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The Missing Blessing

The Missing Blessing

The Last Days of Passover

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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…1

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.

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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 holiday.

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.2 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.3” 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.4

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.

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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 either.

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.5

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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.

Footnotes
1.
http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-true-meaning-of-nostalgia.
2.
Exodus, 15:17-18, Rashi there, Talmud, Sanhedrin 91b.
3.
Isiah, 11:6.
4.
Hayom Yom, 22 Nissan.
5.
Likkutei Sichot, vol. 2, p. 545—546. Torat Menachem—Hitvaaduyot 5743, vol. 3, p. 1308 ff.
This article was produced in partnership by the Ruderman Chabad Inclusion Initiative (RCII) and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI).
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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