My Dear Friend,
Your letter, which I shared with readers last week, evoked an avalanche of e-mails. I share this with you so that you may be fortified in the knowledge that even though you thought young people regard their elders with a certain sense of skepticism, your letter generated respect and admiration. Perhaps in a future column I will share some of those letters with readers. In the interim, I’m forwarding them to you.
Now I’ll try to respond to your concerns.
Let’s begin by composing a dayenu song. Dayenu is, of course, a song in the Pesach Haggadah with which even those who are bereft of Torah knowledge are familiar. It is sung with gusto by adults as well as children. What is the meaning of Dayenu? Why does it play such a central role in our Pesach Seder?
HaKaras hatov – appreciation or gratitude – is a pillar of Judaism. It is so central to our faith that our sages teach that even as a man is commanded to bless G-d for the good, he must likewise do for so for the bad. No matter where life takes us, our response to its many challenges is always Baruch Hashem – blessed be G-d.” No matter where we are or what we possess, no matter if we are ill or healthy, wealthy or impoverished, our response remains constant. Yes, blessed be G-d for every moment of our lives.
The word “dayenu” means “sufficient” – if G-d would have only done this or that for us it would have been sufficient for us to say “thank you” and remain eternally indebted. So rather than declaring a general expression of gratitude, we enumerate every act of kindness in all its fine details. Thank You, Hashem! Thank You, Hashem! Thank you, Hashem! And we focus on the many kindnesses our Heavenly Father has extended to us and continues to extend every day of our lives.
In the Dayenu song we examine the miraculous time of the Exodus. Every event throughout our long sojourn in the desert is proclaimed. And the most electrifying moment in the annals of history – the giving of our Torah – is announced with unbounded joy and praise.
Some may wonder why the Haggadah is not more concise. Why does it have to go into such detail? Would it not have been more sensible to give a general thank you?
As someone who has written five books (so far!) and a column every week for The Jewish Press, I’ve learned the veracity of the Yiddish expression “kurez un sharf” – “brief and to the point.” Don’t tell a long story when you can say something in one sentence. So I ask once again, why does the Dayenu song belabor the point?
The answer is simple. Think of a bar mitzvah boy addressing the guests at his celebration and thanking all the people who are important in his life. His comments usually go something like this: “I wish to thank my parents for everything they have done for me.” What does that really mean? Does that touch anyone’s heart? More important, does that touch the bar mitzvah boy himself? Does that very general “thank you” inspire him to appreciate the love and sacrifice his parents have made and continue to make on his behalf?
Would it not be so much more meaningful were the young man to say the following:
“I wish to thank my mother for always being there for me, for giving me comfort and courage when I felt down and was upset. Thank you, Mom, for helping me with my homework. Thank you for your patience when I asked you a thousand and one questions. Thank you for allowing me to invite my friends over and making them feel so special. Thank you for never leaving my bedside whenever I was ill.”
And what about the father?
“Thank you, Dad, for being such a great father and a great friend. Thank you for taking me on special father and son trips. Thank you for coming home from the office to say the Shema with me every night. Thank you for telling me bedtime stories. Thank you for teaching me how to ride my bike. Thank you for teaching me how to play ball. Thank you for taking me to buy my tefillin and for showing me how to put them on. Thank you for always finding time for me, even on your busiest days.”