On Wednesday evening, our people will gather in their homes or in the homes of family and friends to celebrate Passover and the timeless traditions of the Passover seder. After we recite the Kiddush and eat the karpas, representing the arrival of spring, we pause before the children ask the four questions and we recite the following formula:
“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Mitzrayim. All who are hungry, let them enter and eat. All who are in need, let them come celebrate Pesach. Now we are here. Next year in the Land of Israel. Now we are enslaved. Next year we will be free.”
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asked: “What kind of invitation is this? What hospitality is it to offer the hungry — matzah! It is a taste of slavery, of suffering, a poor person’s bread.” Rabbi Sacks continued: “In fact, it is a profound insight into the nature of slavery and freedom. Matzah represents two things: It is the food of slaves and it is the food our ancestors ate as they left Egypt in liberty and freedom. What transforms the ‘bread of affliction’ into ‘the bread of freedom’ is our ability to share with others.”
And the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explains a seeming redundancy in the formula; after all, isn’t “let all who are hungry” and “all who are in need” the same thing? He taught: “‘Let all who are hungry’ refers to those truly in need of food.” (It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of all Jews — here and in Israel — live in poverty.) But then he teaches, “‘Let all who are in need’ does not necessarily refer to food but to those who are lonely and in need of friendship and companionship.”
We stand and open the door for Elijah the Prophet later in the seder. Some rabbis suggest that we should not only uncover the matzah for this important invitation but we should rise and open the door, just as we do for Elijah. If we truly want to help those in need, our doors should be open, and all who wish to celebrate should be invited into our homes to celebrate Pesach.
At its heart, Passover is about sharing and community. Let all who are hungry, let all who are alone, let all who seek freedom and redemption be invited into our homes — and if they are not invited physically into our homes, we must contribute to the variety of Jewish charities that will provide for those in need, here and around the world to make sure that every Jew has what they need to celebrate Passover.
Paul David Kerbel is the rabbi of Temple Beth El Mekor Chayim in Cranford. He is a member of the Jewish Federation of MetroWest New Jersey’s Rabbinic Roundtable and Israel Partnership Network and chairs the Rabbinic Advisory Council of the New York-New Jersey Region of the Anti-Defamation League.