Off the Pulpit

Whose Affliction?

“This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat.”
Why does the second sentence follow the first?
Perhaps we are misreading the famous injunction to be kind to the strangers because we were strangers in Egypt. It might not mean — you were a stranger so it is natural to have empathy for other strangers. For often people react in the opposite way: “I suffered and made it through, so they too can make it through.” Sometimes the difficulty of one’s own experience hardens rather than softens us. The Torah may be teaching, “You were strangers. That might lead you to believe that the experience is survivable and you don’t have to help other strangers. That is wrong. Overcome you callousness and be kind.”
This is the bread of affliction. It reminds us that we are not allowed to use our ancestors torments or our own as an excuse to ignore the sufferings of others. There is no monopoly on misfortune. During a pandemic it is easy to overlook the anguish of others because we are preoccupied with our own distress. Pesach reminds us that we are never permitted to use our hardship as a reason to forget the hardships of the world outside our walls.