What is a Passover Seder without the signature song—Dayeinu? The song consists of 15 stanzas, giving what seems like an itemized account of everything G-d did to take us out of Egypt. “After each line” says Rabbi Noach Orlowek, “we say ‘dayeinu,’ it would have been enough if that was all G-d did for us.” But there’s more! The next verse lists yet another act of G-d. Again we say “dayeinu—it would have been enough” to show that we recognize those acts and express our gratitude for every one of them.
This is the theme of Passover night. We recount the story of the Exodus to evoke feelings of gratitude to G-d. The word “gratitude” may be overused, but certainly it works, each morning as we awake, and regardless of what is going on in our lives, we are impelled to think of the many things for which we have to be grateful.
As “Dayeinu” points out, however, our gratitude is very specific, as it lists the things for which we are grateful. Orlowek continues saying that, “The secret of gratitude is specificity. A child’s self-esteem is not promoted by general compliments. The child dismisses, “Oh, that’s a beautiful picture you drew,” as a stock reply, not real praise. If you want her to feel good about your compliment, be specific: “I like the red color you drew the flowers with; it’s so bright. And that butterfly with the blue and green dots is the happiest butterfly I ever saw.” On Seder night we go over the fine points of what actually happened. We dwell on the details.
While the itemized list of “Dayeinu” is meant to emphasize an attitude of gratitude, a sense of fullness, of having received so much that one feels satisfied, is there anything else we can elicit from this song? “Dayenu” is also about counting our blessings while realizing so many others in our world have so few. Dayeinu also provides a powerful contemporary outlook on life, a call to mindfulness about the way we currently lead our lives. “We live in an era when materialism is our state (and increasingly global) religion and consumption is unfettered by any internal sense of restraint leading to environmental disasters, violence and human tragedy,” writes Joshua Ratner for Rabbis Without Borders. Dayeinu reminds us that there is another way and that there is a time to say “enough.” Judaism offers an outlook on wealth, consumption and sufficiency that is very counter-cultural. In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 4:1, Ben Zoma teaches: “Who is rich? The one who is content with what one has.” So in this season of Passover, let’s consider, what is dayeinu for us -personally and communally?
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.