Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pesach: "This is the Bread of Affliction"

At the start of the Passover seder, we hold up a matzah and announce, "Ha lachma anya" - "This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt."

But some Haggadot have a slightly different text. They read, "Ke­-ha lachma anya" - "This is like the bread of affliction."

Why are there two versions? The Dubno Maggid explained with the following parable:

The Businessman's Old Clothes

For many years, Jack's business never took off. It barely met expenses, and Jack was unable to properly feed his family. They lived in a crowded, run-down apartment, and they wore old and tattered clothes.

One day, Jack's luck changed. Suddenly his business started prospering, and Jack became moderately wealthy. He moved his family into a large home in an affluent neighborhood. He was able to afford custom-made business suits and stylish dress shoes.

But Jack had an unusual custom. Once a year he would take off his fine suit and clothes, and put on his old, tattered clothes that he kept stored away in a closet. He wanted to remind himself of where he had come from, so that he would never forget the past and fail to appreciate his present affluence. On that evening, Jack would wear these old rags at the dinner table, and his entire family would remember their difficult circumstances in the past and be grateful for their current state of financial stability.

Unfortunately, one day Jack's luck changed again - this time for the worse. The small fortune he had made with his business was lost. His properties and acquisitions were repossessed. Once again, all he had were his old, tattered clothes.

Jack went home, gathered his family and told them that they were no longer wealthy. "You see these old rags?" he said. "This time I am not wearing them to remind myself that once I was poor. I am wearing them now because I really am poor!"

Our Bread of Affliction

So it is with our matzah. History has dealt strange tricks with the Jewish people. There are times when we are free and successful and safe. At these prosperous times, we announce at the Seder, "Ke-­ha lachma anya" - ''This is like the bread of affliction". The matzah is a reminder of difficult times in our distant past, when we were slaves in exile.

But there are times when the world turns against us. Then we sadly announce, "Ha lachma anya." This matzah is not like the bread of affliction. It really is our bread of affliction and suffering.