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Dayeinu – דיינו

Parashat Tzav – Shabbat HaGadol 5780

What are you grateful for these days?

It is easy to ask this question at times when our lives go on with their normal rhythm and routine. We might halt and enjoy this question as a meaningful spiritual exercise to count our blessings. Or when we hit a bump in the road or a rough spot the answer to this question can evoke comfort and courage to keep going. 

But what now? What, when there seems to be more potholes than the road? When our lives are unhinged and we can’t even foresee how this all will end?

This week we read in Parashat Tzav about the Thanksgiving offering (the תודה) of the individual in response to having been spared from disaster, which the Talmud classifies as “someone who has safely completed a dangerous journey, recovered from illness, been released from confinement or survived other dangers” (JPS commentary to Etz Chaim, p. 618) 

At first glance, this year the Torah is completely juxtaposed to our current reality with spiking cases of COVID-19 and the related death, with people being laid off, businesses closed, elders confined to their rooms without even close relatives able to visit and touch. Uncertainty, pain, suffering, and loss all around. It’s easy when we can identify with the teachings of the Torah and find a nice meaningful message in our reading. But in times like this, with the “mood” of the biblical text in such sharp contrast with my experience of the world currently, I feel the challenge to dig deeper into my own understanding to make sense of this reading and what it might hold in store for us, precisely because I find it so challenging. 

As I am studying my various Haggadot and their commentaries this week in preparation of the Seder night, I, of course, came across “Dayenu”  – “It would have been enough”  – the song so many of us sing together on the Seder night.   This song lists many kindnesses God showed to the people of Israel on their long journey from slavery to freedom. In total 15 steps towards redemption in Israel’s history. This piyut (liturgical poem) mimics the Psalms of Ascent that the Levites would sing on the stairs of the Temple courtyard ascending closer to the sanctuary step by step. 

What caught my attention this year is the structure of each stanza: ”If you only had done x for us but not done y for us, it would have been good enough for us”.  Such a pattern, I believe, can only be written, after one can look back, and yet it stresses specifically how we should be thankful for every single event – unrelated to what came after. 

We currently live in a time, where we’ve all become painfully aware that we truly do not know what comes next. We are on that staircase – still writing and adding more stanzas of our lives. I’d like to make two suggestions to you for this Shabbat and the coming week:

  1. In the Thanksgiving paragraph our Amida prayer called “Modim” we say (some of us say 3x a day): “We thank you God that you are the Rock of our lives the Shield of our salvation in every generation…..We thank you for Your miracles that happen for us every day  and your wonders and kindnesses that are with us evening, morning and noon……”

I’d like to invite you to take this Shabbat to think about:

What are the things in your life that you still can be grateful for these days, 

and are you making good use of these gifts, do you enjoy them to the fullest?

Or 

2.  If the above is hard to do maybe you might take a bird’s eye perspective and look back to examine all those many steps in your past and identify the things that you can be grateful for. Can you come up with 15 things in your life that you were on the receiving end of a kindness or a small miracle that you are thankful for? Maybe write your own Dayenu this year!  

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Stein Kokin