Singing the 15 stanza-long hymn Dayenu is one of the most iconic components of the Passover Seder. In the song, we praise G-d for 15 acts of kindness that He bestowed upon the Jewish People, from taking the Jews out of Egypt through building the Temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrew word Dayenu means enough. After each stanza we say Dayenu and exclaim that each of these acts of kindness would have been enough reason for us to rejoice and express our gratitude.
The problem, as has been pointed out by numerous commentators, is that a closer reading of the song reveals that this is simply not correct. Gratitude at each stage is premature.
Here are two examples:
Had He (G-d) given us their wealth, but not split the Sea for us, it would have been enough.
What good is wealth if the Egyptians would have caught up with us at the Sea and butchered us?
Had He (G-d) drowned our oppressors in the Sea but not provided for our needs in the desert for forty years, it would have been enough.
What benefit would there have been if our Egyptians tormentors drowned if we would have starved in the desert a few years later?
What is the point of offering praise to G-d at each stage of the Exodus if each step was an incomplete and unsustainable salvation?
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, suggests that we sing Dayenu after each step of the redemptive process to remind ourselves that we should express gratitude for every inch of progress, even if the road to redemption is not yet complete.
Signing Dayenu reminds us to savor every reason to celebrate and be thankful, despite the challenges that remain.
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominkser Rebbe, notes that we encounter this lesson in our daily liturgy.
In the middle section of the Amidah, the thrice daily prayer, toward the end of the supplication section, we beseech G-d to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Earlier on, however, we implore G-d to save us from our daily troubles and tribulations – a blessing that ends with praising G-d that He is our “Redeemer”. Rabbi Perlow explains that we identify G-d as our “Redeemer” even though we are only asking for help from the daily challenges and tribulations. Salvation from the strains of daily life is also meaningful.
We must learn to savor small redemptions. Baby steps are still steps.
Dayenu is not just a song. It is a worldview of gratitude, even when there is more to repair.
What a particularly relevant message for us this year! Life during this global pandemic continues to be challenging. The daily news reports of infections and death continue to occupy our minds; the need to wear masks and social distance has not abated.
And yet, how far we have come! How blessed we should feel!
Last year, synagogues throughout the world were shuttered. We stayed at home and conducted the Seder alone. It was a Passover in solitude.
This year, we can be grateful that many synagogues have reopened, and many families have once again reunited. Dayenu.
Last year at this time, so many children were home all day, every day.
This year, we can be grateful that many schools have reopened and sounds of learning and laughter fill the halls. Dayenu
Last year, so many people were scared to venture out; even a trip to the supermarket seemed frightening.
This year, we can shop more freely and without paralyzing fear. Dayenu.
Last year, the concept of a vaccine was a far-off dream.
This year, millions have already been vaccinated and we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Dayenu.
The road ahead is still long. This COVID journey is not over. Dayenu teaches that we should not wait for a full redemption before expressing our gratitude and feeling joy.
How blessed we truly are; Dayenu!