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The Torah commands that when presenting bikkurim (the first produce) to the Kohen in the Temple, one must make a verbal declaration that affirms the history of the Jewish people and encapsulates the Exodus story:

“An Aramean [tried to] destroy my father, and he descended to Egypt… and the Egyptians did evil to us and they afflicted us, and they placed upon us hard labor. And we cried out to Hashem, G-d of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice, and He saw our affliction and our toiling and our pressure (lachatz). And Hashem took us out of Egypt…” (Deuteronomy 26:7).


The Passover Haggadah expounds on this verse by explaining that the aforementioned lachatz refers to d’chak, another word for pressure, and cites another Biblical passage wherein G-d again mentions this “pressure”: “And now – behold! – the crying out of the Children of Israel has come to Me, and I saw the pressure (lachatz) that the Egyptians were pressuring (lochatzim) them” (Exodus 3:9).

This exegesis in the Haggadah begs for a deeper explanation, because it defines the term lachatz in Deuteronomy 26:7 as referring to d’chak and then proceeds to adduce this explanation by simply citing another verse featuring a cognate of lachatz! What is the difference between lachatz and d’chak, and how does Exodus 3:9 show that the lachatz mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:7 really refers to d’chak?

In trying to explain this passage in the Haggadah, Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (1512-1585) writes that the term lachatz does not necessarily imply anything nefarious on the part of whoever is applying pressure. Rather, the word typically connotes somebody applying pressure in an effort to extract some sort of benefit from the person or people on the receiving end. When the Haggadah explains that the lachatz referenced here is actually d’chak, however, this means that the Egyptians did not simply pressure the Jews in order to reap the benefits of their work, but that they had malicious intentions in enslaving the Jews.

Conversely, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) writes that lachatz refers to pressuring somebody as a means of intentionally causing that person to suffer, while d’chak primarily refers to one who pressures another for one’s own benefit even if it might come at a loss to the one who is put under pressure (see Judges 2:18, Joel 2:8).

In its crudest sense, d’chak refers to “pushing” somebody out of his spot with the intention that somebody else will take his position; in that case, the main intention is not to hurt the one who is pushed away but to benefit the one who replaces him. In line with this, Rabbi Pappenheim explains that even though the Bible characterizes the pressure that the Egyptians exerted over the enslaved Jews as lachatz, this does not mean that their primary objective was to hurt the Jews. Instead, he argues, the Egyptians’ primary goal was to benefit themselves; the fact that the Jews had to suffer discrimination was merely collateral damage. Thus, by defining lachatz as d’chak, the Haggadah means to stress that only in situations wherein the Jews’ interests conflicted with the Egyptians’ were the Jews “pushed away” in deference to the Egyptians. Otherwise, the Jews in Egypt were generally granted the same rights and privileges given to Egyptian citizens.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (1908-1995) offers a fascinating explanation that sheds light on the exegesis under discussion. He posits that the word lachatz focuses on the party who is applying pressure on another, while d’chak implies pressure that is strong enough to actually force the hand of the one upon whom the pressure is applied. In some situations, one under pressure might be resilient enough to withstand the pressure placed upon him, such that said pressure will not affect him whatsoever; in other situations, one might be too weak to bear the pressure and will be forced into submission. Both of those possibilities are included in the term lachatz, because that term focuses on the one applying the pressure and not the one who might yield to such pressure.

In other words, Rabbi Schwab explains that d’chak refers specifically to the sort of lachatz that is enough to push the other party into doing what it is being pressured to do. In this case, Deuteronomy 26:7 simply states that the Egyptian applied lachatz unto the Jews, but says nothing about whether that lachatz ultimately affected the Jews and pushed them into doing what the Egyptians wanted of them. As a way of clarifying what that verse means, the Haggadah explains that the lachatz which the Egyptians applied could also be termed d’chak because it did indeed succeed in pushing the Jews into doing the Egyptians’ bidding.

As Rabbi Schwab puts it, this notion is seen from Exodus 3:9, which uses a verb cognate of the word lachatz, with the Egyptians as the subject of the verb and the Jews as the object. That syntax implies that the lachatz in question was not merely applied from the perspective of the Egyptians (who put pressure on the Jews), but also affected the Jews when they were subjected to it.

Rabbi Dr. Refael Binyamin Posen (1942-2016) argues that the Biblical Hebrew lachatz can refer to two different types of pressure: physical pressure and psychological pressure. Accordingly, he notes that when the Bible refers to lachatz in the sense of “physical pressure,” Targum Onkelos renders that term in Aramaic as a cognate of d’chak. For example, when Balaam’s donkey caused Balaam’s foot to “press” against the wall (Numbers 22:25), the Bible uses a cognate of lachatz and Targum Onkelos uses a cognate of d’chak. However, when the Bible uses the term lachatz in reference to “psychological pressure,” Targum Onkelos renders the term into cognates of the root ayin-vav-kuf (see Exodus 22:20, which forbids exerting lachatz on the stranger).

In the case of the lachatz mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:7, Targum Onkelos translates the term as d’chak. Based on this, Rabbi Posen argues, when the Haggadah claims that the lachatz that G-d saw in the lead-up to the Exodus means d’chak, the meaning is that G-d not only pitied the Jews because of the “psychological pressures” that they endured in Egypt but that even the mere “physical pressures” (d’chak) were enough to sway His decision to release the Jews from bondage.


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Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein writes The Jewish Press's "Fascinating Explorations in Lashon Hakodesh" column.