NiSh’ma: Dayenu

On this page, we offer three takes on the first line in the Passover song, “Dayenu”. Our commentators discuss the frailty of the Israelites as they left Egypt and how they anticipated and acknowledged God’s miracles.

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Passover Haggadah

אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָֽנוּ מִמִּצְרַֽיִם, דַּיֵּנוּ

“If God had only taken us out of Egypt, that would have been enough.”

NiSh’ma: Dayenu

Hannah DresnerBy Hannah Dresner:

Midrash Rabba (Kohelet 3:15) helps us to understand the merit of pausing after each of the episodes chronicled in the “Dayenu,” recalling that the Israelites were traumatized and in need of respite. They needed to eat rejuvenating manna and drink from healing wells before standing at Mount Sinai. Each event was “enough” in its moment; each required integration. But the implication is that redemption, alone, was not enough, and all else would follow in due course. Through this lens, redemption from Egypt already contains within it the eventuality of revelation at Sinai, conflating into that initiating episode a series of historical events that unfolded through the period of the Great Temple.

The Sfat Emet (Reb Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger), teaches that in seeing ourselves as having participated in the Exodus, we must imagine emancipation from our own narrow straits, in an ever-occurring deliverance. Just as the Torah received at Sinai was an extension of the biblical redemption, so, too, “the redemptions of the future will be followed by quests into unknown territory, as we search for the new paths that will be created.” (Sfat Emet 3:86)

In other words, we must do everything in our power to work toward liberation from the bondage of our time, and we must understand that this work will lead to a new, as yet unknown, torah that supports liberation from contemporary categories of evil. Emancipation in our moment is “enough” when it moves beyond tokenism, when it leads us to commandments that dissolve the enslaving constructs that pervade our society, and when it brings us to personal and collective sacrifice in the great temple devoted to human dignity.

NiSh’ma: Dayenu

Zoë KleinBy Zoë Klein:

If God had only taken us out of Egypt, the likelihood is that we would have gone right back. We would have returned for the fish and onions, and 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.

In Los Angeles, 50 percent of youth emancipated from foster care become homeless. Nationally, 60 percent of sex-trafficked youth come from foster care. One such young woman, Roberta E. wrote: “I honestly feel I would have been better off in an abusive home with a father who beat me; at least he would have taught me how to get a job and pay the bills.”

Is it enough, God, that You freed us after You allowed us to labor and languish for 400 years? Thanks for looking after Moses, but where were You when the rest of our children were drowning? And why now? Are we only convenient disposables on the campaign trail of Your glory? After all, our sacred texts make it clear that it was all about You when we read: “God saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.” (Psalm 106:8)

God chose us to be partners in repairing this world. We’re grateful, but also dissatisfied. Now, it’s time roll up our sleeves and continue getting this place cleaned up.

NiSh’ma: Dayenu

Alicia SvigalsBy Alicia Svigals:

The fifteen stanzas of the Passover song “Dayenu” depict how we were rescued and then rescued again, and given gifts on top of gifts. But would even that first redemption have been enough, as the song has it? Pausing to appreciate how our road might have forked differently at each point in that miraculous story, we might say that the Exodus alone was already more than we could have hoped for. But, once redeemed, maybe it’s our turn to emulate God. Just being grateful for freedom is, in fact, not nearly enough.

Hannah Dresner writes that the emancipation is “enough” if, in our own time, it leads us to “dissolve the enslaving constructs that pervade our society, and … brings us to personal and collective sacrifice in the great temple devoted to human dignity.” This makes me think: In the urgent here and now, the refugee crisis reminds us of just this understanding of Jewish history, and of the meaning of our emancipation.

We fled Egypt in desperation. Are we going to reject present-day refugees from Syria and elsewhere? And, if “redeeming” them comes with a certain degree of risk, then couldn’t choosing to accept that risk be just the sacrifice in the name of human dignity that Dresner imagines? We make this sacrifice remembering that we were also strangers in a strange land — and not just in Egypt, but also in one country after another. Our own fears can be a form of slavery too, and breaking free of them can taste as sweet as manna.

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