Dayenu—this year’s Seders will be enough

What changes, and what remains

Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin image

This Pesach none of us really need to ask, "Why is this night  different from all other nights?'" In fact, if I focus on that, I feel heartbroken. "Let all who are hungry come and eat." Not this year. Once again, we will not have the Seder we desire.  

But if I only think about what is different these Seder nights, I will be miserable. So, this Pesach instead of speaking about why this night is different, I choose to focus on what is the same. What remains after so much has changed. And for me what remains, what has always remained for Jews, are the words. The words of our beloved Haggadah. The words that are so familiar, with many passages that we can recite by heart. 

Our Haggadah is the ultimate book of hope. It is good to remember that almost all of it was composed during various periods in our history when Jews were certainly not free. Either they were under foreign rule in the Land of Israel or oppressed in the diaspora countries where they lived.  

None of our ancestors lived with the freedom we have almost come to take for granted. We who are chafing from having our own freedom of movement curtailed for such a temporary amount of time could learn from the optimism of the Haggadah. The  book is infused with such optimism. This year we are slaves, but certainly by this time next year we will be free.  

This is what is the most inspirational message of the Haggadah: Bad times cannot, must not, will not last forever. Certainly, next year must be better than this year. And if it is not, well, there is always the year after. We will say "next year in Jerusalem" and say it over and over for 2,000 years until it becomes a reality. Jews are really good at playing the long game. 

And what do we do while we wait? We tell the story of  God's greatness and God's mercy. We remind ourselves that God is on the side of the lowly slave, not the most powerful ruler of the day. God is not on Pharaoh's side. This is a revolutionary concept that changed the world.  

Until the advent of modern history, rulers believed themselves to rule either by divine right or because they themselves were divine. Our Torah comes to revolutionize the world with the belief that God cares about the oppressed and will fight for them. And we are told if we want to be holy, we better do that too.  

I will also try and remember this year that as we sing the popular Passover song  "Dayenu," that, indeed, it is enough. I have a lovely home. We have heat, hot water, and the ability to Zoom. While I will not be preparing a feast this year, we will have a lovely meal with plenty to eat. My husband and I will share the words of the Haggadah that are so deeply meaningful to both of us. We will probably shed a tear as we remember our deceased parents and what they did and said in Seder's past just as we do every year. We will be grateful we have each other. We want so much more, but we have enough and for this we are grateful. Dayenu.  

This year we will remember what is the same about this beloved holiday.  

And I know we will sing.  

Debra Newman Kamin is the rabbi of Am Yisrael, a Conservative Synagogue in Northfield. 


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