The true lesson of Dayeinu
Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz
Our Jewish calendar is replete with beautiful and meaningful holidays, but Pesach has a special place in our hearts, minds and especially our homes. More than any other holiday, there are aspects of Passover that are common to all and those that are unique to our own families. We all have special seder traditions.
I’m always impressed by the degree of care so many have about Pesach observance. And despite the contemporary trend of going away for the holiday, for many of us, with our families dispersed throughout the year, there’s no place like home for Pesach. Nothing beats that feeling as the house bursts to receive one and all. It’s a special time that’s worth the effort.
Pesach draws family and friends together for a common experience and shared traditions, and for this alone we should say “dayeinu” – it would have been enough – and “amen.”
Indeed, there’s probably no seder on Earth that doesn’t sing out a rousing chorus or two of Dayeinu. The words of the rest of the Haggadah might slip by, but Dayeinu gets our attention.
Dayeinu means you can’t have it all. It means you can be satisfied with less than you think is your due. Dayeinu means that life is a series of small steps, and we’re constantly on the move. It means to stop and say thank you for what we have, which is always more important than what we think we don’t have. The ability to say “dayeinu” creates yamim tovim, great days that last a lifetime.
Each phrase of Dayeinu describes something that would have been an accomplishment on its own. That is, all but one. “If you had just taken us to Sinai and not given us the Torah, dayeinu, it would have been enough.”
You’re joking! Without the receiving of the Torah of what value is Sinai? Yet every year we sing it. But what are we really saying?
This verse encapsulates the essence of Jewish life through the ages. Consider that 3.5 million Jews came to Sinai as one people, and, totally united, they camped at Sinai. For that alone we say “dayeinu.”
Equal to, if not even more important, than the various laws is the Torah of unity, of mutual respect and a sense of togetherness. If we could only achieve that, Torah would be even more meaningful.
Just think: around the world on seder night, irrespective of our traditions, we share common concepts of freedom, family, Jewish pride and tradition, and of the welfare of Israel and the Diaspora. This forges a sense of unity and mutual commitment. On Pesach, as at Sinai, every Jewish family is one. Dayeinu. It’s enough to jumpstart the next glorious phase of Jewish destiny.
Imagine a seder of life with a feeling of dayeinu, of gratefulness and appreciation, of unity and mutual respect bridging our differences long after the Pesach dishes are stored away. Yes, we can continue the yom tov quality of Dayeinu, grateful and thankful for every day, so as to create a sense of good in the days, to come.
Rabbi Mordecai Zeitz is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Montreal.