I hope everyone had a perfectly wonderful Passover or Easter, or any other holiday you celebrate. I was lucky enough to visit my “family” of choice in Chicago for TWO FULL WEEKS, and I’ve never felt more blessed. There are a hundred things I could say right now, but in the interest of timeliness, the following is a rough transcription of the d’var Torah I gave at the first-night seder I attended. The hosts asked us to prepare some “homework” to share with everyone, and this was my contribution. Thank you for allowing me to share it with all of you.
[As a bit of background, the song “Dayeinu” (meaning “it would have been enough”) comes near the end of the seder, and in it, we thank God for each of the miracles God performed in the Exodus from Egypt, and we say that any one of them would have been enough. Full explanation can be found on the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dayenu)]
I attended my first seder (a meal and ceremony commemorating the study of Passover) when I was 19. I was in the midst of my conversion process to Judaism, it was dress rehearsal week for the spring opera, and my dear friend (and fellow opera student) Alex was not going to be able to attend a seder, so I decided to host one for him late at night. The charoset (a traditional food made of apples, raisins, nuts, cinnamon, and sweet wine said to represent the mortar the Israelites used to build the cities of Egypt) was made with grape juice and vodka– not quite kosher for Passover (when almost all grain products are forbidden). The matzoh balls fell apart in the soup, the chicken wasn’t kosher, and the haggadah (the book that guides us through the ritual of the seder) was one page long and printed off the Internet. We made kippot (yarmulkes or skull caps) out of printer paper.
Toward the end, though, Alex led us in a rousing version of “Dayeinu,” and I followed along in the translation. I thought it was downright remarkable, a beautiful testament to the love the Israelites felt for their God, and an incredible sign of faith and thankfulness.
Now, years later, I think that “Dayeinu” is the least Jewish part of the seder.
“Dayeinu” is the functional equivalent of a girl reminiscing about an old relationship. “Oh,” she says, “remember how happy we were? How everything was absolutely perfect and we thought the sun rose and set in each other’s eyes?”. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend– that would be God– is saying, “That’s funny…I seem to remember that you spent the entire 40 years in the desert bitching and moaning about how I wasn’t good enough to you. ‘Wah-wah, we want meat! Wah-wah, we need water! Wah-wah, are we there yet?…” and I did stuff like make you eat so much quail that it came out of your noses and a bunch of you died when your bellies exploded.”
“Dayeinu” isn’t just un-Jewish. It’s un-human. It’s the very opposite of human nature and experience to look at the good things in your life and say, “I have enough. Even without this job, or that friend, or this designer sweater, I’d be perfectly happy.”
When do we say that we’ve had enough? When we’ve had too much. When you say, “I’ve had enough to eat,” it really means your trouser seams are bursting and you can’t make room for the tiramisu. “I’ve had enough” means you’ve had more than you can handle. Too much frustration. Too much failure. Too much pain.
When do we ever say that we have enough wealth? Enough power? Enough success? Enough love?
This doesn’t just come from a sense of acquisitiveness or a desire for more. It comes from a deep-seated belief that just as we do not have enough, we are not enough. When do we look in the mirror and say that we are rich enough or beautiful enough? When are we thin enough or tall enough or smart enough? When are we convinced that we are strong enough to handle all the “too much” in our lives?
The beautiful thing about Pesach, though, is that it’s the beginning of the year. (The Jewish calendar has several celebrations of the new year, relating to different markers on the agricultural calendar.) Once upon a time, this was when we restarted the Jewish calendar, but even now, though it’s unseasonably cold, you can look around and see the beginnings of new life in the world.
So let us begin this new year with enough, and as enough. We teach that all people are created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of God. And the point of “Dayeinu” is to say that even when the Israelites didn’t think that God was enough, when they doubted that God unleashing the plagues would melt Pharaoh’s heart, when they weren’t sure if splitting the sea was within God’s power, when they were afraid to wander in the wilderness and trust that God would take them to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel)– God was always enough. God was enough the whole time. The Israelites had to get to the end to see that with each miracle God performed, God made it possible for the Israelites to grow closer to the apex of their own potential.
And if God is enough, and if God always gives us enough, and if we are created in the image of God, then the answer is obvious: we can be enough. Not because we lower the bar and grow to accept where we already are, but because we have the endless potential for good and for growth. And we can be strong enough to cope when we’ve had enough. “Dayeinu” is aspirational; read not, “It would have been enough,” but, rather, “I will have been enough.”
And so my bracha (blessing) for us all as we enter this new season is this: may we hold on to the feelings of endless gratitude and overflowing blessing that well up in our hearts as we sit around the seder table, and may we see ourselves the way that God sees us. May we see that we are enough.