Dai-enu is the number one song of the Seder for sheer participation. There are none of the nerves of being the child who is singing Mah Nishtanah, none of the unfamiliar Aramaic of Chad Gadya. Everyone can join in dai-dai-einu – it would have been enough.
There is more than one version of Dai-enu. The Orthodox Dai-enu breaks down the events of the Exodus and then thanks God for each of them in turn: Had God taken us out of Egypt but not executed judgement against the Egyptians Dai-enu, if God had killed their first born but not given us their possessions Dai-enu, given us their possessions but not parted the sea – Dai-enu. The Orthodox Dai-enu takes us from Egyptian slavery to our being given the Temple in the Promised land. The Liberal Dai-enu, which I grew up with now also included in the new Reform Hagaddah, starts with our exodus from Egypt and then goes much further. It moves step by step through Jewish history from Sinai, to the Promised Land, to the diaspora and then the regaining of Israel until it reaches our day and our continuing responsibility to repair the world
Whichever way you sing your Dai-enu, the song is based on what seems at face value to be a ridiculous notion. Has it occurred to you when singing Dai-enu that of course it would not have been enough? If our foundation story saw us being taken out of Egypt but the Red Sea had not been parted – of course it wouldn’t have been enough – our ancestors would have been swamped by the Egyptian army at the shore of the sea and either killed then and there in revenge for the death of the first born or returned to slavery. In the Liberal version of course it wouldn’t have been enough for us to be given the Torah and then for God not to have sent us the prophets. Where would our Jewish understanding of the care for the oppressed come from? How would our mission to better the world have developed?
Of course to bring us to today we needed all of the things to which we say Dai-enu to have happened – and to happen in the correct sequence – no point sending us Manna until we are in the wilderness, No point asking us to try to be a light unto the nations until we have prophetic guidance to tell us what that means.
The point of Dai-enu of course is to express gratitude for every facet of our story as a people. There is, in the words of the Hartmann Hagaddah (A Different Night, p107) “a sense that the Exodus unfolded in many steps each constituting a miracle in itself. The poet feels the living power of each gesture of divine favour, irrespective of the total result…….The principle of Dai-enu of giving thanks for, of appreciating even the partial and incomplete is crucial for living in this uncertain world in which few dreams ever come to total fruition.” It is crucial to the happiness of our relationships where our partners or our children or our parents have little chance of meeting all of our expectations or wishes for them, but we can be thankful for each step that they take in the direction towards us. If we are only appreciative when everything is perfect then we create in our households, our workplaces, our Synagogues a sour, critical and unconstructive atmosphere. Dai-enu says: appreciate each step towards something better.
We could thank God every day for the miracle of being alive and say Dai-enu – that was enough. In learning gratitude to God we also learn to show gratitude to parents, teachers, loved ones and friends, even when their efforts fall short of completeness.
And that is why Afghan and Persian Jews hit each other with leeks whenever they sing Dai-enu – it is almost certainly linked with the Torah story of the Israelites who far from saying thank you for the manna – this is enough – complained and in the Book of Numbers (11:5-6) recalled with longing the onions in Egypt – “We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. Now our gullets are shrivelled. There is nothing at all. Nothing but this Manna to look at”
If we can take the message of Dai-enu forwards with us into the year perhaps we can learn to be thankful for everything that moves us on a little towards happiness, for every effort that someone makes on our behalf, for gestures of care. Besides, if the Israelites had got all their onions leeks garlic and fish just think what their breath would have smelt like!
Rabbi Mark Goldsmith
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.