At the start of the Passover Seder, we hold up a matzah and announce, "Ha lachma anya" - "This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt."
But some Haggadot have a slightly different text. They read, "Ke-ha lachma anya" - "This is like the bread of affliction." Why are there two versions? The Dubno Maggid explained with the following parable.
Once upon a time there was a man whose business never took off. It barely met expenses, and he was unable to properly feed his family. They lived in a crowded, run-down shack, and they wore old and tattered clothes. One day, this man’s luck changed. Suddenly his business started prospering, and he became moderately wealthy. He moved his family into a large home. He was able to afford custom-made business suits and stylish dress shoes. His family was able to enjoy the finer things in life.
This man had an unusual custom. Once a year he would take off his fine suit and clothes, and put on his old, tattered clothes that he kept stored away in a closet. He wanted to remind himself of where he had come from, so that he would never forget the past and fail to appreciate his present affluence. On that evening, he would wear these old rags at the dinner table, and his entire family would remember their difficult circumstances in the past and be grateful for their current state of financial success and stability.
Unfortunately, one day this man’s luck changed again - this time for the worse. The small fortune he had made with his business was lost. His properties and acquisitions were repossessed. He was forced to sell all of the nice items that he and his family had grown accustomed to. Once again, all he had were his old, tattered clothes. This time he went home, gathered his family and told them that they were no longer wealthy. "You see these old rags?" he said. "This time I am not wearing them to remind myself that once I was poor. I am wearing them now because I really am poor!"
The Dubno Maggid’s parable reminds us of the changing fortunes of the Jewish People, collectively and individually, throughout history. Sometimes we celebrated Pesach in relative comfort, affluence and safety. At these Seders, we taste the bitterness of the Maror and try to imagine what it is like for life to be hard. In such years we say “KeHa Lachma Anya” this is a commemoration of difficult times- much different than the current time of blessing.
At other times, the Seder was “celebrated” in the most difficult and oppressive conditions, such as during the years of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center – created an online photo exhibit commemorating the celebration of Pesach before, during and after the Holocaust, entitled “And You Shall Tell Your Children.” It has incredible pictures- the ones most meaningful to me are the pictures from the Warsaw ghetto- women baking matzah, people gathered around seder tables. In the darkest of times- when suffering and oppression were all around- these people showed tenacity and courage to celebrate the Festival of Freedom. At such moments we say “Ha Lachama Anya”; not only do we empathize with the suffering of our past, but we too are suffering. At such times we eat Maror as an outward expression of bitterness that we already feel.
In good times and in challenging times, for us as individuals or as a nation, we gather around the Seder table. Let us appreciate the power of the Pesach Seder, as a source of comfort, strength, gratitude and optimism.