Of all of the songs that we sing during the Passover Seder, no song is more popular than “Dayenu,” commonly translated as “it would have been enough.”
Had he taken us out of Egypt without carrying out judgments against the Egyptians — Dayenu — it would have been enough.
Had he carried out judgments against the Egyptians without vanquishing their gods — Dayenu — it would have been enough.
However, when we read each of these verses, we realize that the translation “it would have been enough” is deficient. That is because when we look at the litany of miracles that God performed, from removing us from bondage to bringing us to the Land of Israel and the building of the Holy Temple, we realize that each and every step along the way was necessary. Indeed, no single miracle would have been enough, but by including every Divine marvel along the way, the
Israelites experienced a total and complete redemption.
Therefore there are those, myself included, who believe that Dayenu is better translated not as a declarative statement — “It would have been enough” — but rather in the form of a question, “Would it have been enough?” And the answer is, of course, “No!”
Consider the following: Would it really have been enough for God to have parted the sea for the Israelites without bringing them to dry land? Would it have been enough if God brought us to Mount Sinai without giving us the Torah? Would it have been enough to give us the Torah without leading us to the Land of Israel? Of course not. Every step along the way was integral and necessary.
I suppose this boils down to the question, “When in our lives do we ever really think that we have enough?” Who among us, even after getting a pay raise says, “Now I earn enough?” We humans are acquisitive in nature. No matter what we have, we seem to want more. The man with $1 million wants $2 million. The woman who has 100 beautiful dresses is likely to want even more.
This model also applies to other facets of our life. As a rabbi, I have learned that when someone loses a loved one, in most instances the survivors would have wanted to spend more time with their now deceased family member. I remember that when my father passed away at the age of 97, I still wished that I had more time with him. I have officiated at the funeral of people who were married for more than 70 years, obviously of advanced years, but the truth is that when you truly love someone, you always want more time with them.
Someone who enjoys doing his job generally wants to keep it for as long as possible. But sometimes illness, downsizing or other factors can lead to early retirement or unemployment. Instead of declaring Dayenu — “It is enough” — we should ask “Is it really enough?”
In Pirke Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, we are taught, “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his portion.” That is certainly the ideal toward which we should all strive. Yet, it is still human nature to want more. The key to happiness is to be able to ask ourselves honestly, “When do we have what we truly need, not just what we desire?”
No matter how you read it, Dayenu challenges us examine our values and priorities and prompts us to ask questions about our deepest spiritual needs. And in keeping with the spirit of Passover, the more questions we ask, the better. Dayenu!
Chag Kasher V’Sameach — I wish you all a happy and kosher Passover. JN
Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky is a member of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis and a retired pulpit rabbi and Navy chaplain residing in Phoenix.