Dayenu: It Would Have Been Enough
One of the most popular songs at the Passover Seder is Dayenu, a poem of gratitude to God for all the miracles he bestowed on the Jews during and after the Exodus from Egypt.
Each stanza mentions one miracle and states that if God had only performed that miracle, dayenu: it would have been enough.
(The pronunciation is die-AY-nu.)
In the song, we enumerate 15 miracles that God performed for the Jews between the Exodus and building the Temple in Jerusalem, including:
- Bringing us out of Egypt
- Splitting the Red Sea
- Providing the manna in the desert
- Giving us the Sabbath
- Giving us the Torah
- Bringing us to the land of Israel
Dayenu is about recognizing sufficiency: that each miracle would have been enough, even without the other gifts.
And yet, when we view it now, in retrospect, it’s easy to look at these miracles and gifts and ask: wasn’t the whole point of the Exodus from Egypt to give the Jews the Torah and bring them to Israel?
How can we say that anything less than that would have been enough?
Perhaps, in the moment, each of these gifts felt like enough. But, having received all of these gifts, it’s hard to imagine feeling that anything less than all of it would be enough.
A Repeating Pattern
This pattern plays out in every area of our lives.
You get used to a certain standard of living. You acclimate to having a certain amount of money or space, or living with certain luxuries.
The more you have and the more you accumulate, the harder it is to imagine that having any less will feel like enough.
In fact, this is what keeps people stuck. Much of my work is helping people who know they need to make a change but are resisting that change. They resist because changing might mean they have to live with less than what they have now.
So they hold on to a home that’s too big because they can’t imagine downsizing to a smaller space.
Or they stay in a job they don’t like because they can’t imagine taking a pay cut.
They don’t take a leap with their big idea because they don’t want to lose their comforts.
They stay in a relationship that isn’t working because they don’t want to be alone.
I remember traveling through Italy in 2000 without a cell phone — not even a “dumb” phone. I carried around the actual guide books and used payphones to call ahead to make reservations. It feels so quaint.
Now, I land in a new area and immediately pull up Google maps to plot gyms and yoga studios. I can pull up ClassPass to find fitness classes and AirBnB to find places to stay. All from my phone. Wherever I am.
Once we acclimate to something, the inevitable question arises:
How could we live without it?
The Problem of “Not Enough”
It’s hard to imagine how living with less could ever feel “enough.”
And that’s the problem.
In the quest for more, better, faster, we tend to feel that what we have is not enough.
And, by extension, that we are not enough.
We get caught up in the trap of constantly comparing ourselves to our friends and neighbors, striving to get more, make more, do more, have more, be more.
No matter how much we do, the hole only seems to grow bigger and deeper. We can never seem to fill it. Nothing we do or have ever feels like enough.
And when what we have feels like it’s not enough, how could we ever think of living with less?
This is the point of Dayenu: to remind us that what we have and who we are is enough.
Dayenu reminds us that each miracle, in its time, was a gift and a blessing. It was enough. From our position now we can’t see it, but had God stopped there, we would have made it work. It would have been enough. We would have survived, perhaps even thrived.
Dayenu reintroduces us to the concept of sufficiency.
You have enough. You do enough. You are enough. Just as you are.
If you had less, if you lost everything, you would still be ok. You would adapt. In fact, you might even realize that in having less, you have more. Because in having less, you would have freedom from the stuff that holds you back.
A Slave to the Pursuit of More
It’s not that having money, space, and better technology are “bad.” These things can improve our lives in many ways. The problem is when we believe that we need these things to feel enough.
The more things we feel we need, the more enslaved we are. What we own owns us. We become a slave to the bigger house, the vacations, the technology, to the job and income that funds it all, and to the things that many people would call luxuries and conveniences of life.
Shackled by golden handcuffs.
The fear of losing what we have creates our suffering.
And the endless pursuit of more wears us out.
The only thing that will ever fill the hole is the realization that you are enough and have enough.
The Freedom of Enoughness
When you find that place of enoughness, then you are free. Because you’re no longer enslaved by your things or your aspirations to get those things.
It all starts with Dayenu. Sufficiency. Enoughness.
Freedom comes from realizing that you have enough, you do enough, and you are enough. Just as you are.