Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 27 March 2021 / 14 Nisan 5781

When Enough Is Not Enough

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

One of the many highlights of my Seder is the paragraph beginning with the words, “How many goodly benefits have we received from Hashem!” It is such a highlight to me because of its incredibly catchy tune, plus the constant repetition of the refrain “Dayeinu — Enough!” As a child, I waited and waited during Seder night until it was time to sing it, and, as everybody began, I would belt it out at the top of my lungs. I am not sure that anyone else among the many participants present particularly enjoyed my annual performance, but I certainly did! Of course, when I was younger I never really understood the words and I was not overly aware of what I was singing — but that did not dampen my enthusiasm. The thrill of singing it at the Seder was truly unparalleled. Even today, decades later, as I sit at the Seder with my children and grandchildren, I am overwhelmed with delight when I see just how excited they are to join me in a grand rendition of Dayeinu. It may not be the stuff that operas are made of, but whatever might be lacking in musical prowess is more than made up for with huge amounts of gusto and equal amounts of unbridled joy.

As I got older, it began to occur to me that, in my mind, some parts of the song did not seem logical. For example: If Hashem had given us their wealth and had not split the sea for us, Dayeinu. Why would it have been Dayeinu, why would it have been enough? How were we supposed to travel through the water if Hashem had not made a passageway for us? Or: If He had sunk our oppressors and not supplied us with our needs in the desert for forty years, Dayeinu. But, how were we supposed to survive in the hostile environment of the desert without Hashem looking after us? And, perhaps the most puzzling of all: If He would have gathered us at Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, Dayeinu, Our Sages teach that the world was created so that the Jewish nation could receive the Torah. What could possibly be the point of Hashem bringing us all the way to Mount Sinai in the most miraculous fashion and then not giving us His Torah?

Over the years, I have found many different approaches to the meaning of Dayeinu, but there is one explanation whose message strongly resonates within me. The 19th century prodigy Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel [Wisser], known by the acronym of his Hebrew name —Malbim—wrote a commentary on Tanach that is regarded as a classic in Torah scholarship and displayed exquisite mastery over Biblical Hebrew grammar. He explains that in the context of the poem, the word dayeinu does not mean “enough.” Rather, it means “it is sufficient.”

Sufficient for what? To acknowledge the extent of our debt of gratitude to G-d for everything that He has done for us. The Rabbis explain that acknowledging a debt of gratitude is not measured by the benefactor’s efforts. It is measured by the impact on the recipient. When someone benefits from someone else — whether the benefactor did or did not need to provide the benefit and whether it was or was not a bother for him — the beneficiary has a responsibility to recognize that he owes his benefactor a debt of gratitude. This recognition, explains the Malbim, is what Dayeinu is conveying. The Malbim’s explanation is so clear, and yet sometimes the more obvious something is, the less we realize it.

The Malbim also provides insight into how we can recognize and react to the kindnesses that were done to us. Dayeinu begins with the very last moments of our slavery in Egypt and concludes with the building of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. However, we do not just recount that once we were slaves and that the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem. Rather, Dayeinu breaks down the experience into smaller parts so that we can begin to have a greater understanding of the enormity of what Hashem did for us. Each verse in the poem points to another moment for realizing each distinct detail as being comprised of countless other details that we should also be noticing. The Malbim teaches us that the closer we analyze something, the greater is our ability to identify more and more aspects that we need to be thankful for. The more individual parts that we can break an action down into, the greater will be our appreciation. His lesson is even more applicable when things look particularly bleak because there is always a need and reason to acknowledge Hashem’s goodness. When Rabbi Aharon Kotler — the legendary visionary and founder of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood — was at the end of his life, suffering terribly, his wife tried to encourage him by telling him that it will be good. And Rabbi Kotler’s reply was, “It is already good — it will be better.” A person who lives in a state of perpetual spiritual awareness recognizes an immeasurable gratitude to Hashem — regardless of the present circumstances. This year, as with each year, I look forward to Seder night with great anticipation. I look forward to sharing it together with my children and grandchildren, and I am absolutely waiting for the moment when we all sing Dayeinu together. And just before we begin, I hope to remind everyone present of the Malbim’s explanation for the word dayeinu. It expresses our need to look carefully at our lives and personally thank Hashem for everything that He gives us. And then we can truly declare “Dayeinu!”

We do not say “it’s enough!” We can never have “enough” of Hashem’s blessings. But “Dayeinu” — each individual blessing that Hashem has bestowed upon us is enough of a reason by itself for us to give heartfelt thanks to Him. Each blessing is a reason to sing aloud our thanks, enthusiastically and with heartfelt feeling.

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