Exercise: At the end of the day, take five long breaths. Then draw to mind three good things that happened to you today. As you recall those good events, say the following: “My ancestors were slaves to Pharaoh, and oppressed as exiles in (your family’s land of origin). Now this has happened to me. Thank you, God.” Repeat twice more. Breath five more times. For bonus credit, say Shma as well.
Comments: Being grateful is hard-wired into Jewish identity. At the birth of Judah, from whom the very word “Jewish” comes, his mother Leah says, “I am grateful to God.” Rashi explains further: she meant, God has given me more than I deserve. I believe that Passover comes in large part to reset our sense of what we deserve in order to promote a greater awareness of gratitude in our lives.
It is easy to set our sense of what we deserve quite high. I deserve a good life, beautiful weather, perfect children, a terrific and meaningful job, etc., etc. When I have that mindset, any setback becomes devastating while each achievement becomes only what was supposed to happen. In such a space, I become stressed, worried, and anxious even amid abundance.
Then Passover comes along and warns me. We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. God brought us out with a mighty hand and we could have been left there. In other words, we are owed nothing. The world, God, the divine, has already offered us everything we are owed. Any other goodness, however large or small, is a gift, more than we are owed.
Dayenu holds this in its utter absurdity. We say, had God brought us to the Sea of Reeds but not brought us through on dry land, Dayenu. In other words, had we drowned at the Sea, that would have been enough. And yet: can we appreciate each act, each goodness, regardless of what precedes or follows? Can I appreciate the wonderful Passover I had with the Kol Emeth community even though I hear immediately after of such tragic loss in Poway? Dayenu urges us to say yes.
So imagine: as each good thing happens to you, what if you made the time to really appreciate it and realize that it could have been different. Thank you, God, for my home. My ancestors were slaves in Egypt and oppressed and poor in the Ukraine and now I have this lovely home in which to live and feel secure. Thank you, God that my daughter likes to take walks in our beautiful neighborhood with me. My ancestors were slaves in Egypt, poor and oppressed in Ukraine. It could have been different, and I am so grateful for what I have.
We are surrounded by darkness and light every day. The holiday of Passover sends us the message that especially in such a world, gratitude becomes a key means by which we uncover hope and joy in our lives. I believe that hope is our greatest tool to world repair because only when we are in touch with hope and possibility do we see the ways in which we can be partners with God in repairing this evidently broken world.
May God bring comfort to the mourners in Poway, healing to those injured, and strength to all of us to hope and yearn for a better world.
Rabbi David Booth