Singing Dayenu is a highlight of the Seder. By adulthood, we have been singing it for so many years that it has become rote. We no longer stop to reflect upon the meaning.
The song states the following,
“It would have been enough had you just split the sea but didn’t finish our walk to safety.”
Really? We would have been swallowed alive.
“It would have been enough had you freed us, but not given us the Torah.”
Really? How could we survive as the Jewish nation for thousands of years without the Torah? How could we wholeheartedly sing that it would have been enough when we would have perished physically and spiritually?
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg writes that the answer can be found in the word “us.” “Us” is you and I today. It is every Jew that ever was and ever will be.
Dayenu is not describing past events like a history book. Rather, the Haggadah states that every person is required to see himself as though he has personally been extricated from slavery in Egypt. It’s current.
Rabbi Goldberg says, “Passover is not a celebration of the past. It is a reliving of the past, a moment of re-experience. When a person sees himself at the Seder as if he personally has gone out of Egypt, he is living through all the events of that era…being enslaved…liberated…entering into Israel and the eventual construction of the Holy Temple. Passover is each Jew’s personal identification with the ancient liberation, from beginning to end.”
With this as a lens, we no longer view these steps with detachment, but rather through the eyes of someone who experienced it first-hand. From this point of view, each moment becomes self-sufficient.
Take a moment to revisit something as miraculous as the splitting of the sea: A successful shidduch completed, according to the Gemara (Sotah 2A).
After the chuppah at our wedding, my husband held my hand and asked, “Am I squeezing too tightly?”
I responded, “Don’t ever let go!”
During this moment we were so overjoyed and grateful, we were not thinking: How will we ever be able to afford to retire?
Similarly, after giving birth to my firstborn, I held him on my chest and experienced a euphoria that cannot be described in words.
I wasn’t thinking, How will we ever marry off this child or pay for college tuition?
Rather, each moment contained such intense joy that we weren’t thinking about anything else or worried about any next steps. We were enthralled completely in the moment.
Regarding Dayenu, of course the Jewish nation needed more than just the sea splitting to survive, but in that moment we were so awestruck and appreciative that worrying about what was coming was not in our schema.
This is what we are recounting when singing Dayenu. We’re not saying that it would’ve been enough. We are expressing our feeling that the moment was “enough” while it was occurring and appreciating it fully.
There are two ways to experience life. We can constantly be thinking about what’s coming next, or be satisfied with our current situation.
When we are single, we can think, When am I ever going to get married? When we are blessed with marriage we can wonder, When am I ever going to have a child? Then when children are born, we could start to hope, When will I ever move into a house?
This cycle is endless. It’s hard to feel satisfied if we are constantly looking for what’s on the horizon.
Alternatively, we can look at the life that we have and think Dayenu! Enough of negative thinking! Whatever I have is enough.
Through this, we can experience life feeling full inside. We can accomplish this by re-sensitizing ourselves to the awesomeness of every moment and be awestruck with what’s in front of us. We can think, I am pregnant. That’s miraculous. I have children, wow! I have a roof and protection; thank you, Hashem!
In this way, we don’t live our lives in an uncomfortable state of limbo. The right now can also feel powerful and full.
During the Covid pandemic, I learned an important tool to accomplish this perspective.
In the initial phases of the pandemic, I was expecting and constantly nauseous. Like many families, my children were distance learning, which required a lot from parents. To keep from becoming overwhelmed, I learned to stop and appreciate the small things. Amidst the hecticness, I started noticing the look of joy in my child’s eye when we were talking together. Or the rays of light shining through the trees when I watched my children bike riding.
The other day I was walking somewhere, and my son told me he would catch up to me. I kept turning to see if he was coming, and finally we spotted each other. He began to quicken his pace and run in my direction with a huge smile on his face. It was a beautiful sight to see him happily run towards me. I kept thinking, He’s not going to always want to run towards me or even want to walk with me. I savored the moment. A moment of laughter, the skip in your child’s feet, a warm hug from your spouse are all truly miraculous moments.
This is the deeper lesson of Dayenu. Dayenu means really seeing the fullness of each moment. It teaches us to recognize the daily miracles in our lives, both large and small. In this way, we become connoisseurs of happiness. When we experience the moment that is in front of us and feel intense joy instead of worrying about the future or waiting for the next “what’s next?” then everything can be transformed into “Dayenu.” Then a miraculously joyous life can be lived.