Nostalgia, the novelist Michael Chabon argues, “is not the
emotion that follows a longing for something you lost.” It is, rather, “the
emotional experience—always momentary, always fragile—of having what you lost….
It’s the feeling that overcomes you when some minor vanished beauty of the
world is momentarily restored…”
Anticipation, nostalgia’s close but very different relative,
is born of the same process. Hunger for the future is lit only when the heavens
part and we glimpse a fragment of a promised beauty. Anticipation is a curious
compound of absence and presence, possible only when the goal is not yet
realized, but when it is palpable enough to arouse excitement.
The shehecheyanu blessing is one of Judaism’s more
well-known traditions. At moments of irrepressible joy, when we arrive at a
rare and rewarding moment in time, we express our thanks to God: Blessed are
You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life,
sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion. There are a host of
monumental occasions that warrant this exclamation, but the most common is the
onset of a holiday. These islands of time marking our sundry salvations are opportunities
to thank G‑d for giving us the gifts we celebrate on our holidays: freedom,
divine protection, sustenance, the Torah.
Yet one holiday enters without our blessing its arrival, the
Final days of Pesach, the seventh and eighth days that conclude the Passover
The Rebbes of Chabad grappled with this omission often. At
their tables on the final days of Passover it was a common topic of
conversation; there is a touching story told of the Previous Rebbe’s daughters
who held their own serious discussion about the nature of this holiday, and why
the shehecheyanu blessing is absent.
And the consensus is this: the first days of Passover
commemorate our Exodus from Egypt and the everlasting freedom of the soul
granted then. Once the ideal of freedom was manifest in our world at the Exodus,
it could never truly be eradicated again. Under any tyranny, the soul still
breathes free. When Passover arrives, no matter where we may find ourselves, we
can confidently thank G‑d for the freedom He gave us on this day.
The seventh and eighth days of Passover, however, are not
celebrations of the past but premonitions of a future freedom—the final
redemption, the coming of Moshiach. The song of thanks the Israelites sang as
the sea closed on their pursuers, and which we read on the seventh day of
Passover, is replete with allusions to the future redemption.
On Passover’s final day, we read Isiah’s soul-stirring portrait of that era of
peace, when “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb.”
If this theme is merely suggested in the public Torah readings, it was made
blatant by the Baal Shem Tov who said, “the soul of the Moshiach shines in the
world on the last day of Passover.”
But all that wonder has yet to materialize. Our world is
still one with war, with poverty, malice, still a world in exile from its
essential, G‑dly nature. How can we thank G‑d for “enabling us to reach this
occasion” when that occasion is still an unrealized utopia?
So, the Rebbes concluded, it would be misinformed, haughty,
premature, to recite the shehecheyanu for the last days of Passover. We
cannot rejoice over an unfulfilled promise.
If the blessing is not to
be said, why ruminate over its absence? Once an explanation is found, why did
the Rebbes still insist on revisiting it, every year?
Because that’s what it means to anticipate. It is not the
simple knowledge that a future awaits, it is the pang we feel at experiencing
something of that destiny which we do not yet have. When we possess the future,
when we recite the blessing, there is no need to speak of it. Conversely, if
the future is not felt keenly in the present, there is no need to speak of it
We speak of its omission when it hurts. Or better yet, when
we want it to hurt. The Rebbes talked about the missing blessing every year
because they were aware of the exile we live in, and because they wanted to
make us aware of it, too. Never forget what you do not have, they tell us. When
you stop talking about where our celebratory blessing has gone, you resign
yourself to the exilic present. How will you ever get out then?
We may live in a time of unprecedented peace, the least
violent era of humankind, and the wealthiest as well—but we still do not recite
shehecheyanu on the day dedicated to the Future redemption. So long as
the future is not laid out in front of us, with every promise of the prophets
realized, we will not celebrate. We will remain mute, yet animated about our
muteness—it’s how we stay vigilant.
Over the broad span of historic time, the essential humanity
of those with disabilities has been acknowledged and their inherent right to
every freedom available has been secured. It would be ignorant and harmful,
however, to say that society has fully shed its atavistic conception of those
with disabilities as somehow lesser than a differently abled person. The
ADA—the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination of those with
disabilities in all areas of public life—is more than two decades old, but that
does not mean that the workplace has become an inclusive place. People with a
disability remain much less likely to be employed than those without, and those
that are hired find themselves having to fend off discriminatory practices.
A community, is, of course, comprised of individuals. And if
the community still fails its differently-abled members, it points to a lack of
awareness in the individuals who comprise it. The path to a wholly inclusive
mindset is difficult for some, and every person—both with and without disability—can
always advance in their appreciation of the equality of every human being.
Here we find ourselves in the position of the Chabad Rebbes
on the final days of Passover: knowing what the future we want to create looks
like, feeling its tremors in the present, but realizing it is not yet here. We
cannot recite a blessing thanking G‑d for the simple, beautiful inclusion of
every human-being, because that would be dishonest. But, until then, we will
talk about it, and it will make us work.