Dayenu: When Is It Enough

imagesSitting at a friend’s seder table, full and content and a bit bleary-eyed, I was awakened by this lovely sermon that was to be given the next morning. Welcome, guest blogger Rabbi Rosalie M. Osian. Thanks for sharing your words.

A Yahrzeit Sermon on Pesach – 2016

Rabbi Rosalie M. Osian

New York, New York

My dear friends,

This week I observed the Yahrzeit of my dear father Elya Markowitz, who died in 1989. This week my husband observed the death anniversary of his mother, Mary Giamundo, who died in 2011. My father died before I met John and therefore he and Mary never met. They were very similar people in nature. Hard workers. Humble. Practical. Wise. They were poor and at times impoverished. They suffered from illness. Rarely complained. They might have thought they came from worlds too far apart to be acquainted. Mary’s father was one of the founders of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Smithmill, PA. My father was the Gabbai and Sheliach Tzibur (Service Leader) in most of the synagogues near where he lived. Spiritually, they were closer than they would have imagined.

They were both deeply faithful to God. They had their share of bargaining. Mary would say, “I was sick. I promised God that if He gets me through it, I will have another baby.” Time passed. John was born. Fifteen years after her last childbirth. Elya’s promise before and after the Shoah that there was no bargaining who he was as a Jew. His commitment to Torah was unshakeable. For both of them, in their darkest times and in their happiest times, prayer was on on their lips. Gratitude. I am reminded of the song we sing at our seder table, “Dayenu” which means; “It would have been enough.”

This up-beat Passover song is over a thousand years old. It appeared first in the medieval period, in the 9th century, attributed to Rav Amram. (Amram Bar Sheshna, head of the Jewish Talmud Academy of Sura in Babylon, who arranged the complete liturgy of the synagogue.)

The song is an expression of gratitude to God. It is arranged in 15 stanzas representing 15 gifts God bestowed upon Israel, divided into 3 sections:

Leaving slavery (leaving Egypt, justice, first born, wealth)

The miracles (the sea, dry land, drowning, needs manna)

Being present with God (Shabbat, Mt. Sinai, Torah, Israel, Temple)

American singer-songwriter Ben Kweller (Benjamin Lev Kweller, b. 1981) included the word Dayenu in one of his songs. Ben Kweller explains Dayenu to the masses:

when something good happens to you and then another good thing happens to you. What you had in the first place would have been enough, if nothing else happens to you. It’s all about counting your blessings and staying grounded. (1)

Some mornings after my alarm rings and I wake up, I take a few minutes to catch a snooze. I try to assemble the day’s schedule. Imagine it happening. Maybe I dwell on the remnants of some dream. When I get up, a Dayenu is conveyed through the prayer, Modeh Ani. ‘I am grateful dear God for restoring my soul to me in compassion, Rabbah emunatech, You are faithful beyond measure’. (Another trans. ‘Your faithful Eternal trust…’)

Modeh Ani is the first gratitude prayer uttered when we wake in the morning. It is a major Dayenu. A testament of the duality of the relationship we seek to establish/understand with the Divine. It is a lifelong quest. We say, You, God, are faithful beyond measure…you trust in us. You, God need us too.

At our seder tables we raise four cups of wine and bless them. Each cup symbolizes the Israelite physical and spiritual journey from Egypt and each would have been enough.

Freedom from burdens

Deliverance from slavery


Joining of Jews to God

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch makes an important point regarding the difference between liberation and redemption. He says that liberation is only the beginning of freedom. Freedom is a state of physicality. Redemption is the alliance with God, to serve God. (2) It’s a spiritual state. It’s an invitation to what, in Heschel’s words, is “the ‘intimacy’, the quasi-identity between God and man, the meeting between the Divine and human will.”

In Heschel’s poem, ‘Ikh un Du’ he writes:

“Am I not –You?

Are you not –I?

I live in Me and in You.

Through your lips goes a word from Me to Me.

From Your eyes drips a tear – it’s source is Me.

When a need pains You, alarm me!

When you miss a human being –

Tear open my door!

You live in Yourself. You live in me.”


When we say the word “Dayenu”, “It would have been enough,” it conveys a sense of acceptance and trust in the “Ikh un Du” relationship.

But what if, for whatever reason, the good things that happen to a person are not enough? What if the bitter outweighs the sweet in such proportions that gratitude cannot be uttered from one’s lips? Then, dear friends, what is the meaning of Dayenu when it is not enough?

ONE answer is in the Passover Seder and the Haggadah. Passover doesn’t lie. Passover tells the truth about suffering, affliction and struggle. Passover asks questions. Bitter herbs are eaten. We dip in saltwater. We humble ourselves with unleavened bread. Slavery is named. Plagues are named. We process.

I want to put forth an affirmation of the duality of Dayenu. YES, it is Todah, gratitude, for what fulfills. Indeed, there are aspects of “it would have been enough.” Yet, if we are NOT in that particular state of grace, we are permitted to honor the feeling that says: “Today, it does not feel like it’s enough. Today, there is struggle. Today I need a little more, dear God. I hope, and long for the day, I will feel Dayenu.”

Like my father Elya, and my mother in law, Mary, and others, may we be inspired to find our way. Through the blessings over wine, food, and Hallel, we affirm the hope found in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“may the Divine AND the human will meet . . . and may that will be one.”

In memory of our loved ones not here this day . . .

L’Shanah Ha-ba-ah B’Shlemut! In the year to come . . . more whole!

A zissen Pesach.

Rabbi Rosalie

1. Wikipedia 

2. Hirsch, The Jewish Year



New York, New York

unnamedRabbi Rosalie M. Osian is a Hospice Chaplain for over a decade serving at Caring Hospice Services of New York where she provides clinical pastoral care to multi-faith clients, families, and staff.  She considers her clients  ‘living human documents’ and builds professional relationships based on a construct she created called  the ‘Five Touchstones of Spiritual Strengths’ derived from Torah teachings.

‘Presence’ – The person receives the gift of care, and can join together to walk the path of the Divine (Genesis 18:1-6).

‘Being‘ – An openness and permission to experience one’s self.   “I am that I am, I am Who I am, I Will Be what I will be” (Exodus3:14).

‘Listening’ – Listening with profound stillness so that the still small voice within can be heard (High Holiday Liturgy).

‘Hope’ -The Divine intention as promised in the rainbow, of hope and non-abandonment (Genesis 9:12-17).

‘Joy’ –  A person can ‘draw water with joy’ (Isaiah 12:3), and access spiritual resources to create an inner calm.

Rabbi Osian is also the founder of Derech Chayim-Cycle of Life Pastoral Services which provides individual spiritual care in private and community settings.  She is married, resides in Manhattan, and enjoys travel, writing and music.


About Gail F. Nalven

Jewish Educator, Rabbi, Tefillah Leader, Songleader, Teacher, and Freelance Jew
This entry was posted in Judaism, Pesach, Spirituality and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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