Dayyenu – Passover 5784

D'var Torah | Holidays

“Dayyenu” is a curious song. Perhaps the best known and most popular of all the seder songs, “Dayyenu” is based on a mistaken premise. Seder participants proclaim that failing all the miracles and benefits God has provided us, we would have been satisfied with even one of them. But that is simply not true! Can we imagine being liberated but without Torah? Can we imagine a people Israel without a land of Israel? Can we imagine the historical practice of Judaism without a Temple? Of course not. It seems that the song is a lie. That is, unless it is understood differently.

The analogy useful to understanding the meaning of “Dayyenu” is the most delicious four-course meal ever eaten. At the end of the meal the diners say to the host ‘Had we only been served the appetizer it would have been a superb dining experience.’ ‘Yes, and had we been served the extraordinary soup alone, it would have been an exceptional dining experience.’ ‘Yes, and had we been served the main course alone, the meal would have been spectacular.’ ‘Yes, and had we been served the dessert alone, it would have been an incomparable taste sensation.’ Effectively, what the diners are saying is that the entire meal, from appetizer to dessert, was completely delicious and superlative. Accordingly, the host must be complimented. Similarly, “Dayyenu” makes the same observation. It is not that any of the benefits listed would be enough but that collectively all the benefits we have received from God have resulted in our unique status and thus are worthy of grateful acknowledgment.

Further proof that “Dayyenu” must be read this way is that the refrain appears following every stated benefit except one: the implied benefit in the first statement, “Had You not taken us out of Egypt by doing wonders…”  The song begins with the ready assertion that we would not have been satisfied with anything less than the exodus. The exodus from Egypt is essential; the way the exodus from Egypt was effected was not. The exodus from Egypt is the sine qua non for Jewish existence.  That is why the exodus from Egypt is mentioned in the Kiddush for every Shabbat and holiday. And that is why mention of the exodus from Egypt precedes the Amidah every morning and evening.

Thus, in singing “Dayyenu” we do more than engaging the young or enjoining communal participation in the seder, we are giving thanks to God for all that makes us a unique and enduring people.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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