Is Matzah the Bread of Affliction or the Bread of Redemption?
Before the Mah Nishtana is recited, we lift up the matzahs and recite the words “Ha Lachma Anya…”, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt; let all those that are hungry enter and eat thereof; and all who are in distress, come and celebrate the Passover. At present we celebrate it here, but next year we hope to celebrate in the land of Israel. This year we are servants here, but next year we hope to be free people in the land of Israel.”

According to the Maharsha, matzah was the food that the slaves ate in Egypt. We eat the matzah at the seder to remind us of the slavery.

The next section of the seder which deals with Matzah originates from a Mishna in Pesachim 10:5, “Rabban Gamliel haya omer…Matzah zu sheanu ochlim al shum…”, “Rabban Gamliel taught…This matzah which we now eat, what does it mean? It is eaten because the dough of our ancestors had no time to become leavened before God revealed Himself to them and redeemed them; as it is said (Shmot 12:39) ‘They baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they had brought forth out of Egypt, ugot matzot, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they made any provision for themselves’.”

Rabban Gamliel’s view is that the matzah is the bread of redemption, the food that B’nai Yisrael ate after they were already redeemed.

In Devarim 16:3 it is taught concerning the holiday of Peasach and the Korban Pesach, Passover sacrifice, “Do not eat chametz (leavened bread) on it; seven days you shall eat matzot, lechem oni (bread of affliction) since in haste you left the land of Egypt, so that you remember the day of your exodus from the land of Egypt all the days of your life”.

Rashi comments that this “lechem oni”, bread of affliction memorializes the anguish that B’nai Yisrael suffered in Egypt. Avravanel points to the haste in the second part of the pasuk to signify that the matzah reminds us of the redemption.

How do we reconcile the matzah being both bread of affliction and bread of redemption? During the first part of the seder we conduct ourselves as slaves while during the second part of the seder we conduct ourselves as free people.

Part of the Ha Lachma Anya section has already been fulfilled. Many Jewish people (including myself!) will be celebrating Pesach as free people in Israel. However, there are many Jews around the world who would like to come to Israel yet have still not had the opportunity. Even in Israel, there are unfortunately those who are not free including Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser, Israeli soldiers who are still missing in action.

As we eat our matzah, let’s be thankful that we have the State of Israel and that we are in the beginning stages of the redemption. However, let’s keep in mind as well those who are not free. Let’s pray that by next year all Jews will be free in the land of Israel!