It Would Not Have Been Enough!
(Read these words before singing Dayenu)
"Dayenu," says the Haggadah, "it would have been enough." But would it? Is it? Today we are forced to grapple with a world that is not full of sufficiencies, but of insufficiencies.
If we were to maintain peace in our own land, but ignore the destruction of an entire people in another... It would not be enough.
If we were to prevent the destruction of one people, but not stop the wars that kill others...It would not be enough.
If we were to end those wars, but not disarm those who bring terror...It would not be enough.
If we were to disarm those who bring terror, but not prevent the terror that comes from hunger and homelessness...It would not be enough.
If we were to feed all who hunger and shelter all who are homeless, but neglected to feed the minds of our young through excellence in public education...It would not be enough.
If we were to provide excellence in public education, but fail to support the ongoing artistic and creative nourishment of the human spirit...It would not be enough.
For the freedom we seek is a freedom from tyranny of the soul and the body.
When a day at last arrives and everyone shall sit beneath their vine and their fig tree, and no one is any longer afraid, then and only then...
Dayenu! At long last, it will be enough!
Adapted from the Sholom Aleichem Club HaggadahLearning to Accept What is Enough
(You might read this story before singing Dayenu.)
For the first time, my mother cannot really help prepare our Seder meal. She wanders around the kitchen, pausing at the counter, the stove, the table, as if to collect something lost.
"What are you doing?" she asks. "Setting the table," I say.
"How many people are coming?"
"Ten," I say, so irritated that I spill a spoonful of cooking oil. Mom has already asked me these questions several times in the last ten minutes. For the past couple of years, Mom's speech has been like an old record that skips. The simple anchors of life - the who, what, where and when of things - often elude her. "Did you remember the macaroons for dessert?" she asks, a fork in hand. "Yes." I say, again, I try to be soft.
"How many people are coming?" she asks.
"Ten," I say, impatience pinching my throat. "Let's take a break and go for a walk."
I wipe my hands and look for the house keys. They are not on their usual hook or in my purse or on the kitchen table. I feel a flutter of shame over the impatience I felt just this morning, when Mom misplaced her glasses for the second time. I spot the keys and we leave for our walk. As we walk, my mother tells me the story of her father leaving the household. She tells me about sitting on the steps, age fourteen, waiting and waiting for her father to return. I let the familiar tale flow into me. I remember as much about my mother's childhood as I do my own.
"Did you get the macaroons?"
"Yes, I did." My voice is stern and prim, like a school-teacher with a child who simply won't learn the lesson. "Did I already ask you that? I'm sorry." Mom says. "It's okay." Sadness fills me, not anger. "What's it like to not remember?"
"I start a thought," Mom says, "and the end disappears. If I try too hard to catch it, that makes it worse. So I let go, and eventually I get the answer. Of course, by that time, something else is going on." Mom smiles and shakes her head.
That evening, we celebrate Passover with a Seder, which my father leads. In the past, my mother cooked the soup, prepared the charoset, arranged the Seder plate, filled the wine glasses, and blessed the fruit of the vine. This year, I am the one shaping the matza balls and chopping the apples. I feel a stab of loneliness as I stand to say the blessing over the wine.
As the Seder progresses, my father tells our guests about "Dayenu," a Hebrew word that means, "Even that would have been enough."
"You repeat it," he explains, "after each of the sentences I'm going to read. It's a way of expressing gratitude." He began, "if God had divided the sea without leading us onto dry land."
"Dayenu," we all repeat.
"If God had taken care of us in the desert for forty years without feeding us manna."
And so we follow the journey of ancestors, promising we will be satisfied with whatever we get.
As I repeat my gratitude and pledge my satisfaction with life as it is, I think of my mother. I miss her remembering all the details of my life. I miss her knowing where everything is in the silverware drawer. I miss telling her something I'm proud of and having her remember it. And yet, she is the living symbol of Dayenu, graciously accepting her failing mind and making the best of it.
A moment later, my mother reaches over and pats my wrist. I see the patina of softness that burnishes her, the loving core that goes far beyond mundane daily detail. I see the woman who has loved me even during the years I wandered through my own difficult wilderness.
As we sip our sweet wine and break off a piece of matza, I create my own litany:
If my mother gets pleasure out of life, Dayenu. If she remembers who I am,
"This is a lovely Seder," she says. "You did a beautiful job putting this all together."
I press her hand, look into her smiling face and say, "Dayenu."