G‑d must be drawn even into the realm of intellect, providing pleasure and satisfaction.

For this reason, one of the fundamental services associated with the Paschal sacrifice is eating,58 i.e., internalizing the spiritual leap achieved though the Paschal sacrifice. Moreover, it must provide one with satisfaction, and its flavor should linger.

The eating of the Paschal sacrifice, which involves a spiritual service transcending comprehension, must bring pleasure and satisfaction. Similarly, in the present age, the afikoman which takes the place of the Paschal sacrifice is matzah, “the bread of faith,” a transcendent potential. It must be eaten and thus internalized.

(Adapted from Sichos 2nd Night of Pesach, 5721)