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Maggid: Ha Lachma Anya, the Bread of Poverty and Persecution •
Maggid IntroductionA Passover SkitThe Game Begins: Rules for Hiding the AfikomenMatza's Double IdentityUplifting BreadThe Bread of AnswersFast Food, Oppression, and Schindler's ListAn Open Door PolicyAll of Us Are EqualNeedy, But Not Necessarily Poor The Jewish MayflowerThis Year We Are Slaves

Maggid — Telling the Story

1. The heart of the seder is the “maggid” from the term “Haggadah,” meaning “storytelling.” The storyteller must be flexible and inventive, for this, the longest part of the seder, is also the most creative.
2. According to many oriental Jewish traditions, it opens with a traditional Pesach skit. It is also time to hide the afikoman (the larger portion of the middle matza)..  top

Recalling the First Seder Night
We begin by recalling the first seder night in history when we “hurriedly left Egypt:”
     “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt ... This is how you shall eat it (the Pesach meal): your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly: it is a Passover offering to the Lord ...
     In the middle of the night the Lord struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt ...
     The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, “We shall all be dead!”
     So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders ...” (Exodus 12:11-29, 33-34).
      HERE I AM, ready to perform the mitzvah of retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
     FORGETFULNESS leads to exile, while memory is the secret of redemption”, says the Baal Shem Tov (18th C. founder of Hassidism). Therefore, we celebrate Passover by teaching ourselves to become inventive storytellers and empathetic listeners.  top

A Passover Skit

IN EGYPT the Jews ate quickly and anxiously because they were nervous about the plague of the first born and they were expecting their imminent departure into freedom. Today Jews of Africa and Asia customarily act out the Exodus itself dressing their children (or a dramatically inclined adult) in baggy clothes, a scarf or hat, hiking boots, a walking stick, a belt with a canteen and, most important, the afikoman wrapped in one’s clothes on the shoulder (or perhaps in a back pack).
     Try sending the youngest children out of the room (or the house) with a bag of props and the help of an adult to prepare this dialogue. Here is a semi-traditional script that may be used by the “actors” at the seder.

Knock on the door
Adults - Who’s there?
Children - Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam.
Adults - Come in. Tell us about your journey!
Children - We have just arrived from Egypt where we were slaves to Pharaoh. He made us do such hard work. [Improvise about how bad it was.]
Adults - How did you escape?
Children - God sent Moshe and Aaron to tell Pharaoh: “Let my people go”. When he refused, God sent 10 plagues. [Improvise describing some of the plagues.]
Finally God brought the most awful plague on the first born of Egypt. Then Pharaoh was really scared so he kicked us out.
Adults - Why are you dressed like that? What is on your shoulder?
Children - We escaped in the middle of the night and had no time to let the dough for our bread rise. The dough that we wrapped in our cloaks and slung over our shoulders turned to matza in the heat of the sun.
Adults - Tell us about your adventures.
Children - Pharaoh changed his mind after releasing us and chased us to the edge of the Red Sea. We would have been caught for sure, but then God split the sea. [Describe how it felt.]
Adults - Where are you going now?
Children - To Jerusalem.
All - La-shana ha-ba-ah Bee’Yerushalayeem!

The Game Begins:
Rules for Hiding the Afikomen


WHILE THE BROKEN MATZA is designed to remind the adults of the culture of poverty, the afikoman is the key to gifts of plenty for the children, as well as the lever for parents to arouse tired children and maintain their alertness through the lengthy stories, rituals, and explanations of the seder. The rabbis mandated playing games with the matza precisely for this educational purpose and felt little compunction about disturbing the sanctity of the evening or the dignity of the matza as a symbol. Each Jewish community made their own rules – sometimes the child stole the afikoman and sometimes the parent hid it. Here is one contemporary version of the game with practical instructions:
     1. After breaking the matza, either the seder leader or head of each nuclear family hides the afikoman(s) in a napkin. Some parents sew cloth envelopes embroidered with the word “afikoman.”
     2. The children are told that a portion of the afikoman will be hidden in more or less plain sight. Children should be encouraged to work together so that the negative aspects of competition will not ruin their evening when they are rewarded for finding the afikoman.  top

Matza's Double Identity

AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the Jews eat unleavened bread because the dough they brought out from Egypt in their rush to leave, never had a chance to rise. Matza is then the bread of liberation. It is a mark of an exodus whose rapid pace overtook them unprepared.
The Egyptians who enslaved them, suddenly expelled them after God brought the plague on the first born. The Passover skit (above), reenacts the matza of expulsion and exodus.
     Yet “ha lachma,” the first official explanation for matza in the Haggadah, calls it the “bread of poverty and persecution” based on Deuteronomy 16:3, “You shall eat unleavened bread, bread of “oni” (distress) – for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly.” Here matza is a memorial not of liberation, but of slavery. The life of oppression is marked by a pressured, “hurried” pace, for the slaves do not control the rhythm of their existence.  top

Uplifting Bread

THE GESTUREof raising the matza of poverty and persecution is an allusion to God’s lifting up the poor from the garbage heaps (Psalms 113:7).
     The Moroccan custom of passing the matza over the heads of the participants may allude to the Angel of Death who “passed over” the Jewish houses on the night of the tenth plague.  top

The Bread of Answers

The Rabbis punned that anya means not only poverty but giving answers. This is the bread over which many “answers” will be said. The parent answers the child while pointing at the matza and says: “For the sake of this, God did so much for me when I left Egypt” (Ex. 13:8).  top

Fast Food, Oppression, and "Schindler's List"

SEFORNO, a rabbi of the Italian Renaissance, noted that matza is the original “fast food.” Made of flour and salt it bakes quickly, as it must, for slaves have no time to themselves to let their dough rise at its leisure. Quick to prepare and easy to eat, matza is the bread of a tight schedule due to the oppressor’s unrelenting demands for meeting the production quota (Ex. 5). Perhaps for that reason the Rabbis insisted that today's matza be prepared from start to finish in no more than 18 minutes.
     When the Israeli actor, Ezra Dagan, was chosen by Steven Spielberg to play the rabbi in the Holocaust movie Schindler’s List, he went to visit a friend whose father was a survivor. Ezra wanted to get the personal feel of the Jews who had lived through Auschwitz. Arriving just as his friend’s father sat down to eat, Ezra marvelled at the rapid pace at which he consumed everything on his plate. “Does your father always eat at so frenzied a rate?” he inquired. “I never noticed it but you are right. It must be a life saving lesson he never unlearned from his years in Nazi forced labor camps.”
     Seforno explained that God rewarded the Jews who were forced to bake and to eat so quickly (be-cheepazon) in Egypt by granting them a quick exodus (be-cheepazon) after the original seder (Deut. 16:3). The leisurely pace of the seder today as well as the abundance of food and the comfort of the pillows expresses our liberation from an (op)pressing schedule.  top

An Open Door Policy

BEFORE COMMENCING any meal, Rav Huna of Babylonia used to open the door and announce: “Let all who are in need come and eat” (B.T. Taanit 20b).
     Concern for the needy is characteristic of every Jewish celebration. The Torah emphasizes: “You shall rejoice in your festival – with your son and daughter, your male and female servant, the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow in your communities” (Deut 16:14). Maimonides expands and explains this principle:
     “When a person eats and drinks at the festive meal he is obligated to provide food for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, along with the rest of the poor and despondent. But whoever locks the doors of the courtyard, and eats and drinks with his wife and children, and does not provide food and drink for poor or suffering people, this is not a “mitzvah celebration” (“simchat mitzvah”) but a “celebration of the belly” (“simchat kray-so”)... and this kind of celebration is a disgrace”  (Maimonides, Festivals 6:18).
     We continue this Biblical tradition of hospitality today by collecting money to fund preparations for the holiday by the indigent (“Maot-cheeteem”), and by inviting guests to the seder table. Communities should provide networks of hospitality so that no Jew, whether a newcomer or an elderly person, need spend the holiday alone and forsaken.
     Ben Shahn’s poster, “Hunger,” was used to appeal for help for refugees after World War II. It is modelled on a photograph taken in the Warsaw Ghetto.  top

"All of Us Are Equal"

AT A SEDER the poor are often invited to eat at the home of the rich. This may reinforce their sense of shame and dependence on others. Therefore we begin by the eating of dry, broken matza which is supposed to be an equalizer. Don Isaac Abrabanel explains that the hosts must make clear to the guests: “All of us are equal. Though you are poor, you will not feel estranged at my table for all of us were impoverished in Egyptian bondage.”
(Don Isaac Abrabanel, Zevach Pesach Haggadah.I n 1492 Abrabanel was a cabinet minister to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. When the decree expelling the Jews from Spain was issued, he was offered an exemption. Nevertheless he chose to be expelled in solidarity with all the Jews).  top

"Needy But Not Necessarily Poor"

SOMETIMES the rich are needy. Though they have lots of food they may not know how to make a seder. Therefore the text says “all those in need” and not only “all who are hungry.”
     “One should also invite travellers in a strange town far from home for they are certainly sad so far from their families... you are obliged to bring them to your home and make them happy on this holiday.” (anonymous medieval Talmudist).  top

The Jewish Mayflower

DAVID BEN GURION, first prime minister of the State of Israel, described the importance of the memories preserved on Pesach as he argued for the right to a Jewish State in 1947:
     “Three hundred years ago a ship called the Mayflower set sail to the New World. This was a great event in the history of England. Yet I wonder if there is one Englishman who knows at what time the ship set sail? Do the English know how many people embarked on this voyage? What quality of bread did they eat? Yet more than three thousand three hundred years ago, before the Mayflower set sail, the Jews left Egypt. Every Jew in the world, even in America or Soviet Russia knows on exactly what date they left - the fifteenth of the month of Nisan; everyone knows what kind of bread the Jews ate. Even today the Jews worldwide eat matza on the 15th of Nisan. They retell the story of the Exodus and all the troubles Jews have endured since being exiled. They conclude this evening with two statements: This year, slaves. Next year, free men. This year here. Next year in Jerusalem, in Zion, in Eretz Yisrael. That is the nature of the Jews.”
(Testimony to the U.N. Commission on the Partition of Palestine, 1947)  top

"This Year We Are Slaves"

WHAT CAN these words mean?
     We are slaves because yesterday our people were in slavery, and memory makes yesterday real for us.
     We are slaves because today there are still people in chains around the world and no one can be truly free while others are in chains.
     We are slaves because freedom means more than broken chains. Where there is poverty and hunger and homelessness, there is no freedom; where there is prejudice and bigotry and discrimination, there is no freedom; where there is violence and torture and war, there is no freedom.
     And where each of us is less than he or she might be, we are not free, not yet.
     And who, this year, can be deaf to the continuing oppression of the downtrodden, who can be blind to the burdens and the rigors that are now to be added to the most vulnerable in our midst?
     If these things be so, who among us can say that he or she is free?
(Leonard Fein, founder of  MAZON: A Jewish Responseto Hunger,  1985)     top