The other day, as I was talking with my daughter about our plans for the upcoming Seder, she asked me, “Mom, what’s your favorite part of the Seder?” I paused, realizing that I had never thought about that question before. I found myself answering, “Dayenu is my favorite part of the Seder, because it gives us a chance to really experience gratitude.” What I was thinking, but couldn’t articulate at the moment, was that Dayenu carves out for us a structure in which we can truly pay attention to that for which we are grateful.
The next evening, we gathered with friends and family to observe the first Seder. Our hosts had taken the time and effort to compile their own wonderful and personal Haggadah, taking readings from a number of different sources. When we came to Dayenu, I was moved by a reading by Sheila Peltz Weinberg (from Levitt and Strassfeld’s A Night Of Questions - A Passover Haggadah), which eloquently expressed that which I had been groping towards:
Dayenu signifies deep acceptance and gratitude. We acknowledge the present moment. In the affirmation of dayenu, we are fully present to the preciousness of each act of redemption and care - dividing the sea, leading us across, caring for us in the desert...we receive each moment with love. This acceptance allows us to move to the next moment and receive the waiting gift. When we greet each moment with conditions, judgments and expectations – “well, this isn’t quite where we need to be” or “wait a second, this is not what we were promised” or “hey, what’s coming next?” – our expectations keep us tense. We are not free. We are not available to receive the next moment. Our fantasies about the past and our desire to control the future cut us off from the wonders of this moment. They shut us in a prison of disappointment and suffering. Dayenu is a great liberator. It is a jolt into the presence of awe, compassion, attention, and freedom.
I am as prone as anyone to get caught up in judging each moment, in expectations of myself or others, in a sense of disappointment, fear, or anger if these expectations aren’t met. My expectations indeed keep me tense, and they imprison me. I think this is true for all of us. As we continue to observe the festival of Pesach, I hope that we allow ourselves to be jolted into paying attention to those things in our lives which are “waiting gifts” and that we feel awe and gratitude for the “wonders of this moment.” In this spirit, I wish all of you a Happy Passover.