הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם.
Ha – This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.
We begin the Seder in the vernacular. Aramaic – the lingua Franca of the Middle East and the first international language. How fitting for a story that spans so many generations, crosses so many borders and has inspired liberation for so many that it starts in a language which is supra-national. But the story of liberation transcends even language. We actually begin the Haggadah with a sound, or to be more precise, a breath. Ha We begin the seder/Exodus with the sound of the letter Heh, a sound that according to our tradition and many other ancient traditions, requires no movement of the tongue and therefore has the same meaning in any tongue. According to our tradition God began creation with the sound of the letter Hey…
These are the generations of the heaven and of the earth w-he-n they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4)
אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ, בְּהִבָּרְאָם: בְּיוֹם, עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים–אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם
When they were created – BeHebaram – Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan said: BeHibaram, With [the letter] Hey He created. And what is this Hey? All the letters require the tongue and this [the Hey] does not require the tongue. Similarly, it was not with effort and not with toil that the Holy One created the world, rather, (Psalms 33:6) “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Bereshit Rabbah 12:10
בהבראם – ר’ אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן אמר: בהבראם, בה’ בראם. ומה ה’ זה, כל האותיות תופסין את הלשון וזה אינו תופס את הלשון, כך לא בעמל ולא ביגיעה ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו, אלא, (שם לג): בדבר ה’ וכבר שמים נעשו
Unlike Divine creation, human liberation requires a lot of preparation and work. God created the world and presumably redeemed us from Egypt without effort. One imagines God effortlessly passing over the homes of the Hebrews. Pesach – Passed Over – פסח
For the Hebrews, there was much pain, suffering, and physical and spiritual travail before the Exodus just as prior to a seder much physical and spiritual cleaning and other preparations are necessary. According to tradition, the Hebrews left Egypt with great effort… פִּסֵחַ limping… a different type of breath… maybe an in-breath.
But as the seder begins, maybe the aramaic text is inviting us to stop, gather our thoughts and center ourselves and exhale… before we begin our personal Exodus.