Bless You

The most well-worn pages of our Haggadot are those in the section known as “Barech.” After the Seder night, we have no pressing need for the text of “Dayenu” or “Chad Gadya,” but we still have to say Birkat HaMazon, and as our leavened year-round birkonim have been put away, we pull out our Haggadot. After all, the version we say at the Seder is almost identical to what we say throughout the holiday week—with one exception. Many have the custom, as cited by the Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 479:2), to say an extended HaRachaman, praying for “a day which is fully long, a day when the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Divine Presence (Shechina).”

The first part of this insertion is a variation on a theme we know well. Every Shabbat and Yom Tov, we add a HaRachaman that makes reference to Olam HaBa, the World to Come; in each case, it is, essentially, a play on words, as in Midrashic sources, Olam HaBa is referred to as “a day which is fully restful (shabbat)” (Tamid 7:4, et al.) and “fully good (tov)” (Kiddushin 39b, et al). Thus, on the day of Shabbat, we admit that the true Shabbat is elsewhere, and on Yom Tov, literally “a day of good,” we admit that true good is elsewhere. Olam HaBa is also referred to as “fully long” (ibid), or eternal. However, we have already said the regular formula for Yom Tov, so what does this reference add? After all, if any holiday if called “The Long Day,” it is not Pesach, but Rosh HaShana!

Furthermore, what is the reference in the second part of this special HaRachaman? It seems to come from Rav’s famous statement (Berachot 17a): “The World to Come has neither eating nor drinking… rather, the righteous sit, with crowns on their heads, enjoying the glow of the Shechina.” As such, it seems quite out of place at the Seder—is there any meal in the Jewish calendar which involves more eating and drinking? Are we begging God to relocate us to a world where we won’t have to eat so much matza and drink so many cups of wine?

It seems that in order to understand this HaRachaman, we must reverse our hypothesis. We have assumed that it is connected to the day, and its placement within Birkat HaMazon is coincidental; this is, after all, the template for the ones we recite for Shabbat, Yom Tov, Sukkot, Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana. But what if we were to start from the opposite point of view: that this HaRachaman is essentially connected to Birkat HaMazon, and its recitation on the Seder night is coincidental. This would indicate that there is something unique about this meal as a meal—but what could that be?

Let us return to the three-word source for Birkat HaMazon in the Torah (Devarim 8:10): “Ve-achalta, ve-savata u-verachta,” “You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless.” The Written Torah spells out an obligation only in the case where one has eaten enough to be fully satiated; the Oral Torah expands this to specific amounts, and very small ones at that. In fact, this is God’s response in a beautiful legend in Talmud Berachot (20b). The angels accuse God of being partial to the Jewish people, to which He responds: “How can I not show favor to Israel? I wrote for them in the Torah, ‘You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless Lord, your God,’ but they are so exacting upon themselves, even for an olive’s volume [of bread], even for an egg’s!”

In fact, for every meal we have throughout the year, whether for a mitzva or just for sustenance, we don’t even consider the issue of satisfaction, merely measuring the minimum amount. There is, however, one meal in which we cannot stop until we have fulfilled “ve-savata”—the Seder. We must eat our afikoman, our final portion of matza, which parallels the actual piece of the paschal sacrifice which our ancestors would eat, “al ha-sova,” being satiated. This is the one time when the entire nation fulfills the mitzva of Birkat HaMazon in its most literal sense.

With this in mind, we may return to our HaRachaman. It points out that the long meal of the Seder, where we literally drink and eat our fill, is only a reflection of the true sova, the ultimate satisfaction of being in God’s Presence. Thus, our proper fulfillment of the mitzvot of the Seder night allows us not only to reenact the Exodus, but to reconnect to those practices which define every day of our lives as Jews.

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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