Near the beginning of the Passover Seder, we introduce the “Maggid” portion of the Haggadah, the heart of the Seder during which we tell the story of the enslavement and exodus, with a passage in Aramaic called “Ha Lachma Anya.” The Aramaic may be hard to pronounce, but the English is compelling:
“This is the bread of poverty and persecution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need, come and share the Pesach meal. This year we are still here. Next year, in the Land of Israel. This year we are still slaves. Next year, free people.”
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, among the greatest Orthodox Rabbis of the twentieth century, was intrigued by the language of this passage. Why, he asked, does it refer to “all who are hungry” as well as “all who are in need?” Is this use of language not repetitive and redundant? Soloveitchik answered that there is no redundancy here at all. “All who are hungry” refers those who do not have enough to eat, and stressed our obligation to take care of the hungry not only at Passover time but throughout the year. “All who are in need” refers to those who are alone, those with plenty of matza but no one with whom to share the experience. Soloveitchik writes, “The invitation to all who are in need is not to come and eat with us (yeitei ve-yeichol) but to celebrate with us (yeitei ve-yifsach). It is an invitation addressed to unfortunate and lonely people. Whoever is in need should come and celebrate.”
Passover summons us not only to be attentive to those in need of food but also to those in need of people. Those who make donations to the “Rabbi’s Passover Fund” upon arranging for the sale of chametz should know that those funds are mostly used to help people in need of food and supplies for Passover. And year round, Oheb Shalom’s Food Pantry distributes food to those who cannot provide enough food for themselves. Clearly important, feeding the hungry is a surprisingly easy mitzvah to fulfill, one that is essentially done by proxy. The mitzvah of providing for those in need of companionship and community requires a personal commitment of time and attention. Engaging someone in conversation, learning about their life, interests and ideas, connecting to someone and enabling them to feel that they are not alone is something we can only do ourselves.
Our newly energized Chesed program, under the leadership of Richard Prince, is an important way to fulfill the Jewish mandate to address the need some people have for companionship, caring and connection. More than writing a check, the work of Chesed aims to fill the void in someone’s life, whether at a time of crisis or not. Would you not agree that the life of someone who cannot drive would be immensely enriched if they were picked up at their home and brought to the synagogue for a service, class or program? That type of investment does wonders to help someone to feel that they matter, that their presence makes a difference in our community. Would you not agree that the life of someone who has suffered a loss would be enriched by a large turnout at a shiva minyan, avoiding the embarrassing and awkward experience of delaying the start of the service until the requisite 10 people can be called on the spur of the moment to show up, or worse, no minyan is present at all? Would you not agree that the life of someone who is not especially mobile would be enriched by a regular call or visit by a fellow shul member, reaching out to see how they are and be engaged in conversation for a few moments? I am sure you would agree that these gestures are the least we can do to support the people around us who are in need of caring and love—“Chesed” in Hebrew—and that those who extend themselves to others find that they are personally enriched in the process.
Kol dichfin yeitei ve-yeichol, Kol ditzrich yeitei ve-yifsach… Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are need of caring and love be satisfied. The holiday of Passover reminds us that the mitzvah of care and love for the needy is not one to be performed once a year, but every day. Each day is a new beginning, and the time to embrace the practice of Chesed is now.
To get involved in the work of our Chesed team, please contact Richard Prince at firstname.lastname@example.org.