Dayenu: A Spiritual Practice

Dayenu: A Spiritual Practice
Image of the prayer Dayenu in an illuminated Haggadah

Dayenu! Enough for us!

You may know piyyut, the liturgical poem, Dayenu. Normally we sing Dayenu at the Passover Seder. Dayenu says things like, “If God had only split the Red Sea, but not taken us through it to dry land, dayenu! It would have been enough for us!”

This is of course absurd. If it happened at the Red Sea, our ancestors would have all drowned. And besides, we know the Torah stories. It would not have been enough! The people are always afraid. Always complaining that they don’t have enough food, water, or strength to make it.

So, when we sing Dayenu at the Seder, we sometimes laugh. We know that the poet was exploring radical gratitude: appreciation for the good things in our lives, however few they might be But we still laugh—not at the poet, but at ourselves.


Why do we laugh? Because we know radical gratitude is hard. Mary Jo Leddy, author of Radical Gratitude, says it is particularly hard in our time and our place. Hard to feel that anything is enough. To feel that we are enough.

Many people simply don’t have enough money for shelter and food. They work so many hours but their hourly wages do not add up to much. And their hearts break because they cannot set up a stable home for the people they love.

Other people are less at risk economically. But their stability comes from salaried professional jobs or small businesses where there is simply no concept of “enough.” For them, a successful project is one that creates more work and more expectations.

A few people have properties and investments that could sustain their families for generations. And yet—the world of finance is based on endless growth, on the idea that nothing is ever enough.

And all around us, people are selling, selling, and selling. So are we. And we all try to convince each other: if you just had one more gadget, one more nice shirt, one more training seminar, one more membership, then it would be enough. Then, we would finally be efficient and beautiful and wise and supported.

Of course we don’t believe this kind of advertising. Except when we do. And then, life becomes a not-fun-at-all funhouse mirror. Everywhere we look, we see only what we lack.


Mary Jo Leddy suggests we counter these messages with a spiritual practice she calls Dayenu. In her words:

Review your life and stop at any point with the prayer dayenu. 

For example:

If I had only been born but not had a baby sister, dayenu. 

If I had only had a baby sister but not had my first friend, dayenu. 

If I had only seen one snowfall but never seen the pink sky on a prairie night, dayenu. 

So, I begin my own review. What if my splendid little brother had not been born? But he was born. And my life took shape around his companionship. So, when I imagine life without him, I feel only grief. As if he were once here, but now has passed away.

Then I see, anew, how grateful I am for my brother. For his childhood love. Teen friendship. Adult support. Our relationship was and is complete. Even if today was our last day together. Dayenu.

And then I begin my review again. What if my brother had never been born? My life’s horizon would be different; so would my path. I have never scanned this sky; never gazed down this road. But maybe this journey would also have been good. Then I see how grateful I am for life itself. Dayenu.


To whom am I grateful? My mother? God? The universe? I don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. This gratitude isn’t intellectual. It feels more like an opening—to a flow of wonder and awe and peace. 

And isn’t that a kind of liberation from spiritual scarcity? From the sense that we never are, never have enough? And an opening out of mitzrayim—literally a “narrow place” and also the biblical name for Pharaoh’s Egypt? 

May you be blessed with the ability to say dayenu—and mean it.


Image: Dayenu Page from Rylands Haggadah, 14th c. Spain. For a different humorous take on feeling like “enough” at Passover, read the post Passover: A Workaholic’s Holiday.

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