The Haggadah’s Baffling Invitation

April 5 2018

Toward the beginning of the Haggadah, there is a paragraph that states: “Anyone who is hungry—come and eat! Anyone who needs—come and celebrate Passover. Now we are here—next year in the land of Israel. Now we are slaves—next year free people.” Elli Fischer notes the anomalous placement of this paragraph, its odd phrasing, and the fact that, unlike the rest of the seder’s liturgy, it is in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. While some have argued that the choice of language was intended to keep demons away from the festive meal, Fisher believes the entire paragraph must be understood in reference to the paradoxes of celebrating a holiday of liberation while in exile, and where the key Passover ritual—the sacrifice and consumption of the paschal lamb—is not being observed:

[T]he lamb could be sacrificed only in the Temple and eaten only in Jerusalem and its immediate environs. [Furthermore], only those who had a “share” in the animal at the moment of the sacrifice—i.e., those who had arranged in advance to participate in the sacrifice of that particular lamb—could eat of it. Moreover, a Gentile could not eat of the paschal offering. . . .

[At this juncture of the seder, when the participants] meditate on Jewish suffering, whether in Egypt or in a host of other exiles, they are reminded that there are still those who are hungry. Moreover, without the Temple, guests can be invited at the last minute; all who are hungry may come and eat—even Gentiles, who could not have partaken in Temple times. This yields a further insight: Jews who are not necessarily hungry may participate in this simulacrum of a paschal feast, even if they were not invited beforehand. So all who need may come and celebrate Passover.

Our memory and our direct experience of servitude sensitize us to the plight of the poor and needy. We recall our impoverishment, so we extend an invitation to the poor. It is only in our enslaved state that we can be so generous. . . . Moreover, our meditation on our historical suffering, which prompted us to consider the suffering of those around us, will not be acute next year, for we will no longer be slaves. Next year we will be free. . . . What will happen to the poor and needy next year, when, in addition to their formal exclusion from the paschal offering, we will no longer be sensitive to their plight? . . .

That, it seems, is the question that underlies the entire seder. We are not only acting out our past servitude. We are playing a double game of charades, acting like free people who are acting like enslaved people, in preparation for the arrival of the ever-distant but ever-close “next year.” It is then, when our freedom in our own land ceases to be an act and becomes real, that we will face the ultimate question: whether centuries worth of talk about feeding the hungry . . . was real, or just an act.

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More about: Exile, Haggadah, Passover, Religion & Holidays

With Talk of Annexation, Benny Gantz Sends a Message to the U.S.

Jan. 24 2020

On Tuesday, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is campaigning for a third time to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from the Israeli premiership, announced that if elected he will seek to annex the Jordan Valley. He added the important caveat that he wants to do so “in coordination with the international community”—a promise that, as many have pointed out, is nearly impossible to fulfill. While it is easy to speculate about the political calculations behind this pledge, Jonathan Tobin suggests that it is also intended as a message to American liberals:

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More about: Benny Gantz, Democrats, Israeli Election 2020, Jordan Valley, U.S. Politics