The text of Ha laḥma anya is taken from the Passover Haggada (haggada shel pesaḥ), the fixed narrative and related liturgical and para-liturgical texts that are read, recited, and discussed at the seder—the home and family ritual that constitutes the central observance of this Festival through its retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. This Aramaic text, which identifies the mandated matza (unleavened bread) as the “bread of affliction” or the “bread of poverty,” over which the story is to be told, also establishes the central role of the matza as a dual symbol: of the ancient Israelites’ slavery and of their—and the Jewish people’s—freedom. The recitation of ha laḥma anya introduces the principal section of the Haggada, known as maggid (telling). It is generally assumed that this text was written after the destruction of the Second Temple. Aramaic was the daily spoken language of the people during those periods, and it was recited in Aramaic to extend the invitation for all to join, even those who didn’t understand Hebrew. The phrase in the last sentence, l’shana hab’a (next year), however, is in Hebrew. This phrase—an expression of hope for the celebration of complete freedom in the land of Israel by the following Passover (i.e., restoration to the land)—would have been understood in common parlance. (Variant haggadot of Rav Saadia Gaon and Maimonides contain this last phrase in Aramaic as well.)
Moishe Oysher created this quasi-concert setting for his popular Passover LP recording during the 1950s. The LP was intended as both entertainment and an educational vehicle—with narration—for the general public. But many of the pieces on that recording have also been sung at community seders by cantors and even choirs. The original recorded version of this ha laḥma anya employed intruments as well. Simon Spiro’s arrangement here has revoiced the piece for a cappella male-voice choir, suggesting the instrumental effects in the voices.
Sung in Aramaic
This is the “bread of affliction” [matza], which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat of it; all who are in need come and join in celebration of the Passover. This year we celebrate it here, but by next year may we be celebrating it in the land of Israel. This year we are still slaves [dispersed, aliens], but next year may we be a free people.
Performers: Neil Levin, Conductor; Schola Hebraeica, Choir; Simon Spiro, Cantor
© Simon Spiro Organization
Translation by Rabbi Morton M. Leifman
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