Ho Lachmo Anya

One of the most famous questions on the Hagada is why we invite “all those who are hungry to come in and eat” after our seder has already begun. We also wonder why this invitation follows the statement, “Ha lachma anya, this is the bread of our affliction which our forefathers eat in the Land of Egypt.” Is there any connection between these two sentences that they are placed next to each other? Perhaps we can use a theme which we started a few weeks ago to answer these questions.

Dovid Hamelech has taught us the correct response when, with Hashem’s help, we are victorious against our enemies. “How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvations and call out in the name of Hashem. I will bring korbonos to Hashem in front of all the people.” (Tehilim 116). Calling out in the name of Hashem means announcing that Hashem has done this miracle which will bring glory to Hashem and sanctify His name. Bringing korbonos  is another way of publicising Hashem’s  role in the victory over  our enemies which will sanctify His name. Hashem doesn’t want us merely to say “Thank You” but actively bring honour to Him.

The Novi Micha, however, seems to say that the way to show hakoras hatov to Hashem is not the way Dovid Hamelech taught us. He implies that, on the contrary, bringing korbonos is a mistaken approach. “Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim, redeemed us from the House of bondage. He gave us Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. How shall we show thanks? Shall we approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves in their first year? Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? Hashem has told us what He wants from us; do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before Him.” (6:1-6). Do we see here a fundamentally different approach between Micha and Dovid? Micha says that practicing justice, love and humility is the way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses. Dovid favoured korbonos.

In Ahavas Chessed the Chofetz Chaim explains why practicing chessed is so vital. Firstly, he says, we all need it. We may be sick, a mourner, in need of a loan, a baal simcha or on a journey in need of hospitality. And even if we were in none of those situations, eventually we will all need chessed shel emes. Secondly, he says that in the World to Come our source of life and pleasure will be our proximity to Hashem. We cannot be close to Hashem unless we are in some small way like Him. Seeing that He is the ultimate Baal Chessed, if we did not practise chessed during our lifetime, we will have no similarity with Him at all and it will be impossible for us to be nehene miziv HaShechina.

The Siach Yitzchok points out another very important reason for us to do chessed. The first of the sheva berochos  is shehakol boro lichvodo – He created everything to honour Him. What has this to do with a chuppa? Rashi explains (Kesuvos 8a) that when all the guests assemble around a chuppa to be mesame’ach choson vekallo they are following the example of Hashem who was mesame’ach the first choson and kallo. By imitating the actions of Hashem we are giving Him honour as the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Hence the brocho, shehakol boro lichvodo.

Hashem is the ultimate Baal Chessed. Even as He is involved with waging war against His enemies, (Hashem Ish milchomo), He is still mercifully providing for the rest of the world, (Hashem Shemo). (Rashi, Shemos 15:3). When we follow in His ways, even at our low level, when, we practice mishpat and chessed, by imitating Hashem, we are giving Him honour. Micha was saying that when we are the recipients of Hashem’s miracles and kindness, we should not merely bring korbonos to publicise those miracles and bring honour that way. “Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil?” He wasn’t disagreeing with Dovid Hamelech that we need to “lift up the cup of salvations, call out in the name of Hashem and bring korbonos in His honour.” Micha was just saying that it is not enough. We must also bring honour to Hashem by imitating His ways, trying our best to “practise justice, kindness and walking with humility before Hashem.” In fact both Dovid and Micha are telling us that the correct way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses to Him is to honour Him. They just give two different ways of honouring Hashem and both are correct.

On Purim we remember the kindnesses of Hashem when He saved us from Homon, Amolek’s descendant. And we show our hakoras hatov both in the way taught to us by Dovid Hamelech –  reading  the megila and publicizing the miracle (kriosa zu halila) – and  in the way of Micha by practicing chessed when we do the mitzvos of mishloach monos and matonos l’ovyonim. In fact we place great emphasis on these two mitzvos on Purim. We try to fulfil the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megilla 2:17) “There is no greater and more honourable simcha than bringing simcha to the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. Because one who brings simcha to these less blessed members of our community is comparable to the Shechina about Whom it is said, “lehachayos ruach shefolim ulehachayos lev nidkaim.

Our Seuda too will ideally be an embodiment of the two ways of our showing hakoras hatov. We lift up our cup of salvation and drink wine in the honour of the miracle of Purim. And we invite to our tables family, friends and others, as the Rambam instructed us.

We will now extend this theme into Pesach to answer the questions we started with. We begin the story of our exodus from Egypt with Ha lachma Anya, by showing to those round the table a piece of matzo – an example of what our ancestors ate whilst they were slaves in Egypt. By this we are showing the contrast between the very basic, tasteless food which was our sole nourishment then and the delicacies we eat today. We are so thankful to Hashem for having improved our situation so radically. We do not suffice with a mere mention of our former nourishment but, for greater effect, we show the food itself to our families, friends and guests. By doing this we are following the example of Dovid Hamelech and publicizing Hashem’s miracles which He has done for us. We are also following the example of Yanai Hamelech (Kiddushin 66a) who, after conquering sixty towns in the South invited all the Chachomim to a festive meal to publicise the miracle of his victories and to give Him thanks. He served simple vegetables as the first course as an example of the type of simple food the Jews who had participated in building the second Beis Hamikdash were forced to eat because of their poverty. However the food was served on golden tables to show how much Hashem had blessed the people since that time. Yannai’s whole intention was to thank Hashem and sanctify His Name. (Rashi ibid).

In our Hagada we follow this by inviting any guests who might still be in need of a festive meal. This is not intended as a real invitation because we invited people before we said Kiddush which was the correct time to invite people. It was rather a statement showing how we want to honor Hashem by following the path of Micha by going in Hashem’s ways of showing kindness just like He shows us kindness all the time. We are thus continuing the theme of Purim by honoring Hashem both in the way of Dovid Hamelech and also in the way of the prophet Micha. And in this merit we hope that although this year we are still slaves, we hope that next year we will be free. And although this year we are here, we hope that next year we will be in the rebuilt city of Yerusholayim.