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Rabbi Altein


By Rabbi Altein, March 31, 2011

One of the classic parts of the Passover Seder is the Dayeinu.  The Hebrew word Dayeinu means “it would have been enough for us!” The Dayeinu phrase is repeated again and again at the end of a list of kindnesses that G-d did to the Jewish Nation during the Exodus. After mentioning each act of kindness we say, “Even if G-d would not have done any more, that act of kindness alone would have been enough to be forever filled with thankfulness.'

“If G-d would have taken us out of Egypt and had not carried out judgment against our persecutors, Dayeinu—it would have been enough for which to be thankful, etc.”

Some of these phrases seem, though, difficult to understand. We say, “If G-d had split the Red Sea but had not taken us through the sea on dry land, Dayeinu—it would have been enough for which to be thankful.” At first glance, this does not make sense at all. What benefit would there have been in G-d having split the Red Sea if Jews would not have crossed the sea to safety from the Egyptian Army that pursued them? What thanks would we have given G-d if Jews would have witnessed the Red Sea miraculously split, only to be captured and slaughtered by the Egyptians?

Later in the Dayeinu there is another phrase that is just as troubling. We say, “If G-d had brought us to Mount Sinai but had not given us the Torah, Dayeinu—it would have been enough for which to be thankful.” What purpose would there have been in standing at the foot of Mount Sinai if the Torah would not be given? Why would we be offering thanks for a useless trip to a mountain in the wilderness if not for the fact that we got the Torah there?

The explanation to these two questions is given in the teachings of Chassidut. When Jews stood at Mount Sinai, they experienced two great events. The first and foremost event was that all of Jewry saw and heard G-d speak to them. Several million Jews heard the voice of G-d call out “I am G-d that took you out of Egypt.”

Never before and never again in all human history, did an entire nation hear G-d speak. Many nations have their prophets and religious leaders. But only individuals have claimed direct communication from G-d. Judaism is unique in recording G-d’s revelation as an historic event experienced by millions. Dayeinu! For that itself we should give thanks, even if we had not received the Torah and its laws. Afterwards, we give another thank-you for having received the Torah and the beautiful way of life that it teaches us.

A similar explanation is given to the earlier phrase of Dayeinu. The famous Talmudic commentary Tosefot points out that the Jews did not have to cross the Red Sea in order to travel from Egypt to Israel. They could have avoided the Sea by travelling north and G-d could have saved them from the Egyptians in countless other ways. The point of splitting the Red Sea was to give the new and fledgling Jewish Nation a deep spiritual experience so that they would feel the closeness of G-d and be better prepared to stand at Mount Sinai.

That is the meaning of the words, “If G-d had split the Red Sea but had not taken us through the sea on dry land, Dayeinu!” If G-d had not taken us through the sea, he would have saved us in other ways. But the split sea served another noble purpose. It gave the Jews a spiritually uplifting experience, and that is what we have to be thankful for.

The seventh day of Passover (this year Wednesday April 15) is Yom-Tov. On that day we celebrate the Crossing of the Red Sea. It’s important to reflect on the events that we celebrate on Passover, not only because of their historical value but because of the inspiration that they give us in being better Jews.

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