Have you ever noticed the FedEx arrow? The next time you see one of the company’s trucks, look closely at the “Ex” part of it. In particular, at the white space between the two letters. Believe it or not, the logo’s designer didn’t plan it to look that way, and only noticed it after creating the iconic emblem.
L’havdil elef havdalos, the letter beis hidden inside of the letter pei in ksav Beis Yosef and ksav Arizal, is no happenstance, but rather an indication of a mystical reality.
As both very different examples indicate, though, sometimes it is easy to miss something that is, in fact, right before our eyes.
Like the one event recounted in Dayeinu that is not followed by the word dayeinu — “it would have been enough for us.”
Whenever I make the assertion that there is indeed such an event in the Seder pizmon, I am greeted with blank stares or furrowed brows. But it’s there, in full view, just easily missed.
And it’s there, I believe, by design, that of the Baal Haggadah who composed Dayeinu.
Go grab a Haggadah and see if you can find it. I’ll wait.
Okay, that’s long enough. Find it? No? But it’s right there!
All right, I’ll tell you, but not before remarking first that, while much of our Seder-night message to our children is forthright and clear, some of it is subtle and stealthy.
And some of it is quite puzzling, like Dayeinu. As commentaries and Jewish children alike ask, would it really have been “enough for us” had Hashem not, say, split the Yam Suf, trapping our ancestors between the water and the Egyptian army? Some have suggested that what the pizmon means is that another nes could have taken place to save Klal Yisrael, but that certainly would weaken the import of the refrain. And then there are the other lines: “Had [Hashem] not sustained us in the desert” — enough for us? “Had He not given us the Torah.” Enough? What are we saying?
The simple approach is that we don’t really mean “Dayeinu” literally when we say it, but rather only intend to declare how undeserving of all Hashem’s kindnesses we are.
But I think there might be a different way to see Dayeinu, one that doesn’t require depriving the refrain of its actual meaning. And it has to do with that event in the pizmon not followed by the word “dayeinu.”
Oh, I’m sorry. We haven’t identified it yet. Okay, it’s time.
It’s the very first phrase in the poem, “Ilu hotzianu miMitzrayim” — Had He taken us out of Mitzrayim…”
That phrase — and it alone among all the stanzas — is not introduced with a “had He not” and qualified with a “dayeinu.” We never sing “Had He not taken us out of Mitzrayim, it would have been enough for us.” Because it wouldn’t have been. Yetzias Mitzrayim is, so to speak, a “non-negotiable” in a way that nothing else is.
It was the singular, crucial, transformative point in Jewish history, when what was until then an extended family became a nation, Klal Yisrael. Had Jewish history ended, chalilah, with starvation in the desert, or even in battle at an undisturbed Red Sea, it would have been, without doubt, a terrible tragedy, the cutting down of a people just born — but still, the cutting down of a people. Klal Yisrael, the very purpose of creation (“For the sake of Yisrael,” as the Midrash comments on the first word of the Torah, Hashem created the universe), would still have existed, if only briefly.
And our nationhood, after all, is precisely what we celebrate on Pesach.
And so, the subtle message of Dayeinu may be just that: the sheer indispensability of Yetzias Mitzrayim — its contrast with the rest of Jewish history, its importance beyond even the magnitude of all the nissim that came to follow.
If so, then for thousands of years, that sublime thought might have subliminally accompanied the strains of spirited “Da-Da-yeinu’s,” ever so delicately yet ever so ably suffusing Jewish minds and hearts, without their owners necessarily even realizing it. And the fact that the Seder persists among Jews who are far from observance and even devoid of other markers of Jewish identity or affiliation may be born of their unconscious recognition of the ultimate importance of Jewish peoplehood.
In any event, it’s an idea worth pondering.
There’s more to say on the subject, maybe, with Hashem’s help, next year.
For now, though, dayeinu .