Ha Lachma Anya: A Message of Galut and Redemption By Ephraim Helfgot (’20)


Ha Lachma Anya is a troubling paragraph for a number of reasons. Why, alone among the sections of Maggid, is it written in Aramaic? What good does it do to invite people to the Seder after it has already started, and when the only ones who will hear the invitation are already at the table? Furthermore, since the Korban Pesach can only be eaten by those who joined the Chaburah prior to the lamb’s slaughtering, why do we issue an invitation to strangers, who are not part of the Chaburah, to eat the Pesach? Finally, what is the connection between the first two sentences, which speak of the Matzah and issue an invitation to the indigent, and the final two sentences, which speak of redemption?

Rabbi Yoseif Adler, the Rosh Yeshiva of TABC, in three Shi’urim at TABC in 5778, explained the idea behind Ha Lachma Anya based on the story of Lot. Lot was Avraham’s son-in-law who accompanied him on his journey, but their flocks eventually grew too large for them to live together; Lot and Avraham then separated out of economic necessity. The Torah records (Bereishit 13:10-13) that Lot settled by Sedom, a place of wicked evildoers, because it was located in a fertile area. Picking up on Lot’s disregard of morality and privileging of money, Rashi (13:11 s.v. MiKedem) writes, “Hisi’a Atzmo MiKadmono Shel Olam Amar I Efshi Lo Be’Avraham VeLo Be’Elohav,” “[Lot] moved himself away from the Original One of the World [God]. He said: ‘I desire neither Avraham nor his God.’” Lot, who had been in Avraham’s household and imbibed his moral teachings, now discarded them; he became an apostate of the highest order.

And yet, the Torah records that when God destroyed Sedom, He sent angels to save Lot (Bereishit 19:29). Why did God save Lot? When the angels entered Sedom, Lot welcomed them into his home and fed them (parenthetically, with Matzah). Even though a Sedomite mob demanded that the guests be handed over, Lot protested against their maltreatment, “Ki Al Kein Ba’u BeTzeil Korati,” “For they have entered under the shade of my roof” (Bereishit 19:8). Lot’s fastidious observance of the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, a Mitzvah to which Avraham had given primacy over talking to God (see Bereishit 18:1-2), earned him this merit of salvation.

This, Rabbi Adler explained, is the basis for Ha Lachma Anya. Ha Lachma Anya does not serve as a practical invitation, but rather a philosophical opener to the Seder. We, who live in the Galut, recognize that we have not merited spending this Pesach in the Beit HaMikdash, but we commit ourselves to the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim so that we may merit the Ge’ulah by next year. Just as Lot, who was an apostate, was saved by the merit of welcoming guests, so too we, who have strayed far from our Father in Heaven, may be saved by the Zechut of this Mitzvah.

In this way, all of our questions are answered. The Aramaic text of Ha Lachma Anya emphasizes the Galut background of this passage; see Mishneh Torah Hilchot Chameitz UMatzah, Nusach HaHagadah, where Rambam introduces the Hagada like this: “Seder HaHagadah SheNahagu Bah Yisrael Bizman HaGalut Kach Hu,” “The order of the Hagadah which Israel has practiced in the time of the Galut is the following.” The invitation is not fruitless, as it is not intended to bring in guests for this Seder, but rather to spur us to be more hospitable in the future. The reference to the Korban Pesach refers to next year’s Korban Pesach, for which we will certainly invite the needy to take part in the Chaburah if we internalize the message of Hachnasat Orchim. And the entire paragraph now reads as a cohesive unit, as the actions and attitudes described in the first two sentences will bring about the changes described in the final two sentences.

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