Daily Dayenu

At this year’s Congregational Seder, while we were singing and reciting “Dayenu,” I could not help but be struck by the spiritual confluence of 3 events which took place within the last few months:  my surgery and subsequent illness, my congregation’s celebration of its 150th anniversary, and Passover.

The message of the “Dayenu” is summed up by its title, for the translation of dayenu is “It would have been enough for us.”  The text takes us through the story of the Exodus and breaks it down into each of the blessings our people experienced in the course of that event.  Recounting each of those blessings, we respond by saying “Dayenu!” – if this had been the only blessing which we experienced then “it would have been enough for us.”  But of course, each of those blessings was not the only one from which our people benefited.  The story of the Exodus is one of blessing upon blessing upon blessing.  However, even as we retell the story, we seem to take those manifold blessings for granted.  Therefore the task of “Dayenu” is to recount each individual blessing, and in so doing, reveal to us the magnificent tapestry of blessings which constitute the true miracle of Passover.

The Exodus was not the only time when we have experienced blessing upon blessing upon blessing.  More often than we appreciate, our lives are a tapestry of blessings.  We live among miracles but do not always recognize them.  This brings me back to my congregation’s 150th anniversary and to my recent illness.

The fact that Temple Emanuel of Davenport, Iowa has survived and prospered for 150 years is the direct result of a long chain of blessings.  There have been so many dayenu moments in the history of our congregation and there have been so many dayenu people – both laity and clergy – who have made that history and our very existence possible.  Each of these moments and each of these people was a special gift – a blessing – for our congregation.  Each one brought to us their own brand of miracle.  Indeed, it was their collective miracles which made us the congregation we are today.  But whether or not we realize it, the blessings and the miracles continue today.  They are to be found in so many of the people who give and do so much and who labor to keep our congregation alive, vibrant and meaningful.  These are our current dayenu people and they are busy continuing to create our dayenu moments.

As for my illness, it has awakened within me a sense of the dayenu in the course of daily living.  There is an old joke about a doctor coming out of surgery, informing the family that the operation was successful but the patient died.  These days I resonate with that joke for my surgery was successful but I almost died from  post surgical blood clots.  Indeed, I would be dead today had it not been for my coincidentally going to the Mayo Clinic for my 6-week post surgical follow-up.  After experiencing my symptoms and being instructed by the physician’s assistant in my pulmonologist’s office that all I needed to do was depend more on my asthma medications, it was the doctors at the Mayo Clinic who quickly picked up on the seriousness of my life threatening condition and hospitalized me.  There is nothing like a near death experience to help one to appreciate the fragility and impermanence of our lives!  We tend to live our lives as if there will always be a tomorrow when the harsh reality is that there is no guarantee that there will be a tomorrow.  Today – this very moment – may be all that we have left.  If we find ourselves awakening in the morning, we should recognize that we have been blessed with the gift of another day.  In fact, in our Jewish tradition, there is a prayer we are supposed to offer upon awakening – “Modeh ani lifanecha, Melech chai v’kayam, shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemla.  Rabbah emunatecha – I give thanks before You, everlasting Sovereign, for You have returned my soul to me.  Great is Your faithfulness.”  Every morning is a dayenu moment.  Life is far shorter than we choose to believe.  All our moments are precious, for any one of them could be our last.  It is up to us to choose whether we treasure them – whether we embrace them with the appreciation of a dayenu – or we squander them.  Likewise, when it comes to illness and the other trying times in our lives, we are quick to discover who are our dayenu people; who are those people whose concern and caring bring into our darkest moments the brilliant miracle of a healing of the spirit.  There are too many people who we take for granted; too many people who we think of in terms of “What have you done for me lately.”  Yet the fact that they populate our lives and fill it with their love and concern, and their eager willingness to help and comfort, is most certainly deserving of a heartfelt dayenu; a dayenu for each and every one of them.  They each are a blessing which we should never take for granted.

May each and every one of us come to appreciate the dayenu moments and the dayenu people in our lives!

Explore posts in the same categories: Appreciating Every Moment, Counting our blessings, Dayenu, God, Health Challenges, Henry Karp, Iowa, Karp, Living a Fuller Life, Modeh Ani Prayer, My 25th Anniversary Serving Temple Emanuel, Passover, Pesach, Quad Cities Jewish Community, Temple Emanuel of Davenport, Temple Emanuel's 150th Anniversary, The Passage of Time

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3 Comments on “Daily Dayenu”

  1. Anne-Marie Hislop Says:

    Another wonderful ‘sermon,’ Henry! If there is one thing that is relevant to modern American culture it is the issue of being able to look at what we have and say that it is enough. I used to, when I walked in Davenport (in part your neighborhood), often think about those houses with 3 car garages where all the cars sit in the driveway because the 3 garages are stuffed with things. There is a double way that such scenes apply to your topic – first that folks seem to have a singular inability to know that they have ‘enough’ stuff, and second there is a question of whether all that purchasing is trying to compensate for not recognizing the blessings in their lives in terms of people, health, the beauty of nature etc.

    • ravkarp Says:

      Thank you, Anne-Marie, for your wonderful comment! I agree with you wholeheartedly. For so many people, the accumulating of material possessions is a means of self-affirmation. They measure their “success” by how much they own and whether or not they own the latest, greatest model. But such material satisfaction can only take us so far and no farther. When we center on the acquisition of objects, no matter how much we acquire, we are never fully satisfied, and what satisfaction we experience is only momentary. For what is new today is old tomorrow. What is cutting edge today is old technology tomorrow. When tomorrow arrives, we find ourselves feeling that same old emptiness; once again needing the latest and the greatest.

      If we but turn our attention away from our material possessions and toward our daily blessings, we will find that these markers of true “success” never go out of style. The love of family can be a fulfilling today as it was last year – in fact is can become more so. The pleasure we experience as we encounter the countless gifts of nature never grows old.

      In the Jewish sacred text, PIRKE AVOT, which records the wisdom of the early sages, there is the statement, “Who is rich? The one who is content with what they have!” That contentment is found in the counting of our everyday blessings.

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