Dayanu: It Would Have Been Enough

Author: Susan Rose

One of my favorite local hikes is the Dakota Ridge trail on Mount Sanitas, only about five minutes by car from my home. The trail has one spot that is very steep and is set up like a stone staircase: a labor of love constructed by some able-bodied and committed people, whom I assume were young and were volunteers. This past week when I reached the base of the staircase, a young woman with a blonde ponytail and black tights ran up the vertical climb. To my surprise, when she reached the top, she ran back down. She didn’t look like an athlete, but there she was, doing interval training. I expressed my admiration to her, and schlepped up the staircase at my own pace, pleased that I could do it at all, being the age I am and having had a partial knee replacement surgery in January of 2019.

Sometimes I talk out loud to God on these little adventures of mine. I figure if someone hears me, rather than thinking I’m psychotic, they will assume I’m on a cell phone, which isn’t far off the mark. The similarity between prayer and the cell phone is that both connections can feel variable in their effectiveness. Yet we rely on both. Best guess: God is a better orientation overall, whether or not we can feel it in the moment. After my brief encounter with the ambitious blonde, I said, “Hi, God.” Nothing more profound or inspiring came to mind, so I said it again, adding that I couldn’t think of anything else just then, other than saying hello. Then God talked back to me in the following way.

Immediately, two images came to mind, relating to gratitude. I want to thank God for that. And both recollections have the flavor of Judaism. The first one is in the form of a joke, so imagine me telling this out loud and using my hands. One day, a Jewish mother and her six-year-old son are walking on a beach, enjoying the weather, the sand and the scenery. Suddenly, a rogue wave comes to shore and carries the little boy out to sea. The mother falls to her knees on the sand, weeping, begging God to return her son, promising that she will return to synagogue, will pray on a daily basis, and be devout for the rest of her life. Moments later, another wave washes the child back up on the beach, drenched and frightened, but alive and well. Mother falls to her knees, embraces him, crying and giving thanks. Then she stands up, stands back a bit, and looks him over carefully. After a few minutes, she wrinkles her nose, frowns, looks up to the sky, and says, “He had a hat!”

The next association that came to mind for me was the song “Dayanu”, which is traditionally sung at Passover. Dayanu in Hebrew means “It would have been enough,” and refers to the many gifts God gave to the Jews in the Exodus from Egypt. I’ll quote the first four: “Had Adonai brought us out of Egypt and not divided the sea for us, dayanu. Divided the sea and not permitted us to cross on dry land, dayanu. Permitted us to cross on dry land and not sustained us for forty years in the desert, dayanu. Sustained us for forty years in the desert and not given us manna.” All in all, there are twelve gratitudes.

My prayer for the future is that more often than not, I can experience the spirit of reverence and thankfulness that dayanu expresses. When my life goes off the rails in a way that causes me pain and aggravation, there is a very slippery slope that can lead me into looking up and saying, “He had a hat.”

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