At the great seder night of Pesach when we read and discuss the immortal words of the Pesach Hagada, my family has always enthusiastically sung the portion of the Hagada that we know as “Dayenu.” By the grace of God, I have been able to witness a number of my generations singing this meaningful poem of praise to the Almighty for the bountiful goodness that he has bestowed upon us.
Since I am leading the singing that always accompanies this poem, the melody may be somewhat out of tune but what it lacks in pitch it makes up for in enthusiasm and volume. I have always thought about the words that make up this poem and the entire concept that “Dayenu” communicates to us. The poem deals with half measures, so to speak, of goodness that were bestowed upon us. As one of my grandchildren one intuitively remarks to me: “Zeydie, it is like proclaiming victory when only half the game has been played and your team is winning. But the game is not over yet, so is our cheering not a bit premature?
That same question troubled me for quite some time. How can we say that it was sufficient for us to be delivered from Egyptian bondage even if later we would’ve been destroyed at Yam Suf? Or what advantage would have accrued to us had we come to the Mountain of Sinai but never received the Torah or experienced the revelation that took place there? Why would we say that all these half measures would have been more than enough for us?
The answer to all of this lies in the Jewish attitude towards the holy attribute of gratitude. Gratitude is the basis of all moral law and decent human conduct. It underpins all the beliefs and behavioral aspects of Judaism, Jewish values and lifestyle. And Judaism declares that gratitude must be shown every step of the way during a person’s life.
We are to be grateful and thankful for our opportunities even if they did not yet lead to any positive results and accomplishments. The Talmud admonished us not to complain too loudly or too often about the difficulties of life “for is it not sufficient that one is still living?” If one expresses gratitude simply for opportunity, then how much more is that person likely to be truly grateful for positive results in one’s life?
This is not only the message of the “Dayenu” poem in the Hagada, it is really the message of the entire recitation of the Hagada itself. Gratitude for everything in life is the message of Pesach, for the matzo and even for the maror as well. And perhaps this is why the poem of “Dayenu” is usually put to melody, for it is meant to be a poem of joy, a realistic appraisal to life and not a sad dirge. Like everything else in Jewish life, it is meant to be a song of eternity.
Pesach Kasher v’sameach
Rabbi Berel Wein