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The Shackles of Your Mind

The redemption story of the Haggadah opens with Matza, the bread of affliction – הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא. It’s what our ancestors ate, and we invite whoever is hungry to join – כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל.

If you think about it for a moment, it’s a weird invitation.

Sharing is caring, and hospitality and kindness are essential Jewish values. But the Haggadah doesn’t call for people to join our festive meal!

What sort of generosity is there in inviting people to share the bread of affliction?

The Chiddushei HaRim highlights that the worst punishment God could inflict on Egypt was darkness, short only of death itself – people were isolated from and could not see each other. Our sages go so far as to say that someone in isolation is effectively considered dead to the world. Humans need each other; it’s an existential design feature of being human – לֹא־טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ.

Perhaps one of the first steps towards redemption is experiencing pain together; even when we don’t have much, at least we have each other.

R’ Jonathan Sacks suggests that our willingness to share with others transforms the bread of affliction into the bread of freedom.

The distinguished psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl witnessed humanity stripped to its essence in the concentration camps and observed how there were still men walking around comforting others and giving away their last pieces of bread despite living in the most wretched circumstances. People like these, the ones who placed themselves in service of others, who committed themselves to a greater cause, were the ones who found nourishment even in complete deprivation, whose fires kept burning even in times of absolute freezing darkness. Even in the worst of times, we can freely choose to share with others, and in doing so, we become partners in planting the seeds of our redemption.

The Maharal notes that the Exodus is fundamental because it imbues Judaism with an essential quality of absolute freedom – Judaism is born with the removal of coercive influence. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe notes that R’ Elazar ben Azariah discovered Ben Zoma’s teaching to recall the Exodus at night on the day he became a leader; because it falls to a leader to be the beacon of hope during times of darkness and difficulty. 

Rav Kook explains that the critical distinction between an enslaved person and a free man is not simply physical liberty; there’s a mental component. There could be an enlightened slave whose spirit is free; and a free person whose whole life is enslaved to his basest desires – physically free but with a slave mentality. The people who walked out of Egypt and through the Red Sea to stand at Sinai then spent 40 lost years pining to go back “home” to Egypt.

It’s essential to understand the direction of the story the Torah tells. God physically freed the Jews of that time, but mentally, they never left, which leads to a shocking but indisputable conclusion. 

God can save you from Egypt, but not even God can save you from yourself. 

You don’t need much to share; do it and set your spirit free.