The Healing Power of Matzah: In some versions of the Haggadah the opening passage begins “Kiha lachma anya,” “This is like the bread of affliction....” This implies that matzah is similar to the bread, which our ancestors ate in Egypt, but it is not the actual bread of affliction that they consumed. We follow the version used by the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, which says “This is the bread of affliction…” Matzah is more than just an imitation of the food that our ancestors ate in Egypt. It is not like the bread of affliction; it is the actual bread of affliction!! Just as matzah was the bread of affliction for our ancestors that brought about their redemption and release from impurity, so too, matzah has a transformative power for us. Matzah is “the food of healing;” by eating it we find redemption and a connection to the divine. The Zohar explains that because Israel ate the supernal bread in Egypt they were immune to the forces of evil. Hametz is likened to the yetzer harah, the evil inclination. By rejecting hametz and only eating matzah that does not contain hametz, the people of Israel were released from impurity. Thereafter they could consume hametz without fear of its affect upon them. But if hametz is associated with evil why are the people of Israel allowed to eat it at all? And why were certain offerings in the temple made from hametz such as the bikkurim offering? This is explained by a parable. A king had only one child who became ill. At first the doctors fed him only the special cure, but when he became better, he said the child could consume anything he so desired. So too, when Israel went forth from Egypt they had no idea of the source and secret of faith. God said, “Let the people eat only matzah, the bread of healing. While they do so they should not consume any other food. Matzah will become the remedy through which they will enter the secret of faith.” After this nothing can harm them, so they can again eat hametz. Matzah allowed Israel to enter into the service of God and the divine faith; that is why it is called the bread of healing and the food of faith.
The Poor Person’s Bread: This is the bread of poverty: (Page 41a-42a) Matzah is referred to as lechem oni because it reminds us that all blessings come from above. We are impoverished. Without the divine plenty that God rains upon us, we would have nothing. All of the preparations before Passover are meant to remind us that God is the true source of blessing. Actually, the word, oni, has many different meanings. It means “answers” since eating matzah makes us ask many questions and offer diverse answers. It is also called oni as in poverty because it is prepared in the way that a poor person prepares his bread. The word oni can also be derived for the idea that we are blessed by shefa, divine plenty, which comes from above as in the following verse in Hosea 2:23: “And it shall come to pass that I will respond on that day, says the Lord; I will answer (oneh) the heavens and they shall answer the earth; and the earth shall answer the corn and the wine and the oil.” The word anah (to answer or respond) has the connotation of providing divine plenty from above. Lachma anya is the bread that is provided from above. On Passover we reminded that redemption comes from above. We had little to do with bringing about our own redemption. It is an act of divine grace. It was only through our act of eating matzah that we were redeemed from Egypt. It made us aware that there is no place empty of God’s presence and kindness. The Talmud says, “An infant does not call his parents ‘Father and Mother’ until he consumes flour (solid food.) ” This means that wisdom and understanding come from God and we become worthy of them through the food of healing and faith, which teaches us that all comes from God. It was through the merit of this faith that we were redeemed and we will be redeemed in the future. Matzah is called lachma anya, poor person’s bread. We are impoverished of knowledge and only through our reliance on God do we gain understanding. When we eat matzah we too become aware of our divine parent.
Form and Material: “All who are impoverished come and eat.” (Page 42a-b) Human beings are created both of spiritual form and physical material or matter . God desires that spiritual form take precedence over the physical matter. When a person transgresses, the physical aspect of his being overcomes the divine form. Such a person is referred to as kefin . This is the meaning of, “All who are impoverished (kefin), come and eat.” One whose bodily desires have gained ascendancy, come and eat the matzah. Through the power of consuming matzah, the bread of healing, and when a person truly desires to turn away from his evil ways, he can find healing and leave the place of darkness for light. “All who are needy come and celebrate Pesach.” A person whose spiritual form has predominance over his material being often feels has not done enough in the service of God. He still feels needy. Let such a person use his lips to ask for mercy. Passover is a propitious time for this. The word Pesach can be read as two words: peh sach: “His lips speak,” or by switching the order of the letters, it becomes peh chas, “His lips offer compassion.” He has the power to transform the attribute of judgment into the attribute of mercy, with the voice of Jacob. Why do we begin with this declaration before telling the story of the Exodus? We are living among sinful and damaged people and cannot tell the story of the Exodus in this state. This declaration is a call for unity. When a Tzaddik, a truly righteous person attaches himself to simple folk, they become worthy of telling the story of the Exodus and bringing true redemption to the world. The main reason we are in exile is because of the sin of sinat chinam, causeless hatred. By uniting with the Jewish people in the service of God with love and fellowship we become worthy of true redemption. That is why we say: “Now we are here.” We are here united in unity! Next year we will therefore be in the land of Israel, and we will be able to overcome the material aspect of our lives and emphasize the spiritual form of our lives. Now we are slaves, subjugated to the material being but next year we will be free from the evil impulse and serving the good impulse.
The Power of Kol, All: Kol d’tzrich, All, who are needy (Page 42b- 43a) We understand this passage in the same way that many of the commentaries understand the expression “kol (All) leaven… ” We relinquish our connection to all the husks, the fifty gates of impurity which are designated by the word kol. The numerical value of the word kol is fifty. Just as there are fifty gates of impurity, there also are fifty gates of purity in the realm of the divine that lead to the sephirah of binah. We must reject one kol and embrace the other kol. Kol d’tzrich can be translated as, “Those who are in need of kol, the fifty levels of purity, come and pray before the Holy One” with a peh sach, an open mouth. God will then help him. The fiftieth gate will be opened to the one who prays as it was opened in the time of the Exodus. Pesach is a propitious time for us as it was during the first redemption. “In the land of Egypt” Israel had descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity in Egypt. This level is referred to as metzar yam, the narrow place before the fiftieth level. Even so the people ate the matzah, the bread of healing and through the merit of this cure they received a great light. So too, even though we are now in exile and subject to all the evil desires and strange thoughts, let us come and eat matzah and through the power of this action we will repair ourselves. All in need of atonement and forgiveness come and celebrate Pesach. Pesach comes from the Hebrew root which means to jump or hop. Through our ecstasy we will jump to the “fifteenth level” and our feet will never even need to stop at the “first level,” and there we will recall the story of the Exodus. Now we are here in the exile in a place where we must follow the steps of ascent but if we hop forward like a bird escaping from a trap through our ecstasy, we will be in the land of Israel next year, and there we will serve God with awe and love and we will move upward from stage to stage. The first and fifteenth levels that the author refers to here are a reference to the order of the Seder with which we began this ceremony. There are fifteen items in this list beginning kadesh u’rechatz… They are not simply a list of steps in the Seder but aspects of our spiritual ascent. Through true ecstasy, one can ascend to the highest level of spirituality, which is Nirtzah, literally, “to be accepted.” Nirtzah is not the end but the beginning of this journey! Pesach is to hop up to the highest levels of beings and to become one with God!
The Bread of the Humble: לחם עוני - שעונין עליו דברים הרבה. Shmuel said : Lechem oni – Bread through which we are humbled exceedingly. (Page 43a – b) The purpose of matzah is to bring us to a state of submission and self-abnegation, and to learn that everything comes from God (and not through our own abilities). This is a lesson we learn from the sages : “A person says: I have learned wisdom and Torah, what need have I in performing mitzvot?” The Holy One responds: ‘Acquiring knowledge of Torah and wisdom are a simple matter. Acting in a God fearing manner is another matter! One who fears me and then performs acts of Torah, wisdom and Torah will be in his heart as it is written in Psalm 111:10: “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord; they have understanding who perform all of his commandments…” Through humility and self-abnegation one comes to a state of fear of the Lord. All wisdom is already present in his heart but it is only through this state of submission of one’s ego that one becomes worthy of learning Torah freely. Through matzah we derive fear of God from above and through fear and awe that we merit the learning of Torah and many other blessings.
Time, Place, and Soul: All who are hungry: (Page 43b – 45a) We recite this passage on the evening of the Seder as a way of strengthening each other. We recognize that we are in Exile; how can we possibly attain a life of holiness? Holiness is encountered from a confluence of three qualities: sacred moments, holy space, and spiritual being. Ha lachma anya is about the combination of these qualities. When we realize that we are in exile and cannot worship God in the Temple, we make a declaration to one another for the rebuilding of the Temple on this night so that we will not despair. We begin by reminding one another that even though the people of Israel were in Egypt, a place of impurity, they were able to attain a heightened spiritual state without the qualities of olam, ‘place’ or nefesh, ‘soul’ because they ate matzah at the appointed time. The hidden light (of God) was revealed to them without any preparation on our part. Israel had sunk beneath 49 levels of impurity from which they believed that they could not be healed. It was only when they ate matzah that they received light from above that they became worthy of redemption. We may also attain redemption on this sacred night even though we lack both the elements of ‘place’ and ‘soul.’ Eating matzah on Pesach night is a transformative act even if one does so without proper kavvanot , intentions or motivations. This is what Maimonides means when he says that even if someone was forced to eat matzah, he has fulfilled his mitzvah. In other words, he did so without proper kavanah, sacred intentions. All the other mitzvot demand spiritual preparation and kavanah; but not the commandment to eat matzah. That is why halachah teaches us that the matzah can be consumed when one is hungry (one may have less pure intentions in eating the matzah) while the Pesach offering (or the Afikoman) must be consumed at the end of the meal when one is no longer hungry. It must be consumed not as a way of simply consumption but as a sacred act. Even so consuming matzah brings about a state of redemption. The people must simply be aware that they are doing so at a designated and sacred time.
All who are hungry come and eat: The only preparation that we have for eating the matzah is that we don’t eat prior to the Seder so that we consume the matzah with an appetite. That is why we say ‘All who are hungry’ with regard to the matzah. For the Pesach offering (or the Afikoman), we say: “All who are in need (and not, all who are hungry) come and eat the Pesach offering,” because we eat it not in a state of physical hunger but in order to simply to fulfill the mitzvah of consuming the Pesach offering. It is through the sacredness of this hour that we become worthy of attaining the holiness of place and soul. This is the meaning of the second half of the opening declaration of the Haggadah: “All who are here” (in this place) but through the merit of this sacred moment next year we will be in the land of Israel. “All whose (souls) are enslaved;” next year we will be freed from the evil inclination and the subjugation of the nations – therefore we will have hope even now! Matzah teaches us the real depth of our hunger. “Hungry and thirsty their souls fainted in them.” (Psalm 107:5). (Pages 45a – b) The people of Israel were drowning in impurity in Egypt. Like other people who are deathly ill they were so sick they did not recognize the depth of their spiritual malady until they ate some matzah, the food of healing. Then when they ate the Pesach offering they were healed of their malady and they began to pursue God. So it is with us when we celebrate Pesach. We do not recognize the depth and quality of our spiritual hunger until we consume some matzah and we become aware of it. Until we eat matza we think we are hungry for material things. This is what the Talmud means when it says that one can be “desperately hungry and not know this.” The poor person thinks he is hungry for bread and does not understand the quality of his true hunger. That is why we say: “All who are hungry come and eat.” With the first measure of matzah we begin to recognize our true hunger and what we really need. We then say “All who are in need, come consume the Pesach offering.” With this offering we become worthy of opening our mouths with prayer (peh sach) and words of Torah. It is not for water that we are thirsty or for bread that we are hungry but to hear the voice of God. When we eat the matzah we recognize that we are living in an impure land and cannot perform all of those commandments associated with the land of Israel. Therefore we say: “Next year may we be in the land of Israel.” Overcoming the evil within us and in the world “It is well known to you that it is our will to fulfill your will, O Lord. What prevents us? It is the leaven that is in the dough and the subjugation by the other nations. ” “All who are hungry” (45b) This statement is an invitation to all of us who are subject to evil desires and have damaged the holy covenant within and are now in need of the food of healing. Such people are in need of kol; it is through the power of matzah that they are able attain this blessing, repair the mind and purify the thoughts. By eating matzah they then can open their mouths with Torah and prayer, as the Haggadah says, “Let them come and Pesach – peh sach, open their mouths.” The author of the Haggadah begins by making it clear that no one willingly chooses to deny God. He addresses the reasons that we are unable to overcome the forces of evil – It is because of “the leaven in the dough” and the fact that we are subjugated beneath the nations of the world. “The leaven in the dough” is a reference to the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Rashi explains that when God created human beings he did so with dust taken from the four corners of the earth as well as dust from the Land of Israel. The dust from the Land of Israel is holy and the dust from the other nations of the earth is profane. This profane dust is the “leaven in the dough” to which the Talmud refers. Each human being, then, is constructed from both holy and profane material. When we are in the land of Israel the holy dust reigns over our nature, but in the Diaspora the profane dust within us rises up with the profane land in which we are living to become a dominant force. We begin the Seder by saying, “Now we are here,” in the exile. We are subject to the forces of evil that surround us. If we have not fulfilled God’s will, that is why! If we could study the Torah we could sanctify the four amot within which each Jew must dwell so that this space would become like a small bit of the land of Israel. However, conditions of the exile do not allow us to have the leisure to do this. Therefore we also say: “Now we are slaves,” subject to the nations and therefore not free to study Torah and devote ourselves to holy matters – next year may we be free to do so!
Matzah has the Power to Protect: The heart knows its own bitterness; and in its joy no stranger can intermeddle. Matzah has the power to protect. This is what the Holy Jew of Przysucha taught regarding the verse “Or let him take hold of My strength (maozi) that he may make peace with me. ” The word maozi, my stronghold has the same numerical value as the word matzah. God does not abandon the broken hearted and the despised. The people of Israel had sunk to such a low state of being that they could not even pray to God or call out for God’s help. All they could do is cry out, “Woe!” It was through the power of two mitzvot that they gained redemption: matzah and the Passover sacrifice. They gained the ability to express real humility and self-abnegation, and were thus protected from “the stranger ” who attacks them. As long as we are aware of our lowliness and distance from God, we can embrace our joy without fear of “the stranger” attacking us. When our prayers are offered with true humility, they are safe from the intermeddling of the Satan. Matzah teaches us this humility. It is through the holiness of this night and the commandment of eating matzah, that we are blessed with the necessary livelihood to survive. Pesach is the day on which ‘wheat’ is judged. That is why we say, “All who are in need come and eat;” come eat that which is permissible and not that which is forbidden, that we should receive it honorably and amply. By eating matzah we learn how to offer supplication to God and to do so without humiliation from “the stranger.” Matzah purifies our prayers even in the exile when we are subject to the nations around us. As Reb Zusha said, “When a person opens up a door of hope, he is like a peasant who peeks through a crack in the door that leads to the king’s antechamber. How fortunate are those who can offer supplication to the king and enter within His palace.”
The Jewish Soul is Indestructible: All who are in need: (Page 48b) Every Jewish soul is connected to its supernal root on high by a rope made up of thirty-six threads, as is written “Israel is the measure (the rope) of his inheritance.” When a person breaks God’s laws these threads are broken. Only the worst of people could possibly break all thirty-six threads (such a person could never exist). Even then a Jewish soul is still connected to God so that the tie that binds us above can never be fully broken. This special bond to God is referred to as kol Yisrael or kol adam. When we say kol ditzrich, “All who are in need” we are referring to this special bond to God. It means “anyone in need, kol, let him come and eat.” Every Jewish soul is connected to the body of the Jewish people and can never be cut off completely from it. That is why we make a statement before the various mitzvot of the Seder in which we say that we are performing them in the name of “All Israel.” (See the statement before the Kiddush Pesach offering and were purified by it, we can attain this state of purity through the holiness of the hour. Through this state of purity we will be able to return to the Land of Israel and bring about a reuniting of time, place and soul. Then we will become free as we release ourselves from the improper desires and repair the soul along with time and space.