“Our Bread of Isolation” 

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Yitzchak Etshalom

When my students ask me when the Haggadah was composed, I answer with the following: The core text of our Haggadah was composed by the generation of Yavneh (c. 80-120 CE) as is evidenced by the named rabbis who participate in the story itself and by the texts canonized in the Mishnah. There are, however, noted additions that made their way into the Haggadah over the next thousand years, such as “Dayyenu” and the popular “Haggadah Math” midrashim (where the number of plagues keeps multiplying) – both of which only became standardized in the Haggadah at the end of the Middle Ages. 

But the most accurate answer to my students’ question is “2020.” The Haggadah is a dynamic text, reflecting the Seder, which is an ever-evolving experience. When I was a young boy, the “Eliyahu moment” was about the Shoah, and we sang the Bergen-Belsen tune to “Ani Maamin.” When I was a teenager, we left an open seat at the table with the “Matzah of Hope” for Soviet Jews, who were struggling to be free. A decade later, after the Iron Curtain had fallen, that same seat was reserved for Ethiopian Jews. The decade after that, many homes kept an empty seat for Gilad Shalit and other soldiers held in Arab captivity. Dor Dor ve-Dorshav – each generation has its teachers, and Dor   Dor ve-Haggadotav – each generation has its Haggadot. There are Haggadot from Auschwitz and there are Haggadot from Gush Katif. Each contains the Mah Nishtanah, the Arba’ah Banim (but in some cases, there are some new questions voiced by the sons, as in the Survivor’s Haggadah), Avadim Hayinu, and Arami Oved Avi, like all the rest. But alongside the universal components of the Haggadah commenting on and illustrating these passages – are descriptions of death camps and liberation, raised flags and flags taken down, underground Sedarim in Moscow, and flights landing in Lod. The sentiment expressed in ve-Hi she-Amdah – that the story we are telling happens generation after generation – animates and informs each new Haggadah conceived, written, and published, generation after generation. 

We live in strange times. For many of us, the upcoming holiday will likely be the most unusual Seder we will ever experience. For many, it will be the most challenging and loneliest. The “bread of affliction” this year is also the “bread of isolation.” The raised choir singing Hallel is now a solo performance. 

My colleague, Rabbi David Block, penned a moving tefillah to give the celebrant a broad approach to the subdued feast. I have composed two “local” paragraphs which will hopefully give the participants a sense of context and meaning at this year’s restrained Seder. The first echoes the pain of Ha Lahma Anya and its forward-looking prayer: whereas every year we pray to be together in Israel, this year we simply pray to be together. The second prepares us, both inwardly and facing God, to sing a Hallel whose harmonies might have to be imagined and whose spirit will have to be “the power of one – praising the power of One.” 

(לפני אמירת “הא לחמא עניא”

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דְּאָכְלִינַן בִּסְגֵרוּתָא

כָּל דִּכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְלֹא יֵעוֹל

כָּל דִּצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִצְוַח

הַשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לַשָּׁנָה הַבָּאָה בִּקְהָלָא דְּיִשְׂרָאֵל

הַשַּׁתָּא בְּדִידִי, לַשָּׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּפַרְהֶסְיָא רַבָּא

בסגירותא: לשוןהסגרכדין מצורע מוסגר. ולא יעולעל משקלייתי וייכול.” ויצווחכנגדויפסח“. על לשוןצוחה על היין בחוצות” (ישעיה כד:יא)

בקהלא דישראלכנגדארעא דישראל” – נסתפק בשנה הבאה בקהילת הקהל יחד ואפילו אם נהיה מחוצה לארץ. בדידי בבדידות 

Prayer Before Ha Lahma Anya

This is the bread of affliction that we are eating in solitude. All who are hungry – may approach but not enter. Those who are needy – may come and call out for help. This year, we are here;   next year, among the communities of Israel. This year we are in isolation; next year – with a great public gathering.

(תפילה לפני אמירת הלל)

אָבִינוּ שֶׁבְּשָׂמִים, הַמּוֹשִׁיב יְחִידִים בַּיְתָה, גָּלוּי וְיָדוּעַ לְפָנֶיךָ שֶׁרְצוֹנֵנוּ לְקִלֶּסְךָ בָּרַבִּים וּלְרַנֵּן אֶת נִפְלְאוֹתֶיךָ קָבַל  עִם וַעֲדָה. אַךְ הַשָּׁנָה, הִלּוּלֵנוּ שָׁקֵט, שִׁבְחֵנוּ מָתוּן וְקוֹלוֹתֵינוּ בּוֹדְדִים. וְאָנוּ יוֹשְׁבִים בַּד בְּבַד, כְּדֵי שֶׁלַּשָּׁנִים הַבָּאוֹת נִזְכֶּה לְפָאֵר אֶת שִׁמְךָ בָּרַבִּים, וְנָרִים אֶת קוֹלוֹתֵינוּ הַמְּאֻחָדִים בְּשִׁירָה וְשֶׁבַח לֹא-ל הַהוֹדָאוֹת. שׁוּבָה ה’ רִבְבוֹת אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל….אך…לא לנו

המושיב: תהלים סח:ז. לקלס…ולרנן: מפתיחת “לפיכך.” קבל עם ועדה: ע”פ מלכים ב טו:י (קבל-עם) ותהלים קז:לב (וירוממוהו בקהל עם). בד בבד: ירמיה נ:לז ע”פ ברכות (סג:). ” שובה ה’: במדבר י:לו

Prayer Before the Recitation of Hallel

Our Father Who is in heaven, who settles the solitary in a home: It is revealed and known before You that it is our desire to extol You publicly and to sing about Your wonders before the congregation and the nation. This year, however, our Hallel is subdued, our praise is measured, and we sing as solo performers. Here we sit, each in his own house, so that in future years we will have the merit to beautify Your Name in public, and we will raise our united voices in song and praise to the God of Thanksgiving. Return, O God, the multitudes and thousands of Israel…

Rav Yitzchak Etshalom was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He attended Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavne, Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary and Yeshivat Har Etzion before receiving Semicha from the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, Rabbi Itzhak Kolitz. Rav Etshalom has been a dynamic and exciting educator in the Los Angeles community since his return in 1985. His ability to reach out to today's youth and share with them his passion for Jewish learning and Jewish life has enriched many young lives. He launched the Beit Midrash program at YULA Girls High School as well as opening the Beit Midrash at Shalhevet, where he currently serves as Rosh Beit Midrash. Rav Etshalom directs the Tanach Masters Program at YULA Boys’ High School as well as being as a sought-after Scholar in Residence throughout the country. He lectures annually at the prestigious “Ymei Iyyun” Tanakh Seminar at Herzog College. In addition, he teaches Daf Yomi and a popular Navi series at the Young Israel of Century City and his podcasts on Daf Yomi ( have attracted an international following, as have his Tanakh podcasts ( which are also available at and at . His critically acclaimed series “Between the Lines of the Bible” is a methodological guide to the study of Tanakh. He currently writes a weekly lecture for Yeshivat Har Etzion's Virtual Beit Midrash on the book of Amos which will be published as part of the Koren Maggid Studies in Tanakh. Rabbi Etshalom lives in Los Angeles with his wife Stefanie and their 5 children.