Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Problem with Perfection

This week, it is my pleasure to run a talk delivered a number of years ago by Rabbanit Devorah Zlochower, who also happens to be my wife. As parents of two children who are on the spectrum, questions of who is identified as blemished, what we consider “normal,” and what we hold up as an image of perfection are very close to our hearts. I hope that her words touch your hearts, and that we are able to seek and find perfection where it truly lies.

The Problem with Perfection
Adapted from a D’var Torah delivered at Darkhei Noam, May 2008
Rabbanit Devorah Zlochower

When my son Netanel was a preschooler, he informed me that he was a member of a persecuted minority: he is left-handed. Discrimination is rampant, according to Netanel. In addition to the obvious—scissors, golf clubs, spiral notebooks—Netanel noticed something that had escaped his left-handed mother, his left-handed father, and his left-handed older brother. Netanel claimed that books have the pictures on the right hand page more often than on the left. In Netanel’s opinion, publishers, authors, and illustrators of children’s books should focus on a more equitable distribution of pictures, dividing them evenly on the left and right pages so that left-handed children do not feel bad.

This is no trivial battle for Netanel, for he is not only blessedly different in his left-handedness; he is a young man with other differences as well. He is different from his classmates because he is an observant Jew, and he is different from other young men in our community because he attends a private special education school rather than the local yeshiva day school. Netanel is keenly aware of these differences and quite sensitive to their implications.

I often wish I could live in Netanel’s world. It is a world governed by a deep sense of right and wrong, where the good guys win not by dint of their muscles and weaponry but because they are on the side of that which is good and just. It is a world

governed by the maxim, “And you shall love the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Devarim 10:19).

Our world, where my sons need to learn to manage, is very different. When I look at our world through my sons’ eyes I think of the left-handed kohen. Now this southpaw kohen does not make an appearance in our Torah portion, but according to Tractate Bekhorot, he is lurking nearby.

Parashat Emor is a constant struggle for me. Let us grant—and as a feminist it is really hard for me to grant this—that, as the Torah was speaking to a patriarchal society, it is not surprising that the hereditary priesthood is passed from Aharon only to his sons and grandsons; daughters are never kohanim, only daughters of kohanim. I might even accept that there would be particular strictures placed upon those who were called to serve in God’s sanctuary, necessitating greater distance from death and its ensuing state of tumah, ritual impurity. After all, the Torah uses the root kadosh, holy, seven times at the beginning of our parasha to capture the special status of the kohen.

What I still have great difficulty with is that this increased need for kedusha translates into a rejection of Aharon’s male descendants with physical, often superficial differences, making them ineligible to do the service in the mishkan: “And God spoke to Moshe saying, Speak to Aharon saying: A man from among your seed for all generations who has a mum [usually translated as a “blemish”] may not approach to offer the food of his God” (Vayikra 21:16–17).

In Hilkhot Biat HaMikdash, Rambam lists 142 separate categories of mumim. There are fifty mumim that disqualify both kohanim from serving and animals from being brought as sacrifices, ninety mumim that disqualify kohanim alone, and two additional mumim which do not invalidate the service, but they don’t look good. The vast majority of these mumim concern physical appearance, and yes, left-handedness is a mum.

A braitta in Bekhorot 45b states, “Our Rabbis taught: One who is left-handed or left-footed is invalid to do the service. One who is ambidextrous, Rebbi invalidated but the Sages declared him fit.” Why is the lefty invalid? Rashi comments, “Left-footed? When he walks he lifts up his left leg first which is not the normal manner of people.” So what’s wrong with lefties? Simply put, most people are righties so lefties deviate from the norm. That’s it. And this is sufficient to invalidate a kohen from doing the service!

It’s not that I don’t understand this at all; I do. There is a great deal of pomp and circumstance in the mishkan. We know of the large quantities of gold used to construct the holy vessels, and the structure itself, though built of wooden boards, is completely covered by brocaded curtains so that only the curtains and the silver sockets underneath are visible. Kohanim are also vessels, in many ways no different than the menorah, the golden table, or the altar. And like the structure of the mishkan and the vessels inside, these living vessels demand symmetry: evenly matched, indistinguishable kohanim, like the six arms of the menorah or the twelve trays of the golden table. But when it comes to the human holy vessel, this aesthetic is pricey; it 
requires rejection.

As we read through the list of mumim disqualifying kohanim from the Temple service and the list of mumim disqualifying animals from being brought as sacrifices, we are struck by the overwhelming similarity of these lists, but there is an important difference. There is a term that appears a number of times in the animal blemishes but that does not appear in the kohen list. We are told that the animal needs to be tamim, which is usually translated as “perfect.” The word tamim is absent from the section dealing with human mumim; only the sacrificial animal is described as tamim. With all the emphasis on the disqualifying mumim, the kohen is still not mandated to be tamim.

When it comes to human beings and our service of God, we are asked to be tamim but in a very different sense. The Torah uses tamim in three different places: First, Noah is described as righteous, tamim, in his ways walking with God. Second, God tells Avram/Avraham: “I am the Lord Sha-d-d-ai, walk before me and be tamim” (Breishit 17:1). And third, after prohibiting us from consulting soothsayers and practitioners of witchcraft, we are told: “Be tamim with the Lord your God” (Devarim 18:13). In these cases, tamim clearly does not mean “to be without mum.”

So what does it mean to be tamim in one’s devotion or service to God? Ramban, connecting the passage in Devarim to God’s command to Avraham, tells us that it means to believe in God alone as omnipotent, or to paraphrase further, that we should believe in God’s perfection and God’s alone. We humans are not perfect beings; we have our flaws.We are to seek perfection in God alone.

In our communal life, our schools, and our shuls we are to be Godlike, but in the sense of imitating God’s qualities, not in the vain pursuit of perfection: humans see with the eyes, God sees the heart (Shmuel I 16:7). We need to see beyond what our eyes see and into the heart, into the preciousness of each soul. When we look at each other, we need to remember, “How precious is the human being who has been created in the image of God” (Avot 3:14).

Our service to God and our life as a community is enriched when we embrace all of our varieties. Perfection and flawlessness is for animals being brought upon the altar. We need to serve God in all our particulars. Only then can we form a community doing God’s will b’leivav shalem, with a whole heart.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, May 13, 2016

We are Family, My Brothers, and My Sisters, and Me

Feel free to download and print the Kedoshim parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family.

We are Family, My Brothers, and My Sisters, and Me

The mitzvah to love the ger is the only mitzvah in Parashat Kedoshim which is connected to our exile in Egypt: "As one of your citizens shall be the stranger that resides among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Vayikra 20:34). What can we learn from this connection?

In the introduction to her commentary on the book of Shemot, Nechama Leibowitz asks: What was the purpose of the exile in Egypt? Why did the Israelite people have to endure servitude, oppression, and suffering? After exploring a number of possible answers, she writes:

But the Torah itself supplies a more specific reason for exile - an educational one - which draws on the experience of Egyptian exile and bondage as a motive for observing the commandments: "Do not wrong the ger, the stranger, and do not oppress him, for strangers you were in the land of Egypt." (Ex. 22:20) .... [The] reason for the Egyptian exile ... was, that they themselves should experience the taste of slavery and humiliation. They were to be made to realize just what it felt like to be subjected to violence and domination of man by man.

Our being freed by God and redeemed from Egypt creates a broad religious obligation to serve and obey God in all ways, but the specific experiences of exile and slavery have imprinted deep in our collective memory what it truly means to be enslaved, mistreated, and marginalized. The Torah here reminds us that we were slaves in Egypt when commanding us how to treat the stranger, and elsewhere when commanding us how we are to treat our slaves and how to care for the orphan and the widow. With wealth and power, we might easily become callous and oblivious to those at the margins of society. By reminding us of a shared past, the Torah hopes to evoke not just our sympathy, but our empathy; that we might not just pity these people, but that we might also see that we are all the same; that we have been them, and that we could be them again. The conclusion is obvious: we must treat them as we would want to be treated, for they are us and we are them.

Empathy is central to the mitzvah of loving the ger. The Gemara notes in a number of places that, although we are commanded to love our fellow Jew, we have a special obligation to love the ger. As Rambam puts it, "The Torah states, 'You shall love the ger,' just as God commanded us to love God, as it states, 'And you shall love the Lord your God'" (Laws of Character Traits 6:4). The comparison to themitzvah to love God is this: love of our neighbor could refer to how we act towards our neighbor - do unto your neighbor as you would have him do unto you - but to love God can only refer to true, emotional love. This, then, is what is distinctive about the mitzvah to love the ger. It is not enough to act; we must actually love, identify and empathize.

The Torah commands us regarding our actions and our emotions at this point because it can be so easy for us to ignore or dismiss the suffering and marginalization of those that are not part of our group or do not share our social status. We can be commanded to act, but in order to even realize that there are those who are suffering and certainly to understand what they are experiencing and how they would most want to be treated, we must work to exercise our empathy.

Who is the ger? In the Rabbinic understanding, the ger is the convert, the person who has come from the outside to be one of us. But in the simple sense of the verse, the ger is the stranger, or more accurately, the sojourner, the resident alien. He is not the nakhri, the foreigner who lives in another country, nor is he the ezrach, the citizen. He is the ger, the one who lives in the land of Israel, under our dominion, but is still not a citizen, not one of us. This is who we were in the land of Egypt: strangers who took up residence in a foreign land.

For the Rabbis, the ger in the Torah means something else: someone who was once not one of us but now is. Understood in this way, the mitzvah remained relevant even when Jewish identity was based primarily on religious peoplehood rather than nationality. The moral obligation to treat such a person as equal is all the greater when the person is no longer an outsider but is actually one of us, when they have become a Jew by choice. Such a person should be given recognition and acclaim for willingly embracing the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. And yet, there are those who are likely to see her as an interloper and an outsider, as someone who doesn't truly belong, and it is possible that she will see herself in a similar light. In this case, the danger is perhaps not so much that a different law will be applied to the person, but that she will be pushed to the margins, rejected and excluded from true membership in the community.

Like the orphan and the widow, who lack the protection of a father and a husband, the ger lacks the protection of family and is vulnerable to exploitation. But even more than the orphan or the widow, the ger may be struggling for a sense of belonging and membership. He is likely to feel that he has no true home. Our obligation is to ensure that we are doing everything in our power to give him a sense of belonging so that he knows he is truly our equal and one of us.

As a community, we are far from living up to this mandate, especially in cases of Jews by choice of different racial backgrounds or those who have some other markers of difference. If we cannot always reach back to our exile in Egypt to help us identify and empathize with others, we can try to connect to more recent experiences, our otherness in American society, for example, when our Jewishness marked us as different, when quotas and unwritten rules kept us excluded from universities, housing, and jobs. Now that we have achieved success and equality, it is easy for us to forget this past. This is when we must respond to the mandate of memory, empathy, and equality. To do so, we must change our self-understanding and begin to realize that our community is not monochromatic but made up of diverse people from diverse backgrounds, that no one is at the margins, and that everyone is an equal part.

This mitzvah is not limited to the ger; it can be applied to anyone who might find himself marginalized or without a secure sense of belonging. Thus, Sefer HaChinukh writes: "We can learn from this valuable mitzvah to have compassion on [or we could say "empathy for"] a person who is in a place that is not his homeland and the place where his family comes from, that we should not walk by him when we see that he is without anyone to provide him aid or assistance" (Mitzvah 431).

I believe that this applies most aptly in the case of people with disabilities, be they physical, educational, development, or social-emotional. There are certainly times when such people are told directly that they do not belong: when they are given mean stares or when their parents are told that they cannot attend a school because they would not "fit in" to the student body. But there are just as many, if not more, times when the message is less direct: when a shul lacks a ramp or Braillesiddurim, or when no one asks a parent why their child hasn't been at shul. At times like these we need what are we doing wrong, but we also need to ask what it is that we are not doing that is telegraphing that some are not welcome.

Here again we must respond to the mandate of memory, empathy, and equality. If we do not have a shared past when it comes to disabilities, we do have a shared future. There is a saying that the world is not divided into those with disabilities and those without, but into those with disabilities and those who do not yet have disabilities. God willing, we will all live long lives, long enough to suffer some of the challenges that come with old age: problems with mobility, hearing, and eyesight to name a few. If we can imagine our own future, if we can imagine how we will want to be treated when we need accommodations made for us, if we can exercise our empathy and imagination, then hopefully we can begin to build diverse communities in which everyone has a place and no one is pushed to the margins.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Holy Imperfection

Holy Imperfection

Acharei-Mot details the special avodah, the sacrificial rites, that the High Priest performed on Yom Kippur to affect atonement for the Jewish people. However, as the Vilna Gaon noted in Kol Eliyahu, the Torah only introduces the connection to Yom Kippur at the very end of the lengthy description of this special avodah. The framing of the avodah is not what must be done to achieve atonement on Yom Kippur, but rather, what must be done when Aharon wants to enter the inner sanctum: “Speak to Aharon your brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place inside the veil before the covering, which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I will appear in the cloud upon the covering” (Vayikra 16:2).

Thus, says the Vilna Gaon, this is a rite that the High Priest—or, according to the Gaon, specifically Aharon—could perform any time he wanted to enter the Holy of Holies so that he would not die as his sons had, provided that the ritual was followed precisely. Understood this way, the parasha is underscoring the dangers of unbridled religious passion, of approaching God without due care and caution; it gives a very structured way that one—the High Priest in this case—can channel his desire for intense, intimate connection.

This approach makes the avodah a tool for the High Priest’s realization of his religious yearnings, but it does not address larger communal issues. It also does not reflect the simple sense of the Torah, which mandates communal sacrifices for the avodah and declares that it will cleanse the Mikdash and atone for the people. It seems that while the emphasis of the avodah is not on Yom Kippur, it is also not on the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies. Yes, he must enter it, but this is a means, not an end. What, then, is the end goal? The Torah tells us in the climactic verses after the High Priest exits the inner sanctum:

And he shall make atonement, vi’khiper, for the holy place, from the uncleanness of the people of Israel, and from their transgressions in all their sins; and so shall he do for the Tent of Meeting, that remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the Tent of Meeting when he goes in to make atonement, li’khaper, in the holy place, until he comes out, having made atonement, vi’khiper, for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel (Vayikra 16:16–17).

The goal is not the entering itself, not the religious experience for its own sake. Neither is the goal primarily for bringing atonement and forgiveness for the Children of Israel. The goal is atoning for the Sanctuary. Well, not atoning exactly, for what atonement does the Sanctuary need? The term used here is kaper, which more precisely means cleansing, not atoning. The Sanctuary must be cleansed from the defilement it has endured as a result of the sins of Israel. Sins, according to the Torah, create a type of tumah. Sin defiles both the person who performs it and the person’s surroundings. And how much more does it defile the Sanctuary, the place of the Presence of God?

Thus this avodah must be performed to cleanse the Sanctuary and to cleanse the people. Its central sacrifices are chataot, generally translated as “sin-offerings,” but more accurately translated as “cleansing sacrifices.” This is why certain tamei people, such as women who have given childbirth, must bring a chatat. Not because they have sinned, but because the chatat achieves a cleansing of tumah (see Sotah 15a).

The focus is not on the sin itself but on its impact, its defilement, and the sin-offerings, or rather, the cleansing-offerings, restore the world to its previous state. They restore the person to how she was before this sin affected her and God’s Sanctuary to how it was, allowing God’s Presence to continue dwelling among the People.

Now, it is worth asking how this cleansing is achieved and how it can be effective. Isn’t tumah the antithesis of the Sanctuary? Why, then, does the tumah not drive God’s Presence out of the Sanctuary? The question is sharpened further when we realize that, of all that can invalidate sacrifices, tumah is the problem that can most be tolerated. The Talmud (Menachot 25a) teaches that the tzitz the High Priest wore on his forehead allowed sacrifices that were tamei to be acceptable after the fact. And fixed-time sacrifices could be brought despite tumah: tumah hutra bi’tzibbur. If it can so easily be tolerated, why, then, is tumah the very thing that must be driven from the Temple?

The answer relates to the very nature of the Temple, to God choosing to have God’s Presence dwell among the people of Israel. On the one hand, tumah is the antithesis of kedusha, and having a Mikdash creates a heavy demand that we do everything in our ability to keep tumah at bay. But because we are not God, because we are human, tumah is an inevitable part of our lives. This is certainly true in terms of the ritual tumah that has been the focus of Vayikra: animals die, people die, women give birth to children, women menstruate, and men have seminal emissions. Such tumah is encountered every day. But perhaps more significantly, it is also true about tumah that it is a result of sin. To be human is to sin. No matter how valiant our attempts to prove otherwise, to be human is to produce tumah.

So if tumah and sin are inevitable consequences of our human existence, how can God continue to dwell among us? Simply put, God wishes it to be so. When, after the sin of the Golden Calf, God accedes to Moshe’s request that God continue to dwell among the people, God agreed to accept the reality of human sin and to dwell among us regardless. For our part, we must do all we can to keep tumah away, but even when we do not, God continues to dwell among us. This is what is both acknowledged and addressed by the Yom Kippur avodah. God has given us this to allow us to be forgiven and to start fresh. And hence, this verse of cleansing the Temple ends with an acknowledgement of the inevitability of tumah: “And so he shall do to the Tent of Meeting that dwells in their midst, in the midst of their impurity.”

Of all the verses that speak about God dwelling (shakhen) among the Children of Israel, this is the only one that emphasizes not that tumah must be kept at a distance, but that, despite our best efforts, tumah will always be present to some degree. And this acknowledgement comes exactly in the section of the Torah that speaks to how tumah can be tolerated: because God has agreed to tolerate it, God has accepted our humanity, and, to make the tumah manageable, God has given us a rite to cleanse the Temple and start over each year.

Of course, we cannot allow this Divine tolerance to undermine our awareness of God’s presence. If tumah becomes the norm, then the place will no longer be one of kedusha. This is how the tzitz allows tumah to be tolerated. The tzitz, with the words kodesh la’Hashem, Holy to God, worn on the forehead of the Kohen Gadol, tamid, continually, is a symbol of the continual consciousness of the Divine Presence. If in the presence of tumah the consciousness of the Divine Presence remains firm, then the tumah will be tolerated.

This, in turn, is why only the Kohen Gadol can affect the necessary cleansing. The Kohen Gadol, who symbolizes the constant awareness of God’s Presence, does the rites of the Yom Kippur avodah without wearing the tzitz because such a reminder is not necessary. When the Kohen Gadol enters into the Holy of Holies he is not only reminded of God; he is in direct contact with the Divine Presence. It is this connection to God, achieved through constant mindfulness and awareness, which reaches its apex on Yom Kippur. It is this connection to God that allows tumah not to undermine God’s Presence, but to be tolerated and cleansed. “With this Aharon may enter the holy place”; he may concretize the connection to God so that the Temple and the people may be cleansed.

Tumah, in its essence, is the very thing that distances us from God, but if we work to keep God in the forefront of our consciousness, to have kodesh la’Hashem inscribed on our forehead, then it will be tolerated, and God will be close to us despite our tumah. God, Who dwells among them, despite their impurity.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Who Invited Matzah?

Feel free to download and print the Pesach sheet and share it with your friends and family.

Who Invited Matzah?

A major part of what makes the Seder evening so powerful is the way in which the symbolic mitzvot—reclining, dipping, drinking four cups of wine, eating the marror and the matzah—bring the Pesach story to life and how the story, in turn, gives depth and meaning to these mitzvot and rituals.

At the center of these mitzvot is the eating of matzah, which, aside from telling the story of Pesach, is the only Biblical mitzvah of the evening. However, there is a story to be told here as well, a story about how matzah came to be understood as a Biblical mitzvah independent of the korban Pesach.

The verses talk of two mitzvot regarding matzah: 1) to eat matzah and marror with the korban Pesach (Shemot 12:8) and 2) to eat matzah for all seven days of Pesach (Shemot 12:8, 13:7). One set of verses implicitly connects these two mitzvot:

You shall therefore sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, of the flock and the herd…. You shall eat no chametz with it; seven days shall you eat matzah with it, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste (Devarim 16:2–3).

In these verses, the seven days of eating matzah is connected to the eating of matzah with the korban Pesach: “seven days you shall eat matzah with it,” i.e., with the korban Pesach. Mekhilta of Rabban Shimon ben Yochai (12:18) picks up on this double valence and states that this connection with the korban indicates that the mitzvah of matzah applies only on the night of the korban Pesach, while the framing of “seven days” indicates that it is a mitzvah independent of the korban Pesach. This, then, is the basis of our practice of eating matzah on the Seder night even though there is no korban Pesach.

The Mekhilta bases this practice on a snippet from another verse as well. According to the Mekhilta and the Gemara Pesachim, Shemot 12:18, “In the evening you shall eat matzah,” teaches that there is a separate mitzvah to eat matzah on the Seder night. This is clearly not the simple sense of the verse. The verse refers to eating matzah all seven days: “On the fourteenth of the month in the evening you shall eat matzah until the twenty-first of the month in the evening.” However, by focusing on a few words in the middle, Hazal established the independent identity of the mitzvah of matzah.

It is worth noting that there were those who disagreed, being of the opinion that matzah exists as a mitzvah only together with the korban Pesach. The Gemara (Pesachim 120a) quotes the opinion of Rav Acha bar Yaakov that matzah is only a rabbinic mitzvah in our time, since there is no korban Pesach.

Together with establishing the matzah as an independent mitzvah of the Seder night also came a transformation of the mitzvah of the seven days of eating matzah. This mitzvah, mentioned several times in the Torah, was understood by Hazal to be an option, not an obligation. Indeed, if there were a general obligation to eat matzah all seven days, there would be little need to have a separate mitzvah to eat it that night. Thus, Gemara (Pesachim 120a) quotes a braitta which establishes that there is no mitzvah to eat matzah all seven days and, then, that there is a mitzvah to eat it on the Seder night. We have thus fully collapsed the seven-day mitzvah into a mitzvah of the first night (It should be noted that Vilna Gaon ruled that while not obligated to do so, one fulfils the mitzvah of “seven days you shall eat matzah” by eating matzah at any time over Pesach).

This collapsing of the mitzvah of matzah into the first night is nothing less than the transformation of Chag haMatzot into Chag haPesach. The Torah clearly recognizes two periods: Pesach, the 14th of Nissan, the time of the brining of the korban Pesach (Bamidbar 33:3 and Tosafot Rosh Hashana (13a), s.v. di’akrivu), and Chag haMatzot, the seven day period from the 15th through the 21st of Nissan (Shemot 23:13, 34:10; and Vayikra 23:5–6, which juxtaposes the two). Now, according to the simple sense of the verses, Pesach is celebrated by the bringing of the korban Pesach, and Chag HaMatzot is celebrated by eating matzah all seven days. This exactly parallels Chag haSukkot, which is celebrated by sitting in a sukkah all seven days. Chag haMatzot should therefore have significance independent of the Seder night. But by focusing the mitzvah of matzah on the first night, the focus of the chag becomes the Seder night, and Chag haMatzot is transformed into Pesach.

In this way, too, the korban Pesach has been replaced by the mitzvah of matzah. Thus, whereas in the Torah the mitzvot of the night centered on the korban Pesach, for us the mitzvot of the night—and in particular the other mitzvah d’oraitta of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim, the telling of the story of the Exodus—center around the matzah. Take the statement of Rabban Gamliel in the Mishna (Pesachim 116b) that one who does not say “Pesach, matzah, and marror,” that is, one who does not connect the story to the mitzvot of Pesach, matzah, and marror, does not fulfill his or her obligation. This puts all the mitzvot on equal footing and implicitly highlights the korban Pesach, to which matzah and marror are attached. However, when we say this and explain the significance of these foods today, we do not lift up or even point to the shank bone lest one suspect we are bringing sacrifices outside the Temple (Pesachim 116b). The focus of the Hagaddah and the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim, then, naturally shifts to the mitzvah of matzah.

The Hagaddah’s connection to, and even dependency on, the mitzvah of matzah is expressed halakhically as well. The Gemara (Pesachim 116b) states that the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim is dependent on the mitzvah of matzah. If matzah is Biblical, so is the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim. And if matzah is rabbinic, then there is only a rabbinic mitzvah to say the Hagaddah. This is learned from the verse, “because of this,” “ba’avor zeh.” “‘This,’” says Rava, “means because of matzah and marror.” Any mention of the korban Pesach is notably absent. The mitzvah of the Hagaddah survives because we have connected it to the mitzvah of matzah rather than the mitzvah of the korban Pesach, or in other words, because matzah has taken the place of the korban Pesach. This is made clear in the passage in the Hagaddah (from the Mekhilta):

Perhaps from Rosh Chodesh? The verse teaches, “on that day” (Shemot 13:8). If “on that day,” perhaps from the day before? The verse teaches, “because of this.” “Because of this,” refers only to a time when matzah and marror are present before you.

Why might this mitzvah have begun “the day before”? Because it was the day of the bringing of the korban Pesach. And, indeed, one of the passages of the mitzvah of sippur yitziyat mitzrayim is explicitly connected to the bringing of the korban Pesach (Shemot 12:25–27). Nevertheless, we learn from this verse that the mitzvah of the Hagaddah is linked to the matzah and, thus, is still applicable today. Matzah is the focus, not the korban Pesach.

This focus on matzah and the connection of the Hagaddah to it is made complete by the statement of Shmuel:

Shmuel said: “‘Bread of affliction’” (Devarim 15:3), bread that one says many things over.” We taught similarly: “‘Bread of affliction,’ bread that one says many things over.” Another interpretation: “‘Bread of affliction’; it is written, ‘Poor person,’ what is the manner of a poor person? With a broken piece. Here, too, with a broken piece” (Pesachim 115b).

The matzah is the bread that we say many things over; it is the focal point of the Hagaddah. It is for this reason that we begin the Hagaddah with “ha lachma anya,” “this is the bread of affliction,” this is the bread over which the Hagaddah will be said. [Notice, too, the end of that passage: “yasei vi’yifasch,” “let him come and eat/celebrate the Pesach,” implicitly identifies the matzah with the korban Pesach.] And thus, at yachatz, we break the matzah right before magid, so this bread over which we say the Hagaddah will also be lechem ani, a poor person’s bread, a broken piece of bread.

In the absence of the korban Pesach, the mitzvah of matzah moved to the forefront. It was understood to be independent, and it took the place of the korban Pesach as the centerpiece of the Seder. The entire Hagaddah now revolves around the matzah, the lechem oni/lechem ani. In the absence of the korban Pesach, rather than shifting our attention to the seven days of Chag haMatzot, we have continued to focus our attention on the Seder night, and Chag haMatzot has been transformed into Chag haPesach.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!