The Bread of Our Affliction

As far back as the Middle Ages, the traditional first three words of the Passover Haggadah have been, "Ha lach-ma an-ya," which means, "This is the bread of our affliction." The focus of the holiday of Passover is the story of Exodus -- how, under guidance of Moses, the Jewish people escaped from slavery under the Pharaoh in Egypt. In our Haggadah (a special book containing prayers and stories to be read throughout the Passover holiday meal called a seder), there is a prayer containing the words, "Ha lach-ma an-ya." In speaking about slavery, the intent of the prayer is to say that, while anyone in the world is enslaved, none of us are free:

This is the bread of affliction, which ancestors at in the land of Egypt.
Let all those who are hungry come and eat with us.

Let all those who are in need come and share our meal.
This year we are here.
This year we are still slaves.
Next year may we all be free.

In our Haggadah, tucked in among the serious stories about slavery and the yearning for freedom, I found this funny poem by Eliezer Segal. It describes perfectly my feelings about matzoh:

This is the poorest, the driest of bread,
It crinkles and crumbles all over our beds.
This is the mazoh that Grand-Daddy ate
When he zoomed out of Egypt, afraid he'd be late.

You're welcome to join us -- Come one or come many!
I'll give you my matzoh. I sure don't want any.

There is, however, an addendum to the poem for those who like matzoh:

But tomorrow you'll smear it with butter and jelly
And then you'll enjoy as it fills up your belly.

Why is matzoh referred to as "the bread of our affliction?" It seems every child learns at Hebrew School that the Jewish people had to leave quickly and so, before the dough for their bread had time to rise, they cooked it, packed it up and fled Egypt. The story goes that the bread was dry & flat, and so we eat similar bread to remind us of the way G-d freed us from slavery. The conundrum is, however, that, if you read Exodus verse 14, lines 15-20, it appears that the commandment to eat unleavened bread came prior to leaving Egypt (and moreover, according to the text, the Jewish people had plenty of warning and time to prepare prior to leaving!)

The discrepancies in the story are nearly as confusing as the laws which govern what may (and may not) be eaten during the week-long observance of Passover. At it's most basic, during of Passover, we do not consume anything yeasted, fermented (wine is the exception) or anything which contains a rising-agent such as baking soda or powder. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews also avoid grains such as oats & rice while Sephardic (Middle Eastern) Jews incorporate rice into dishes for the Passover holiday table.

Confusing dietary laws aside, matzoh is not my favorite food. The exception to my dislike of matzoh is when it's prepared as matzoh-brei. You can find a basic recipe for matzoh-brei here... However in our house, we omit the pepper and sprinkle our matzoh-brei with sugar (some families like jam on it, too...) For another lovely Passover holiday recipe you can have a look at my cake recipe here. In lieu of regular flour (forbidden during Passover) this cake is made with almond flour.

Chag-Sameach... Wishing you a happy holiday (in Hebrew)! And even if you don't celebrate Passover, you might consider trying that clementine-almond cake recipe. A good cake is always reason enough to celebrate, don't you think?


  1. matzoh is NOT my favorite snack, but you're right--brei makes it worth while! thanks for sharing the recipes, i am intent on trying the clementine one!

  2. Hi Lacey -- Do try it and let me know how you like it!


  3. Thank you for that little bit of history - it is far more interesting than anything we were taught at school. Loving the poem too - humour crosses all barriers and my favourite food group is cake.


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