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Dayeinu — absurdity and the art of appreciation

The very fact that not one of those stages of the Exodus would have been enough without all of them is what teaches us to value each step of the way
Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Israel Defense Forces on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

The Dayeinu song seems utterly absurd! Unraveling this absurdity provides a powerful insight into the art of appreciation.

It Would NOT Have Been Enough 

A close look at the song reveals that many stanzas don’t seem to make any sense at all.

Here are two examples: If G-d had brought us out of Egypt and not split the sea, Dayeinu — It would have been enough for us.

If G-d had split the sea and not given us food and water to drink in the desert, Dayeinu — It would have been enough for us. 

Really?

If G-d had brought us out of Egypt, but not split the sea, we would have all died at the hands of the Egyptian army.

If G-d had split the sea, but not given us food and water, we would have all died of starvation and heat exhaustion in the desert.

It most certainly would NOT have been enough!

It is clear that every stage is incomplete without the realization of the stages which follow. If the redemption process had been held up at any one of the stages, it certainly would not have been enough — we would either have died in the desert or wandered aimlessly in the wilderness. Without completing the entire series — Exodus, Revelation, Promised Land and Temple — the process would have either ended in disarray or disaster.

A Gratitude Attitude

Indeed, the song is senseless only when viewed with the ultimate goal in mind. If the purpose of Dayeinu was to celebrate reaching the final goal of redemption, it never would have been enough until the destination was reached.

However, Dayeinu is about a different frame of mind — a mindset of gratitude and appreciation. It is about the process, not the result. It is about the journey, not the destination.

When we see how far we have come as opposed to how far there is to go, what we have rather than what we lack, we are able to feel deep gratitude, irrespective of whether we have achieved our final aim. Hence, we are able to appreciate the enormity of every step along the way.

Therefore, Dayeinu means it would have been enough to say thank you. If G-d had brought us out of Egypt, but not split the sea, this miraculous act of freedom would have been enough for us to thank Him, irrespective of what the future held. If G-d had split the sea and we died in the desert, we should still have thanked Him for such an unprecedented miracle and for bringing our oppressors to justice.

This then is the profound lesson of Dayeinu – to feel perfectly grateful in imperfect situations. If we focus incessantly on the final goal of any undertaking, the destination of every life journey, the endpoint of every beginning, then we simply won’t be able to savor any part of the process itself.

The positioning of Dayeinu in the Haggadah is significant. It comes immediately after completing the story of the Exodus and is our first reflection on those events. As the first expression of praise and thanksgiving, Dayeinu forms the foundation of the Hallel that follows soon. It provides us with a powerful spiritual paradigm — to live life with a profound attitude of gratitude and practice the oft elusive art of appreciation.

In this spirit, I have written a modern-day Dayeinu song in honor of Israel. Israel is still some distance from the ideal moral and spiritual society we wish it to be. Yet this should never cloud our ability to express heartfelt appreciation for its enormous accomplishments every step of the way:

A Modern Dayeinu 

If G-d had brought us back to the Land of Israel
But not given us a sovereign state
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had given us a sovereign state and allowed us a taste of freedom and dignity for but a moment
But we would have lost the War of Independence
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had helped us be victorious in the War of Independence
But we would not have succeeded in building a viable country
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had helped us build a viable country
But not brought back hundreds of thousands of Jews from Sephardic and Yemenite backgrounds
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had allowed us to win the Six Day War
But not given us Hevron, Beit El, Shiloh and the Golan Heights
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had given us Hevron, Beit El, Shiloh and the Golan Heights
But not allowed us to return to the Old City of Jerusalem
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had allowed us to liberate the Old City of Jerusalem
But not allowed us to rebuild her ruins
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had allowed us to rebuild His Old City
But not made Jerusalem into Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000 people
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had made Jerusalem Israel’s largest city with a population of over 800,000 people
But not allowed us to live with dignity in secure borders
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had allowed us to live in secure borders
But not created a strong and sustainable economy
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had built for us a strong and sustainable economy
But not ingathered the exiles from almost 100 countries
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had ingathered the exiles from almost 100 countries
But not allowed us to rebuild the Torah world in Israel with well over 100,000 men and women studying Torah full-time, perhaps the most in Jewish history
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had rebuilt the yeshiva and Torah world
But not produced so many outstanding Torah scholars and leaders
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had produced so many outstanding Torah scholars and leaders
But not opened the gates of freedom to the oppressed Russian and Ethiopian Jews
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

If G-d had opened the gates of freedom to the oppressed Russian and Ethiopian Jews
But not made Israel the country with the largest number of Jews for the first time in over 2,500 years
Dayeinu, it would have been enough

* * *

A version of this article appears in Mizrachi’s HaMizrachi global publication for Pesach, featuring a 10-page Seder Companion. 

About the Author
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Chief Executive of the Mizrachi World Movement, a global Religious Zionist movement based in Jerusalem with many active branches around the world. He is an organizational leader, sought after international speaker and author.
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