Torah, Uncategorized

Let All Who Are Hungry Come and Eat

by Rabbi Lara Haft Yom Tov

This piece is part of a השתא הכא/Hashata Hakha, a justice-oriented Haggadah reader with contributions from members of Halachic Left, All That’s Left, and HaSmol HaEmuni, designed by Caroline Morganti, and edited by Liz Bentley, Max Buchdahl, Maya Rosen, Aron Wander, and Netanel Zellis-Paley. Jewschool is proud to partner with this publication in sharing some of the contributions. 

“This is the bread of affliction our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need come share our Passover.”

“.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”


Ha lachma anya, the very first line of Maggid, is meant to be an unambiguous, immediate call to feed the hungry, understood easily by every Jew. 

While most of the text of the seder is in Hebrew, ha lachma anya is written in Aramaic. This text was added to the Seder by the Jewish community of Babylonia, for whom Aramaic was the vernacular (commentary of the Ritva on the Haggadah, “הא לחמא עניא”). It is written in the lingua franca, using simple language that would have been understood even by young children.  Beginning in the 14th century, many Ashkenazi communities were careful to translate ha lachma anya, specifically, into the vernacular (Rema on Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim, 473:6). For hundreds of years, Jewish tradition has emphasized the importance of everyone at the seder understanding this declaration in its simplest meaning (ibid). Medieval commentators described ha lachma anya as a literal invitation: Jewish people would open their doors on Pesach, proclaiming to those on the street that “all who are hungry should come and eat” (Perush Kadmon on the Haggadah, “כל דכפין ייתי וייכל”). 

This Pesach, we must ask if there’s any meaning left in the words we are saying.

At this year’s seder, the same war criminals who have forced Palestinian families to flee their homes will lift up their matzah and wax poetic about the Israelites’ rush to escape Egypt. The same politicians who have manufactured a famine in Gaza, leading millions to the brink of starvation, will proudly declare: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” 

What was once the simplest line of the Haggadah has become gibberish. 

The midrash recounts a story about the evil cities of Sedom and Amorah before they were destroyed. Two young girls were drawing water when one girl noticed that the other was weak from hunger. Without hesitation, the healthy young girl switched their jugs, filling the starving girl’s with flour. When this child’s actions were revealed to the people of Sedom, they seized her and burned her to death (Bereishit Rabbah 49:6), as feeding the poor was against the laws of Sedom (ibid., comment of Etz Yosef). 

In another midrash, the rabbis teach that the destruction of Sedom and Amorah happened during Pesach. Such an account seems anachronistic, given that Sedom and Amorah were destroyed many generations before the Israelites were ever enslaved in Mitzrayim. Yet, perhaps there is something so fundamental about Pesach that it transcends even time itself. The 15th of Nissan is a sort of primordial witching hour, when Divine, thundering anger blazes against violent regimes. As we sit down for our seders under the full moon, this time has come once again. The world becomes ripe for the un-making of civilizations like Sedom and Mitzrayim, regimes that celebrate the starvation of children and punish anyone who dares resist.

Pesach stirs us to proclaim the simple truth, which is understood intuitively by kids, whether the young girl of Sedom or the children at our Pesach seder. That life is sacred. That God hears the screams of the oppressed. That we have to feed those who are starving.

We must commit ourselves to these simple truths of our tradition, never surrendering them to rancid metaphor. 

This is the bread of affliction. Let all who are hungry come and eat. 

Lara Haft Yom-Tov (they/them) is Jewish educator and community rabbi living in London. 

Halachic Left is a grassroots collective of halachically observant and politically left Jews looking to open new Israel conversations in our communities. Join the WhatsApp community at this link.

All That’s Left is a Jerusalem-based collective unequivocally opposed to the Israeli Occupation and committed to building the Diaspora angle of resistance.

Smol Emuni is a diverse group of religious Israeli Jews who are bringing their faith to the public discourse in an effort to counteract the right’s uninhibited use of religion. Join the Hebrew-language WhatsApp group at this link.


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