Pesach The Amazing Jewish Response to Suffering


Rabbi Elchanan Shoff


“This is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. If you are hungry come and eat…This year we are here, next year in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year free men.”  With these words, we introduce the Seder’s discussion of the enslavement of our ancestors, and Hashem’s redemption of them from Egypt. A quick glance at this paragraph makes one wonder what on earth it is about. What connection does one sentence have to the next? We identify the sort of food eaten in Egypt, we invite the hungry, and we hope for salvation. These seem like three completely separate ideas.


Moshe was given his name by the daughter of Pharaoh because “he was taken from the water.[1]” Fascinatingly, though, the name Moshe means “one who takes others out.” If her intention was to name him “the one taken out from the water” the accurate name would have been Mashui, points out R. Ovadia Seforno[2]. Moshe was given this name, he says, to show us that he was only saved in order that he then be able to go and save other people.


“On a day of good, be good,” said Shlomo Hamelech.[3] The Targum[4] explains that this means “on the day that Hashem is good to you, you ought to be generous too and be good to the rest of the world.” The Torah tells us[5] that “You are not to pressure the stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” One who suffered, eating the bread of poverty and affliction, and lived as a stranger, and was saved from that, need to immediately react with thoughts of aiding others who are suffering. If you were once a stranger, then you must now help strangers. If you were saved from the waters of certain death, then you must save others. Inviting people after Kiddush is strange. If you want to help others, invite them in advance, not at Ha lachma anya, after the seder has already begun! If indeed this is an invitation the guests, as the words indicate, and Abarbanel[6] explains, then why wait to make this invitation until now, wondered the Maasei Hashem[7]? Perhaps this is not an invitation at all, for that must be done in advance. However, the reaction of the Jew to a recollection of past suffering and the absence of that suffering must immediately be “if anyone is hungry, please come and eat.” Even if there is no such person present, the reaction must be immediate. We must commit to feeding those who have less than us, and our children must hear us mulling over the question, “Is there anyone else that we can be helping? After all we were once impoverished…”


When a person brings a Thanksgiving Offering in the Temple, he brings forty loaves of bread[8]; far too many for one person to eat. Seforno[9] explains that these many loaves, and the fact that all the sacrifice must be consumed in one day and one night[10], a shorter period of time than usual, was to force him to invite more people to participate in the sacrifice, since eating it all himself, or with just his closer friends, would be impossible. In other words, when it comes to thanksgiving, the response includes feeding others, and helping them to feel the miracle as well.[11]


If you once ate the bread of poverty and affliction, it is your job to now give something back. You must now offer others a place of refuge.


By doing this, you will then bring about the redemption. The Beis Halevi[12] proves at great length that charity is what brings about the redemption. He explains that this is why we have the custom to donate to the poor as Pesach approaches. And this, he explains, is why we can be confident that though “now we are slaves, next year we will be free… in the land of Israel”. For when one gives of oneself, and takes from his past and offers of himself to others and to the entire world, then this brings the redemption. The perfect is one where no man must fight his friend to find himself, or to survive. It is one where people can live without anyone stepping on another person’s feet, where each person has actualized himself, taking his experiences and giving to the world as a result of them.


When we take the challenges and suffering from our past and transform them into ammunition for giving and tools for good, we find our place in the grand scheme of things, and bring the redemption.


[1] Shemos 2:10

[2] Seforno ibid s.v. vatikra shemo Moshe

[3] Koheles 7:14

[4] Ad loc

[5] Shemos 23:9

[6] Zevach Pesach s.v. Ha Lachma vihayoser. He explains that they are in Aramaic since that was  the language of the day. See also R. Gitelsohn in his Nagaid Vinafaik, (p. 75 Jacob ed. Monsey 2014) where he cites Ben Poras Yosef (R. Yosef Hess) on Haftarah to Pesach 2 (s.v. Kiha) who explained that in Bavel, they forgot Hebrew, and began praying all of the prayers in Aramaic, and when they returned to Israel, they began praying in Hebrew once again, but they left the first part of the Hagadah in Aramaic to forever remember the redemption from Bavel alongside the redemption from Egypt.

[7] Commentary to Hagaddah, Ha Lachma Anya. See also Nagaid Vinafaik p. 74-75.

[8] Vayikra 7:11

[9] Ad loc. S.v. Vizos torah Zevach. Netziv in Haamek Davar 7:15 (s.v. Ubasar Zevach) suggests the same idea to explain why all the meat must be eating in one day.

[10] See also the comments of Maharshag in Zehav Shva, to Beshalach, regarding the idea that one must live up to a higher standard when he is blessed by Hashem, and receives something good. He explains that the reason that one must eat korbanos in a short time, and leave nothing over is to teach himself to have bitachon in Hashem, that indeed there will be food tomorrow, as Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 143) explains. See also Toras Haolah of Rema (3, 53) who explains this idea in detail as well. Maharshag explains that a person living with miracles must live with a higher level of commitment to bitachon than a normal person, and thus those who ate the manna in the wilderness had only one day to eat it, and were obligated to evidence more bitachon. Similarly, he explains when a person is involved in something holy like offering a sacrifice he can not leave food over for the next morning.

[11] See also Haamek Davar to Vayikra 22:29

[12] Shu”t Beis Halevi 16 s.v. Yesh liten taam

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