Ha Lachma Anya: Why Does the Story Start Here?
הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.
This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is famished should come and eat, anyone who is in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Now we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people.

This passage is short, but it raises many questions. The first is: Why is this passage in Aramaic when the rest of the Haggadah is in Hebrew?

The Kimcha D’avshuna commentary on the Haggadah was written by Rabbi Yochanan ben Yosef Treves and first published in Bologna in 1540.

ויש מפרשים למה אומר בכל זאת בלשון ארמית. לפי שהיה לשונם והלעז שלהם שהרי בבבל נתקן וכדי שיבינו הנסים והתינוקות ועמי הארץ לקיים מצות והגדת בלשון שיהיו הכל שומעים. וי"א לפי שבירושלים היו מספרים בלשון שמחה ארמית.

This passage is recited in Aramaic because this was the language of our ancestors in Babylonia where it was composed. It was recited in Aramaic so that the women, children and those who were illiterate would understand it. There are those who say that in Jerusalem it was also recited in Aramaic because Aramaic was a language associated with joyous occasions.

Maarechet Heidenheim was written by Rabbi Tevele Bondi and was published in 1898 in Frankfort der Mein.

ותקנו הך פסקא לשון ארמי' בבבל להתחיל בגנות

The sages decreed that the opening passage should be in Aramaic, the language of Babylonia, so that we begin with disgrace.

Why does it refer to matza as the bread of affliction? Why not the bread of freedom that our ancestors ate on the way out of Egypt?

Deuteronomy (“Devarim”) is the fifth and last book of the Torah, Judaism’s foundational text, and it consists primarily of Moses’ final speeches ahead of his death.

לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכֹּ֗ר אֶת־י֤וֹם צֵֽאתְךָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃

You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of affliction—for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.

The Sefer Abudarham is a popular 14th-century compilation of laws, customs, and commentary on the prayer book, named for its author, Rabbi David Abudarham. It was composed in Seville, Spain c.1330 – c.1340.

ופירש הר' יהוסף האזובי בשם בן עזרא שהיה שבוי בהודו והיו מאכלי' אותו לחם מצה ולא נתנו לו לעולם חמץ והטעם מפני שהוא קשה ואינו מתעכל במהרה כחמץ ויספיק ממנו מעט וכן היו עושים המצרים לישראל.

Rabbi Yehosaf the Ezovi explained in the name of Ibn Ezra that when he was a captive in India, they always fed him unleavened bread and never leavened bread. The reason was because it was dense and not quickly digested like chametz. Therefore, he could make do with little, and that’s what the Egyptians did with the Israelites.

The Talmud is the textual record of generations of rabbinic debate about law, philosophy, and biblical interpretation, compiled between the 3rd and 8th centuries and structured as commentary on the Mishnah. Tractate Pesachim (“Passover Festivals”) is part of the Talmud and discusses laws relating to Passover.

אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל: ״לֶחֶם עוֹנִי״ כְּתִיב — לֶחֶם שֶׁעוֹנִין עָלָיו דְּבָרִים. תַּנְיָא נָמֵי הָכִי: ״לֶחֶם עוֹנִי״ — לֶחֶם שֶׁעוֹנִין עָלָיו דְּבָרִים הַרְבֵּה.

Shmuel said that the phrase: “The bread of affliction [leḥem oni]” (Deuteronomy 16:3) means bread over which one answers [onim] matters, i.e., one recites the Haggadah over matza. That was also taught in a baraita: Leḥem oni is bread over which one answers many matters.

דאיתא בזה"ק בפסוק אל תלחם לחם רע עין, באחי יוסף הכתוב מדבר בשביל שנהגו מסעודת יוסף הצדיק במצרים והמצריים היו רעי עין ע"כ נענשו שהיו בגלות מצרים והנה לחם רע עין נקרא לחם עני

The Zohar explains that the verse, "Do not eat of a stingy man's bread," (Proverbs 23:6) applies to Joseph's brothers. The Egyptians were resentful of them because they were invited to eat at Joseph's table during the years of famine. (They were resentful of Joseph and his brothers for not sharing the great wealth of Egypt.) And so, the Egyptians punished them during the exile by feeding them Lechem ra ayin, "a stingy man's bread." Another term for this is lechem oni.

Why are we inviting people to eat the bread of affliction? What kind of an invitation is that? And why do we issue the invitation twice?

Exodus (“Shemot”) is the second book of the Torah, Judaism’s foundational text. It describes the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt and their miraculous redemption, the beginning of their travels in the wilderness and the experience of Revelation at Mount Sinai.

וְגֵ֖ר לֹ֣א תִלְחָ֑ץ וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom. His Pesach Haggadah was first published in 2003.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Pesach Haggadah, pp. 22-25

[M]atza represents two things: it is the food of slaves, and also the bread eaten by the Israelites as they left Egypt in liberty. What transforms the bread of oppression into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share it with others....

Sharing food is the first act through which slaves become free human beings. One who fears tomorrow does not offer his bread to others. But one who is willing to divide his food with a stranger has already shown himself to be capable of fellowship and faith, the two things from which hope is born. That is why we begin the seder by inviting others to join us. Bread shared is no longer the bread of oppression. Reaching out to others, giving help to the needy and companionship to those who are along, we bring freedom into the world, and with freedom, God.

The Tosefta is a companion volume to the Mishnah, the foundation of the Jewish oral tradition, and was written around the 3rd century C.E. Tosefta Sheviit ("Seventh") discusses the biblically-mandated seventh year of the agricultural cycle, known as the Shemitah year.

(ד) מי שיש לו פירות שביעית הגיע שעת הביעור מחלק מהן לשכניו ולקרוביו וליודעיו ומוציא ומניח על [פתח] ביתו ואומר אחינו בית ישראל כל מי שצריך ליטול יבא ויטול חוזר ומכניס לתוך ביתו ואוכל והולך עד שעה שיכלו.

(4) [In the case of] one who has produce of the seventh year: When the time of the elimination arrives, he can distribute [as much as he can] of it to his neighbors, his relatives and his acquaintances. He then places [the remainder] at [the entrance of] his house and says, "Our brothers, House of Israel: Anyone who needs to take, let him come and take!" He then stores it [back] in his house, and may continue to eat until when it is finished.

Shibolei HaLeket is a commentary on the Passover Haggadah by Zedekiah ben Abraham HaRofei, and composed in Vilna c.1240 – c.1280 CE.

כל דכפין יתיה ויכול. רבינו ישעיה זצ"ל מפרש לפי שחובת כל אדם לוכל מצה בליל ראשון של פסח [כמו שכתוב בערב תאכלו מצות הכתוב קבעו חובה] על כן מזמנין את מי שאין לו [מצה]. וכי כל אדם פותח פתחו בלילי פסח ואומר כל מי שרעב יבא ויאכל עמי אתמהא אלא כך אנו אומרים כל אדם ירעיב עצמו בערב הפסח מחמש שעות ולמעלה כדי שיתאוה לאכול מצה מהא דרבא הוה שתי חמרא טובא במעלי יומא דפיסחא כי היכי דגריר ליביה:

All who are hungry come and eat: Rabbi Yeshiah D’Trani of blessed memory explained. Since every person has an obligation to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach, therefore we invite anyone who does not have. There are those who explain it this way: Do people really open their door on the eve of Passover and invite the needy? This is surprising! Rather it means: “Anyone who has fasted on the eve of Passover in order to increase his desire for matzah, come and eat…as in the case of Rava who used to drink extra wine on the eve of Passover in order to increase his appetite (Pesachim 107b).

כי טבע הרע עין כשמסרב עני לסעוד אצלו מראה לעני שרוצה ליאכל עמו ואמור לו פעם אחד אכול עמי וטבע העני לסרב עצמו בפעם ראשון ואז הרע עין אינו מפציר ממנו עוד הפעם כי ירא פן באמת יאכול אצלו והוא צר עין לכן ירף ממנו ולבו שמח כשמעו מהעני שאינו רוצה וזהו גניבת דעת ומדת רע עין, לא כן מדת ישראל רחמנים בני רחמנים אנו מסרבין העני בטוב לב וכשהעני מסרהב בפעם ראשון אזי מפציר לו עוד הפעם עדק שהעני יאכל עמו ע"כ גם אנו אומרים בכפל לשון כל דכפין וכל דצריך שאנחנו מסרבין את העני בלב טוב ובשמחה לא כדמת רע עין.

A miserly person invites the needy person to his table but extends the invitation only once. He knows that the needy tend to turn down such an invitation. The miser says nothing more because he is afraid that if he asks again, the poor person might accept the invitation. He is happy when he hears that the needy person has turned down his invitation - his actions are really deceptive and miserly.
This is not the Jewish way. Jews are a compassionate people, children of compassionate people. They coax the needy person to join them at the dinner table. When the needy person turns down the invitation, they asks again and again until he agrees to join the meal. That is why, the language of this passage is doubled: "All who are hungry come and eat; all who are needy come celebrate the Passover." Similarly, we need to coax the needy person with a generous heart and joyfully.

Why are we mentioning being in Israel at this point? Doesn't that come at the end of the seder?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Pesach Haggada (p. 24)

Now we are here; next year in the land of Israel - At the very moment that we gather to remember the past, we speak about the future. The seder brings together the three dimensions of time. Before the meal, we will the story of redemption in the past. During the meal, we experience it in the present. After the meal, as we conclude Hallel, and say, "Next year in Jerusalem," we look forward to redemption in the future.

What is distinctive about Jewish time is that we experience the present not as an isolated moment, but as a link in a chain connecting past and future. The very fact that they had been liberated in the days of Moses gave our ancestors confidence that they would be liberated again. The Jewish people would return to the land of Israel. Here we see one of the most profound instincts of the Jewish mind: memory is the guardian of hope. Those who forget the past become prisoners of the present. Those who remember the past have faith in the future. We can face it without fear, because we have been there before.

(ח) הא שתא הכא. אחר שהזכרנו ענין הפסח ויש בזה עגמת נפש למסובי' אל השלחן מזוכי' חרבנן ובטול הקרבן לכן מסדר ההגדה הוא מנחם בני ביתו ואו' השנה הזאת אנחנו כאן ולא נוכל לעשו' חובותינו ולהקרי' הפסח. בשנה הבאה נהיה בירושלים ואם לא נזכה לשלמו' המכוון. לפחו' נזכה מבשנה הזאת אנחנו פה עבדים ובשנה הבאה נהיה בני חורין. או הוא כמו תפלה יהי רצון שיקיים לנו הב"ה הבטחתו ויעודיו שיעד לגאלינו מגלותינו ושנזכה לעשות הפסח בשנה הבאה בירושלים.

(8) Now we are here: Having mentioned the Passover offering, we may have caused some sadness among those who have gathered around the table, since we have mentioned the destruction of the Temple and the sacrifice that is no longer offered. Therefore, we say the leader of the Seder comforts the members of his household and tells them: this year we are here and unable to fulfill all our obligations such as offering the Passover sacrifice; next year we will be in Jerusalem! At the very least, this year we are still slaves here but next year we may be free. This is a type of prayer: 'May it be God,s will that the Holy one fulfill His promise and oath to redeem us from our exile so that we will merit the privilege of offering the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem next year!'

In what way are we slaves now?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Pesach Haggada (p. 24)

Now - slave; next year we shall be free - There are two words for freedom in Hebrew, hofesh and herut. Hofesh is "freedom from." Herut" is "freedom to." Hofesh is what a slave acquires when released from slavery. He or she is free from being subject someone's will. But this kind of liberty is not enough to create a free society. A world in which everyone is free to do what he or she likes begins in anarchy and ends in tyranny. That is why hofesh is only the beginning of freedom, not its ultimate destination. Herut is collective freedom, a society in which my freedom respects yours. A free society is always a moral acheivement. It rests on self-restraint and regard for others. The ultimate aim of the Torah is to fashion a society on the foundations of justice and compassion, both of which depend on recognizing the sovereignty of God and the integrity of creation. Thus we say, "Next year we shall be benei horin," invoking herut, not hofesh. This statement is an aspiration; "May we be free in a way that honors the freedom of us all."

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel. He is considered one of the most influential Jewish religious thinkers of the 20th century.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Haggadah Shel Pesach (p. 29-30)

"This year slaves," while the yoke of flesh and blood is upon us, it is impossible to be complete with crowns, because slaves never wear the garments of princes, "Next year, free people" who are worthy of crowns, which is like Rashi's interpretation of the passage in the Talmud: "And their crowns on their heads - like free people."(Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah, Ch. 1) This is a prayer as well as a promise, that every year the end comes closer, the essence of holiness approaches, despite the fact that on the surface it seems to be the opposite, but when the sacred time of the festival begins, we speak of the inner dimension of matters.

Ephod Bad is a commentary on the Pesach Haggadah written by Rabbi Benjamin David Rabinowitz of Warsaw and published in 1872.

(ב) או יאמר השתא הכא לשנה הבאה כו'. ע"ד מאמר החכם אין גאולה כגאולת השכל, ואין גלות כגלות כל מי שאין משתלם במושכליו, ובן חורין נקרא כאשר החומר נכנע אל השכל תחת היות השכל נכנע אליו קודם לכן, ע"ד מפנק מנוער עבדו ואחריתו יהיה מנון. וחיוב על האדם שיראה להוציא שכלו מגלות פתיות החומר, וז"ש השתא הכא במצולות תהומות התאוה הנלוית אל הגוף, לשנה הבאה בארעא דישראל אשר הפליגו חז"ל במעלת החכמה שמצויה שם, וכי נקל הוא שם לעלות במעלת תהלות חכמה ודעת ויראת ה' ית"ש, וממילא השתא עבדי, השכל משתעבד אל החומר והכסיל בחושך הולך ורק תאותיו לדרוך על במתי ההצלחות הזמניות, לשנה הבאה בני חורין מגלות הסכלות והפתיות, ואז נבין פעולות הבורא ית"ש, וע"ד ומלאה הארץ דעה את ה' כמים לים מכסים, ר"ל שלא יהיה מהצורך לנסים ושידוד הטבע להכיר גדולותיו יתב' כמו קי"ס רק אפילו יהיו המים מכסים לים נבין גדולתו:

(2) For there is no real redemption like the liberation of the mind, and there is no exile as complete as an imperfect intellect. One is 'free' when one's desire for material possessions is sublimated to his intellect, and one's intellect surrenders to God. Each person is obligated to see himself as if his intellect went out from the exile of foolishness and materialism. That is why we say: Now we are here sunken in the depths of desire associated with the body. Next year, in the land of Israel which the sages praised as the place of great wisdom. Now we are slaves because our intellect is subjugated to materialism. Next year may we be free from the exile of foolishness and ignorance. Only then will we understand the ways of the Creator, and then the world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters fill the see; we no longer need miracles such as the splitting of the Red Sea to convince us of God's greatness.

Maaseh Nissim was written by Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum in late 18th century Ukraine. (Rabbi Mark Greenspan translated the work and added background notes in the 20th century.)

הא כלחמא. לבא אל ביאור הפיסקא הזאת. נקדים הספיקות אשר עמדו עליהם המפורשים והם אלו: א) למה נסדר בלשון ארמי. ב) למה תיקנו הכרוז כל דכפין ייתי וייכול שהוא לעניים דוקא בחג הפסח ולא בשאר חגים הא ושמחת בחגיך על כל המועדים נאמר. ג) הכרוז הזה היה ראוי להיות בחוץ לני הפתח שישמעו עניים ויבואו לא בבית אחר שכבר סגר הפתח. ועכ"פ היה לו להיות קודם הקידוש כדי שגם העני יצא ידי חובתו בקידושי ובכרפס. ד) למה קראו לחם עוני. ה) מה שאמר די אכלו אבהתנא בארעא דמצרים שהרי לא אכלוהו במצרים עד שיצאו שהרי נשאו הבצק צרורות על שכמם. ו) למה אמר בכפל השתא הכא וגם השתא עבדי. ז) למה לא אמרה פרק זה בזמן שב"ה היה קיים כמבואר ברמב"ם בנוסח ההגדה.

It has been suggested that the opening statement of the Haggadah is similar to an overture before a great opera or show. It is not part of the telling of the story and yet it contains many of the dominant themes of the Passover, beautifully expressed through poetry. So what does this statement say and how does it fit into the Haggadah? Notice that this statement ties together past, present and future. We begin “This is the bread of affliction;” speaking in the past. We continue “All who are hungry come and eat”, speaking in the present. And then we look toward the future: “Now we are here…next year…”