Ten years ago my best friend Sarah hosted her own Seder for the first time—in her fabulous New York City apartment. She is a phenomenal cook, so the rule was that no one should bring food, but in its place everyone had to bring one creative reading for the Seder. Not only did Sarah do all of the cooking, but she too prepared a creative reading. She called me one hour before the Seder to “share” her reading: “If we had been given Saks Fifth Avenue, but not Neiman Marcus, it would have been enough! If we have been given Brie, but not Gouda, it would have been enough…”
If you knew my friend Sarah, you would know that this was not a sacrilegious reading, but rather a creative take on a real understanding of our traditional prayer, Dayeinu.
Next week, each of us will declare: “Ilu Hotzianu Mi Mitzrayim Dayeinu V’Lo Asa Vahem Shefatim Dayeinu!” “If God had rescued us from Egypt but not carried out judgments upon them (the Egyptians), it would have been enough.” We will also exclaim: “Ilu Natan Lanu Et HaTorah V’lo Hichnisu L’Eretz Yisrael Dayeinu!” “If God had given us the Torah but not brought us to enter the land of Israel, it would have been sufficient.” There are fifteen verses like these, which make up the prayer that was part of the ninth century prayer book of Rav Amram and appeared first on Passover in a Medieval Hagaddah.
What is this prayer’s significance? Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, a modern Orthodox rabbi and a fellow graduate of Brandeis University, teaches that saying thank you to God for having been delivered from Egyptian slavery, regardless of whether or not we made it any further than the shores of the Red Sea, is about being fully grateful in that moment which warrants our gratitude. In other words, were we to have been rescued from a life of servitude, the grand relief and sheer joy that we would have experienced might have been overwhelming. As he conjectures, “The moment was utterly full.” Imagine how much more so it means to thank God when any present moment in our lives fills us completely. Dayeinu is a reminder to live in the moment.
Finally, as thoughtful Jews who live in a context that is more than ourselves, we consider the importance of Hebrew grammar. Dayeinu means that it is enough for us. We know that while we may have enough, there are those for whom there is not enough food, shelter, or peace. Dayeinu is also a reminder that after we consider how what we have is enough, we remain obligated to work on that for others.
From New York to Toronto, may this Passover be gratifying, be wholly in the present, and stir within us a desire to care for others. Chag Sameach.