(First published in Yeshiva Heichal Hatorah’s Hagadas Haheichal, 5778)
There is something about Dayenu that doesn’t ring true. When your birthday comes along, and your spouse gives you a gift, you accept graciously. But if parents or children give you other gifts, you also accept graciously. Who would think of saying – Dayenu – it would have been enough?
So granted, we ask “how many stages of kindness were there?” How many kindnesses did God bestow upon us? We are so accustomed to the conclusion Dayenu, it would have been enough, but it is not always logical. This doesn’t even refer to those clauses that cannot stand alone, for example, “if G-d had given us their money but not split the sea for us,” in which the next stage is indispensable. After all, if God had given us their money but not split the sea, we would have died wealthy, a small comfort. The question is a different one: which stage would we really have not wanted? Which one would we have done without? To which of G-d’s kindnesses would we have actually said, in real time, Dayenu? Only that would have been enough, and no more! I cannot think of one. So what is Dayenu?
Furthermore, Gemara Shabbat 32a makes this point, quoting a verse from the haftara on Shabbat Hagadol: “I will shower them with blessings beyond their capacity to absorb,” and the Gemara explains “until their lips wither from saying ‘enough.’” We will have to plead with God to tell Him to stop bombarding us with blessings! But who are we kidding? Who do we know who thinks like that, who would spurn blessings from Above?
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Me’Eliyahu, II, 222) explains that there are two types of people who rebuff the gifts of others. One person rejects favors because he does not want to be beholden to another, doesn’t want to have to thank them, and doesn’t ever want to have to repay the kindness. That is a lamentable trait, but that is not our Dayenu. The other person who is uncomfortable with the benevolence of others is one who feels that he can never properly repay the debt, he can never fully show his gratitude, and that he is undeserving of the kindness – so he would rather not have it.
We are in the second category. In regard to God’s blessings, we should feel Dayenu – how can we take more? How can we be given even more opportunities? Who are we that we should merit even more of His goodness?
Rav Dessler answered that there is a higher level than even saying Dayenu and meaning it. That is when a person completely nullifies his will before God’s, and says: if God gives this to me – health, prosperity, opportunity, family, and tranquility – then He wants me to have it, and I have no alternative but to carry out His will. Who am I that I would disdain His beneficence? Who am I that I would even think of refusing what He has given me? This is the meaning of the prophet’s statement, as the Gemara explained it, “until our lips wither from saying ‘enough’” – that we will reach a stage in which we no longer have the strength, desire, or motivation to say ‘enough.’ We just accept what God gives us and pledge to fulfill His will.
The Yom Tov of Pesach was the first opportunity we had to behold God’s goodness, and to respond with faith and commitment to each stage and with each individual act of kindness. Every year we account for how we have used His blessings and the unique opportunities of our generation to perfect ourselves and purify our nation. And in so doing, we vindicate our Exodus from Egypt and God’s plan for His people, and await the era when He will again redeem us from our troubles, when He will soon rebuild His Great House and redeem us, speedily and in our days.
Chag Kasher v’sameach to all!