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Dayenu!

Friday, 3 April, 2020 - 4:15 pm

This Shabbat we read the Haggadah in preparation for Pesach. It’s called Shabbat HaGadol.

Next Wednesday night Jews will gather together in their homes – likely without guests – to celebrate Pesach and observe the Seder. It will be like the original Seder in Egypt. No one left their homes then either.

But, it won’t be like a Seder is meant to be. Toward the beginning of the Seder we announce, “Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover.”

As much as we would like to invite guests, we cannot do so this year.

Some Jews are forced to prepare a Seder for the first time. Others are forced to endure a Seder completely alone. (See this fascinating and inspiring article about, “When the Lubavitcher Rebbe Self-Quarantined for the Seder”).

Some families – such as my dear mother and siblings – are sitting in their homes wondering if their loved ones will be able to join them for the Seder. My father is currently hospitalized and intubated due to coronavirus. (Please say a prayer and do a mitzvah on his behalf – יצחק מאיר בן חיה פריידל).

Others are mourning the loss of a loved one.

No one imagined a Festival of Liberation like this.

*

One of the well-known prayers in the Haggadah is called Dayenu. It speaks of the many wonders G-d performed for our ancestors.

Below is a selection of some of the 15 stanzas of this prayer/song.

How many levels of favors has the Omnipresent One bestowed upon us:

If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!

Reading this hymn literally, it’s rather perplexing. Would it really have been okay if G-d split the sea but left us to perish at the hands of the Egyptians?! Would it have been fine for G-d to give us the Torah but leave us to wither in the wilderness?

What Dayenu really means is not that it would have been fine. Rather, we are talking about our relationship with Hashem. Even if Hashem had not done further miracles, the fact that G-d took us out of Egypt is reason enough for us to pledge our unwavering love and devotion to Him. It would have sufficed to establish our complete loyalty.

But, as good Jews, we would still not suffice with an outcome short of splitting the sea and bringing us into the Holy Land – and all the rest of the miracles. I don’t speak of ‘good Jews’ sarcastically. It isn’t simply because we like to kvetch. It’s because – as good Jews – we are supposed to do two opposite things at the same time.

Having faith in G-d does not mean resigning ourselves to negative outcomes. It means believing – despite the hardships we currently face – that it will indeed be good.

The biggest optimist I ever met was the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Despite escaping Nazi Europe, losing family members, being separated from his father for the last two decades of his father’s life, not having children of his own, leading a community in a neighborhood that everyone was fleeing, and facing his own medical challenges – the Rebbe was the happiest man I ever met. Every farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) was marked by lively singing. The Rebbe would encourage the singing and dance. It was the most euphoric experience I have ever had.

The Rebbe, whose birthday is marked on Sunday (11 Nissan), was happy because the Rebbe really believed that it will be good. The Rebbe saw the good in everything – even in circumstances that had not yet unfolded. True faith, the Rebbe taught, is that G-d is infinite enough to cause goodness on our terms. He doesn’t need to sacrifice our physical well-being for some spiritual agenda. He can have it both ways.

And that’s why the Rebbe was also a warrior with G-d. I’ll never forget listening to the Rebbe challenging G-d, demanding that Hashem send Moshiach already. It was not the challenge of doubt. It was the challenge of certainty and courage. The Rebbe taught that G-d wants us to demand from Him. G-d is like a parent that wants to give a child the very best, but also wants the child to ask for it.

To truly believe in G-d means to confront G-d. This is the way of Moshe. This is the way of the Moshe of our generation.

And, this year, as we sit down – alone – at our Seder tables, it’s the way we recite Dayenu. This time it’s our turn to confront Hashem and say, Dayenu – enough.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who kept Your sacred traditions under threat, be it at Chanukah or in Soviet Russia.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who perished in honor of Your Holy Name, be it at the stake or in the gas chambers.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who have celebrated Your festivals, be it in Kathmandu or Buenos Aires.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who have helped each other, in nursing homes and in their kitchens.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who have displayed their pride in You, be it by wearing a yarmulke or by bringing a kosher lunch to their public school.

It should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the generations of Jews who brought Your message to the entire world, sharing the light of Torah and goodness to all.

And, it should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the Jews of today, who are praying and doing mitzvot for total strangers, locking imaginary arms in love and unity.

And, it should suffice for You, Almighty G-d, the souls You have already taken from us during this awful pandemic.

Almighty G-d, do you need more evidence that Your people are devoted to You?! Do You need more sacrifices to demonstrate our unwavering love for You?!

Almighty G-d, DAYENU, it’s enough!

*

As I mentioned, my father has been intubated for a week and a half. Thank G-d, in the last couple days we have seen some improvement.

The ventilator has been lowered to almost the minimum settings and my father is by-and-large breathing virtually on his own.

They have minimized his sedation. Due to this, my family was able to Skype video call with my father today. Baruch Hashem, he was alert.

Although he cannot speak due to the intubation, he was able to nod, and move his hands and arms.

It was surreal to see him finally communicate in some way.

When we were video chatting with him, he suddenly motioned with his hands that we should sing a song. All of us family members, connected on-the-fly through various video media, burst out in joyful and tearful melody. We suddenly sang a moving, uplifting and longing Chassidic melody that expressed our joy at his progress, our yearning for his recovery and our aspirations to be reunited. He 'sang along' with his hands and arms.

As I reflect on this, I cannot help but focus on the fact that my father chose to hear a song, to be upbeat and joyful under such lonely and challenging circumstances.

I can only chalk it up to his training as a Chasid, a follower of the Rebbe. It was spontaneous and instinctive.

And, it’s the joy and determination that we will march forward with this Pesach. We will confront Hashem and demand – but we will do it joyfully, knowing that G-d feels our pain more than we feel it ourselves.

This Pesach, we will confront G-d and say, Dayenu. Enough!

And, we will burst out in song, confident that G-d hears us and will immediately bring an end to our suffering and a beginning to an even greater Redemption than the Exodus from Egypt.

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