The story of Passover is laid out in Exodus 6:1-8. God speaks to Moses, “Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am God, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for possession. I am God.'”
You notice that there’s nothing in that text that indicates why God would want to redeem us from slavery. There’s nothing that indicates we somehow earned it or deserved it. It’s all about God’s grace.
There are those who say that because God promised the land of Israel to the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs that liberating us from slavery somehow fulfills the promise God made to them. But if that’s really true, why does God wait 440 years to show up? Who knows? Let’s just say there did not seem to be a compelling argument to swiftly deliver us from Egypt before that moment.
All of this leads us to consider the right attitude in light of the Passover experience. One feeling we have is of gratitude. The song Dayeinu exemplifies this thanks. Dayeinu is about being grateful to God for all of the gifts God gave us, such as taking us out of slavery, giving us the Torah and Shabbat, and more. As the refrain goes, if God had only given one of the gifts, it would have still been enough. This is to show much greater appreciation for all of them as a whole.
In this light, the Israelites are the passive recipients of God’s infinite largesse for which we are truly grateful. But there’s another way to respond to the idea of God’s grace and our gratitude for it (This interpretation is based on my brother-in-law’s interpretation of Dayeinu). While gratitude is in order, the Passover story reminds us of the necessity to come to the rescue of all who are in chains. Therefore, when we look at the world we live in we can certainly say that it’s NOT enough – NOTHING is enough when there is so much suffering.
Seated at my seder this year, I was so very grateful. Seeing all of my children and grandchildren together with relatives and friends from all sides of the family, Jewish and not Jewish was deeply inspiring. I also realized that it all becomes more precious as I get older.
I don’t want to be a grumpy old man, but I do feel like one sometimes, particularly when I read the news. This is not a Dayeinu world we live in. More than ever this is a world that needs activists, people who will do something to challenge the status quo of injustice and neglect. It’s too easy to just let it all go and not deal with it. It’s like lyrics from the song, “Victims of Comfort” by Keb ‘Mo:
Everyone likes a party,
But no one wants to clean,
Well I’d like to see a change somehow
But I’m a little busy right now,
Just a little busy right now.
I’m just a victim of comfort,
I got no one else to blame,
I’m just a victim of comfort,
A cryin’ shame.
We sing “Next year in Jerusalem” at the conclusion of the seder. In this case, it’s not about a travel destination, but rather a state of mind. It’s the hope that all people will feel liberated. It’s also a reminder, a call to arms, as it were, to declare that this is not aDayeinu world. It’s not enough just yet.
The Passover story is deeply rooted in God’s grace. Our experience of redemption comes from outside in, whether through God or later, through the Messiah. But my take on the Passover story is about personal agency. As Keb ‘Mo reminds us, we can all claim to be a little too busy. But that’s a lousy excuse. It’s time for us to step up. Someday we’ll sing Dayeinu about how much our world has changed from a place of strife to a place of peace.