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Parshas Pesach 5775

Dayeinu: "Itemizing" Our Way to True Happiness

One of the all-time greatest Passover hits that will be sung at the Seder table this coming Friday night by Jews all across the globe is the Dayeinu song:

Illu, illu hotzi-anu, hotzi-anu mi-mitzrayim, v'lo asah bahem shefatim ...... dayeinu!

But if you think about what the words mean, the song doesn't seem to make any sense at all!

"If G-d had just saved us from slavery, but not punished the wicked Egyptians .... dayeinu, it would have been enough. And had He just killed their firstborn, but not given us their wealth .... dayeinu, it would have been enough."

Dayeinu? Enough? Is that what we Jews say to G-d after He does all these amazing favors for our people? It's like "Yeah, G-d, thanks for splitting that sea over there and saving our lives, but, come to think of it, it would really have been enough if you had just taken us out of Egypt!"

Imagine if your CEO had just promoted you to a top corporate position in the company and you told him, "Gee, thanks for that $1,000,000 bonus, Mr.Gates, but, frankly speaking, it would have been enough for me just to get the corner office and the new Ferrari." That's no way to treat a benefactor, and especially when it's G-d whom we're talking to!

The truth is that the word Dayeinu doesn't mean "enough" in the sense of "thanks, but I would have been just as fine without it". G-d forbid, a Jew doesn't talk like that. We thank G-d and express gratitude for everything we get. What Dayeinu really means - and what makes it such an important song not just for the Passover Seder but for all year round - is that with even one favor and kindness that G-d does for us it's already enough for us to feel blessed and grateful and happy about our lives.

You see, human nature is to take all the really good things that we have in life for granted - even such amazing blessings as our families, our good health, our spouses, our careers, our children etc. And how about all the "little things" that we get to enjoy each day but often don't stop to think about and appreciate - like the beautiful sky we get to see each morning when we get out of bed (blind people don't have that pleasure) or the smell of fresh-baked bread coming out of the oven - or the gazillion other pleasures that we enjoy each day without even realizing it.

And even when we do take the time to think about all the wonderful things that G-d has given us, we generally tend to lump them all together as one - we don't itemize (except when it comes to tax deductions) - so that the ability of all those individual blessings to make us feel happy about our lives is greatly diminished.

To make things even worse, it is also part of human nature for us to "harp" on the bad things that are going on in our lives, but almost never on the good things. If we scratch out the lottery ticket and win $5000, we feel good about it for a day or two and then we kind of forget about it. But if we hit someone's fancy car and have to pay $5000 .... oy do we kvetch about it for days and days, telling everybody we see about our great misfortune!

It's like the old joke:

An old Jewish lady runs up to the policeman, screaming, "I was mugged, I was mugged!" "When did this happen?", asks the officer. "Oh, about thirty years ago", replied the old lady, "but I like to talk about it every now and then!"

This seemingly Jewish practice of "harping" on the bad things that happen to us for a long time, while neatly forgetting about the good stuff pretty soon after it occurs, is a lot older than we think. The Talmud in Yevamos 62b states:

In Israel, when a man would get married, his friends would ask him, "Matza or Motzei?". By Matza they meant: Does the verse "He who has found [matza] a wife has found goodness" apply to you? By Motzei they meant: Or does the verse, "I find [motzei] the woman more bitter than death" apply to you? [In other words, does your wife have a good or bad character? Are you happy or are you miserable?]

Rabbi Elijah of Vilna points out that in reference to a happy marriage, the Talmud uses the past tense - matza, he "found" a good wife, because after a while, the good that we find is taken for granted and forgotten. When the marriage is not going so well, however, the present tense is used - motzei, I "find" this woman more bitter than death. Each day is another day of misery and unhappiness.

And it seems like human nature hasn't changed much over the past 2000 years. Today, as well, when something good happens to us, then at the time we "found" it, we feel great, but after that we sort of let it slide. Only when it comes to the bad things in life do we constantly "find" ourselves rehashing them over and over, just feeling miserable about them. No one is sitting at the bar, nursing a martini, crying to the bartender tears of joy about how wonderful his marriage or job is .... if you know what I mean!

It's no wonder, then, why so many of us, who are really blessed with so much, can still feel unhappy and depressed at times - especially when things are not going so well for us and we're struggling with difficult challenges. After all, if we focus on the bad stuff, constantly rehashing each problem over and over in our minds, while all the blessings and beautiful pleasures that we have going for us we just lump together into one huge blur of "yeah, I guess I have some things to be happy about", or worse, we take them for granted or forget about them entirely, then of course, we will get depressed and down.

This is where the Dayeinu song that we sing at the Passover Seder comes in. Dayeinu is the song in which we, the Jewish people - who have gone through plenty of tough times and could easily wallow in self-pity and depression - look back at all the good that G-d has done for us from the moment we were born as a new nation in Egypt, and we "itemize" each and every miracle and favor and kindness.

And we sing: “If G-d had just freed us from bondage in Egypt and hadn't punished the Egyptians who had enslaved us, dayeinu, it would have been enough of a reason for us to feel blessed and fortunate and happy. But G-d didn't stop there. He even punished the cruel Egyptians, and gave us their wealth, and took care of us in the desert for 40 years, and gave us the Land of Israel, etc. etc. .... and for each and every one of these favors that we received from G-d, we feel truly blessed and are eternally grateful".

And if we want to know the secret of true happiness in life .... it's as simple as singing our own little Dayeinu song to ourselves each morning when we wake up:

"If G-d had just given me the ability to get up this morning and see the beautiful sunrise, but not made my drive to work traffic-free ..... dayeinu, it would have been enough. And Had He just given me the chance to catch a quick glimpse of my two-year-old girl sleeping peacefully in her bed, but not stopped my boss from annoying me at work ..... dayeinu, it would have been enough."

Imagine how our days (and lives) would change, and how incredibly happy we would be - even with all the bad stuff that invariably happens - if we would only sing "dayeinus" like that!

All it takes is for us to sit down and do "the Dayeinu thing" - we need to "itemize" each and every blessing and goodness that we have in life - and we will soon realize that even just one of those blessings is so amazingly wonderful and is already enough of a reason for us to feel so happy and blessed and eternally grateful to G-d.

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