Consider and Converse: Dayenu

Artwork by David Wander
Artwork by David Wander

Consider and Converse: A Guide to DayenuIt would have been enough.

What does it mean to be enough? To have enough?

Introduction

Sh’ma Now curates conversations on a single theme rooted in Jewish tradition and the contemporary moment. At the heart of this issue of Sh’ma Now is the theme of “Dayenu” —“It would have been enough.” The perspectives shared in these pages are meant to be expansive — to inspire reflections on Judaism and possibility in ways you may not have considered before. They aim to hold discord. We hope that the richness and diversity of these essays will show you new perspectives that are personally meaningful and edifying.

Sh’ma Now has never viewed learning or “meaning-making” as solely an individual activity. That’s why we have included this guide, which is specifically designed to help you to consider the idea of going forth independently or with others, formally and informally.

How to Begin

This guide offers a variety of suggestions, including activities and conversation prompts for individual contemplation and informal or more structured conversations. We suggest that you use this guide to share reflections and thoughts over a Shabbat meal, or, for those who are more adventurous, to lead a planned, structured conversation, inviting a small group of friends and family to your home or to a coffee shop. If you would like more information about ways in which this journal might be used, please contact Susan Berrin, Sh’ma Now editor-in-chief, at SBerrin@shma.com. You can also print out a PDF file of the entire issue at http://forward.com/shma-now/.

Guidelines for Discussion

If you wish to hold a structured conversation, the following guidelines may help you to create a space that allows for honest personal exploration through sharing:

  • Create a sense of shared purpose that can foster the kind of internal reflection that happens through group conversation.
  • Remind participants of simple ground rules for conversations. For example: Avoid commenting on and critiquing each other’s comments. Make room for everyone to speak. Step into or away from the conversation appropriately. No one participant should dominate the conversation. Let silence sit, allowing participants to gather their thoughts.
  • For each of the questions below, we recommend that you print out the article in question, or provide the link to it, and we ask that you take a moment to read it in print or on screen, before the conversation begins.
  • Allow people a few minutes to absorb the article, perhaps even to read it a second time, before moving into the discussion.

Interpretive Questionscan focus the reader on the ideas in the articles.

  • Rabbi Lisa Goldstein introduces readers to the idea that “dayenu” is a manual for building a life of gratitude. She suggests that it is more difficult, sometimes, to acknowledge “real gratitude for the big things: My life is great. Ho hum. But when I breakit down, I see: I have hot water and fresh ground coffee in the morning. I have people who love and support me when I am sad or discouraged. When I begin ‘labeling
my praise,’ I see that, in fact, these things are wondrous.” And, of course, sometimes one doesn’t feel a sense of gratitude at all — not when we are deep in sorrow or discouraged by life’s challenges. How does Judaism balance a sense of gratitude with the acknowledgement of profound disappointment? How does it balance gratitude with enmity? Or, gratitude with anguished loss? Lisa points out that the fifteen stanzas of “D__ayenu” are replicated in the teaching of Rebbe Nahman of Bratzlav about the steps of ascent that bring joy during the holiday of Sukkot. How does Jewish wisdom point us to a step-by-step path toward noticing what works in our lives, and how might we develop a more robust practice of gratitude?
  • Rachel Brodie challenges the concept of “dayenu.” Rachel acknowledges that when she was pregnant, she prayed for a healthy child, but when her daughter was born in good health, she also asked that she grow to be kind and generous. She notes, “A desire satisfied yields additional desire. But where does one desire end and another begin?… At what point should we be satisfied with what we have? And when are we considered greedy for wanting more?” She posits this line of thinking in relation to the Passover song, “Dayenu“— “It would have been enough.” “If God had taken the Israelites out of Egypt, [dayenu]…” But, it is not enough. God gave us Shabbat and the Torah, among much else. Rachel writes, “Perhaps dayenu is a way of acknowledging
the partnership between the giver and the recipients: ‘God, You did what only You can do. You gave us freedom. So, You’ve done Your part. You’ve given us enough(‘dayenu’). And now, it’s up to us to … make these gifts meaningful.’” Set in the midst of the seder, how is the notion of partnering with God understood? How are we to understand the nature of miracles and the creator of miracles? How do you understand the enormity of this partnership?

Reflective Questionscan help to integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.

  • Ruth Messinger writes about knowing the difference between what we want and what we need. She suggests that we do a self-audit of what we use to determine whether we live with excess. She writes, “Are we using more electricity than we need? Are we serving food to excess, throwing away leftovers with little regard? Do we excessively buy the latest design in pants — even knowing that we only ‘wear one pair of pants at a time’?
 As we move through our self-audit, we should consider which areas warrant change, and whether that change should remain personal or be shared with others, encouraging them to join us. We would want to think about how to give the greatest significance to the changes we are making.” If you were interested in doing such a self-audit, where would you begin? What limits would you put on that inventory? What are the questions that you would want to discuss with your friends and family about consumption and limits?

  • Rabbi Uri Allen writes about being a “good enough” parent. While there is no doubt that he takes seriously the responsibilities of parenting, he writes this: “I have come to place more stock in living life as it is and as it comes than as it should be.” How do you weigh in on the continuum of being a “good enough” parent? Are there some aspects of parenting that demand your perfection and resoluteness? If so, which? How does the notion of a “good enough” parent intersect with notions of being a “good enough” Jew?

  • In NiSh’ma, our simulated Talmud page, three writers explore the first line of the song “Dayenu.” Our commentators discuss the frailty of the Israelites as they left Egypt and how they anticipated and acknowledged God’s miracles. Rabbi Zoë Klein writes, “If God had only taken us out of Egypt, the likelihood is that we would have gone right back. We would have returned …because we lacked the experience, courage, and stamina to push forward. We would have returned because we had the self-worth of slaves, not the vision of leaders, and the unknown is often more frightening than familiar torments. We would have returned, because to be free without any direction, support, or purpose is to be lost.” Are we partners in the process of redemption? How so?

Additional Sources on Dayenu

  1. The website Haggadot.com includes numerous creative interpretations of the song “Dayenu” and offers opportunities to create your own Haggadah.
  2. See “The Deeper Meaning of Dayenu” by Rabbi Avi Weiss. In this article, Weiss charts the slow process of redemption through the fifteen stanzas of the song “Dayenu.”
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Consider and Converse: Dayenu

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