Dayenu -Enough? Not yet!
6th Day of Pesach
One of the most beloved moments of the Passover Seder is the singing of the song Dayenu. The tune is catchy, the refrain is infectious, and the message is one of unadulterated praise for all that G-d has done for His people. The song begins with the exodus from Egypt and fast forwards through the next five hundred years of Jewish history. Its fifteen stanzas, (corresponding to the fifteen steps of the Nikanor Gate leading into the Inner Courtyard, upon which the song would be sung in Temple times), reach their final crescendo with the words, "If He had built for us the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple, and not build for us His Chosen House, Dayenu - that would have been enough!"
The refrain, "Dayenu - that would have been enough!" sung after each stanza of the song begs the question: would it have been enough? If G-d had brought us out of Egypt and done nothing more, would that have been enough?
If G-d had brought judgment upon Egypt and done nothing more, would that have been enough?
If G-d had slain the firstborn of Egypt and done nothing more, would that have been enough?
It is safe to surmise that the song Dayenu was written consciously with a sense of irony intended to drive home a double point: Yes, we are grateful for every individual miracle G-d performed for us and each individual miracle warrants our eternal gratitude. But would it have been enough to have left Egypt and then been left to our own devices? Absolutely not! Nowhere is this more starkly evident than in the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, the history shaping event that we commemorate tonight as we celebrate the Seventh Day of Passover. Had G-d not formed a path in the sea, we would not be here today singing Dayenu. The army of Pharaoh would have eliminated our forefathers then and there.
If we take a closer look at the epic crossing of the Sea of Reeds we witness not just a great escape for the children of Israel and a fitting denouement for the army of Pharaoh. We witness the maturation of the relationship between G-d and the children of Israel. While G-d was bringing nine plagues upon the Egyptian nation, the Israelites were passive observers at best, perhaps, out of weariness, even indifferent to the havoc G-d was wreaking, and in some cases outright hostile, (why rock the boat?). G-d predicated the tenth and final plague, the killing of the Egyptian firstborns, upon the willingness of the Israelites to make their own unequivocal statement of faith by slaughtering their Passover lambs. Quid pro quo. But at the Sea of Reeds a great leap forward is taken concerning the relationship between G-d and His children: this miracle, this final act of separation and liberation from Egypt is performed together. Faith, trust, intention, action all come together at this defining moment, G-d and Israel act as one, in unison and in love: What wouldn't G-d do for His people? What wouldn't they do for G-d?
If we envision G-d's actions towards Egypt on behalf of the children of Israel as a courtship, and the covenant at Sinai as a wedding ceremony, than the Sea of Reeds is undoubtably the engagement, where both halves of the whole act upon and announce to the world at large their total commitment one to the other. This commitment is, no doubt, what the prophet Jeremiah was making reference to when he said, "so said HaShem: I remember to you the lovingkindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown." (Jeremiah 2:2)
When we understand the events of the unfolding exodus from Egypt in this light, Dayenu is transformed from a a historical ballad into a most beautiful love song. No longer just chronicling events, Dayenu expresses the passionate love between Israel and HaShem as it grows deeper with each verse, beginning with tentative courtship and proclamations of mutual love to a relationship where both sides become inseparable. And this unbreakable bond is expressed climactically in the song's final verse: "If He had built for us the Tabernacle and the Holy Temple, and not build for us His Chosen House, Dayenu - that would have been enough!" Surely as any couple seeks to establish a home from which their love for one another can grow stronger with each passing day, so does the nation of Israel seek to build for G-d His Chosen House. Only when this is done can we pause to say, "Dayenu!"
This week Temple Talk returns to its usual Tuesday time slot. Be sure to listen as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven reflect on the Passover festival, the urgent need for Israel to take a page from the Haggadah and declare by word and deed alike its independence from all those who seek to control her fate, the upcoming Torah reading of Shmini, the forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer - counting the days of the barley harvest, and preparing ourselves spiritually for receiving Torah at Sinai.