The ancient Aramaic refrain starts the Passover story, as told in the Haggadah, the respected text for the seder ritual.
“Ha lahma anya di achlu avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim Kol dihfin yeteh ve yehchol Kol ditzrich yehteh veyifsach: Hashatah hacha Leshana haba, b’ara d’Yisrael! Hashana avdeh Leshana haba, bnei horin!”
“This is the bread of affliction, the poor bread which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want share this bread. As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere. This year, we celebrate here—next year, in the land of Israel. Now, we are still in bonds. Next year may we all be free.”
In his rendition of the Pesach Haggadah, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks elucidates the dual symbolism of matza:
“Matza represents two things, the simple food of enslaved people and the bread eaten by the Israelites as they left Egypt in haste.”
However, the significance of matzah extends beyond its apparent simplicity.
The story of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery unfolds in unexpected ways, with peculiar steps and skepticism even among the Israelites. Moses questioned the events and challenged God after the Pharaoh worsened the people’s situation. The Torah recounts Moses’ plea:
“Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Why have You harmed these people? Why have You sent me? Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name. He has harmed these people, and You have not saved Your people.” *1
As per halachic tradition, the technical definition of matzah involves a mixture of flour and water left to sit for no more than 18 minutes. Yet, the connection between this definition and freedom is not immediately apparent. The growth of grain and the creation of bread symbolize settled civilization. As the initial stage of bread, Matzah represents the foundation of a stable society’s sustenance. As matzah precedes bread, leaving Egypt is the initial step to freedom and ultimate redemption.
The journey to freedom and redemption, symbolized by matzah, is protracted and intricate, extending beyond the Israelites’ departure from Egypt. The matzah encapsulates this ongoing quest.
Various perspectives on freedom emerge in both secular and religious realms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined four essential freedoms: speech, worship, want, and fear. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik identifies four additional freedoms embedded in the Passover seder:
The freedom of children: The seder engages children, the carriers of tradition, highlighting their role in future freedom.
The freedom of intergenerational continuity: The obligation to recount and elaborate on Jewish history fosters continuity.
The freedom of time: The ability to control one’s time, a precious resource, is a hallmark of freedom. The establishment of the Jewish calendar signifies this autonomy.
The freedom of the law: The Torah, with its laws and narratives, provides the foundation for true independence and ultimate redemption.
Passover signifies the initial phase of the journey to freedom. Proper redemption comes later, symbolized by the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The seder night drama unfolds, and the countdown to Shavuot begins.
This Passover, we reflect on both attained freedom and its vulnerability. Recent events, like the attack on Ukrainian freedoms, emphasize the importance of protecting and defending freedom—a timeless lesson echoed in seder traditions.
*1. Torah, Jewish Bible, Exodus/Shemot, Ch.5 v. 22-23
*2. Torah, Jewish Bible, Exodus Ch.12 v.2
*3. FDR and the Four Freedoms Speech www.fdrlibrary.org/four-freedoms *4 Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Sacred Time Ep 9: Passover – The Four Freedoms Sacred Time Ep 9: Passover – The Four Freedoms