I go running six days of the week. I lace up for 6 or 8 miles in the early morning darkness, wearing a blinking LED vest that rivals the holiday lights on my route. Mostly, I pass the miles analyzing decisions I need to make at work. Sometimes I’ll have a thought I don’t want to forget. I stop, pull off my gloves, and peck out a note-to-self on my phone with frozen fingers. More often than not I never review these notes, but on a recent morning run I started thinking about Deyanu, and mile after mile I keep returning to my ambivalence with the 15 verses of this 9th century song.
I love Deyanu’s melody and its message of gratitude, but I pondered its insincerity. If G-d had parted the Red Sea but not led the Israelites across, would that really have been enough? If G-d had led the Israelites into the desert and let them starve, would that have been enough? If G-d had given the Israelites the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, but not established them as a nation, would that have been enough? As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m thinking about Deyanu in a more contemporary context. Is it enough that slavery was abolished? No. Is it enough that President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act? No. Is it enough that Black men earn 67 cents for every dollar earned by white men? No.
The Jewish concept of tikkun olam recognizes that Dayneu doesn’t tell the whole story. G-d’s creation is awesome, but unfinished. While Dayenu reminds us to be grateful for what is, tikkun olam tells us that what exists isn’t good enough. But we don’t need to choose between naive satisfaction or endless discontent. We can stand in wonder of all the beauty, love, and miracles in our lives, while working for a more just world. Dayenu is the beginning of the story, but not the end.
When we come together for our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat, join me in writing your own Dayenu. If we had a world without violence, that would be enough. If all people are treated fairly and equitably, that would be enough. If no child has to go to bed hungry, that would be enough. Of course not, it won’t be enough. But we are writing the story and it isn’t over yet. In 2021, join me in celebrating all that is miraculous and holy, while working together to bring the world closer to enough.