Sing a song of Seder for Passover

I am grateful for my amazing family, near and far, who are handling this crisis with courage and creativity.

ORTHODOX MEN blow trumpets during a reenactment ceremony of the Passover sacrifice, in Jerusalem last year (photo credit: REUTERS)
ORTHODOX MEN blow trumpets during a reenactment ceremony of the Passover sacrifice, in Jerusalem last year
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Well, the Seder is over, and what a unique, amazing experience it was, perhaps unlike any Seder ever held since that very first one, way back in Egypt-land.
Surrounded though we are by the tumult of ever-changing circumstances and restrictions, ensconced together in tiny groups or alone, gripped by a fear of the unknown, we nevertheless held fast to our ancient ritual, eating the traditional foods, relating the story of the Exodus, and singing. Lots and lots of singing.
Song is the ultimate way we release our deepest, innermost emotions. In prayer and on every occasion – the happy as well as the sad – we sing, for music is truly the language of the soul. Passover has some of the most uplifting, evocative songs ever written. Even now, after the Seder plate has been put away until next year – may we be together again then with family and friends – I find myself singing and humming the Seder’s soundtrack.
LET US focus on two of the most well-known and beloved of Passover’s repertoire, and the marvelous message they send.
The first, of course, is “Dayenu.” What great childhood memories rise to the surface as we repeat the “Dye-dayenu” chorus over and over again! And yet the lyrics of this song are completely baffling:
If God had divided the sea, but had not brought us through to dry land, dayenu! It would have been enough!
If God had brought us to Mount Sinai, yet would not have given us the Torah, dayenu! It would have been enough.
Really?! It would have been enough if we had all drowned in the Reed Sea? It would have been enough if we had never received the Torah, never had been given the Ten Commandments?! Does this make any sense at all?
But the answer to this classic question lies in our perspective. We must not always view the events of the Exodus as a continuum. Rather, we must try to see them as the Israelites saw them – as they unfolded, one spectacular wonder after another. And at each juncture, they stood in awe and burst out in praise and appreciation at the latest miracle God had wrought on their behalf. In a sense, they were saying, “This alone is worth the price of admission!”
What a powerful message this sends! Rather than obsessing about the next hurdle, the next challenge we face, we need to just live in the moment and be grateful for what we have right here, right now. Yes, tomorrow’s journey may indeed be a formidable one, but I’m not focusing on that just now; I’m appreciating what I have and what God has given to me.
The other song that won’t let me go is the very last ditty in the Haggadah, the Had Gadya. On the surface, it is the perfect children’s play. This inspirational little story about the baby goat – the “kid” – that faces adversary after adversary and bests them all, alluding to the parade of successive empires that rise and fall while we remain constant, is sublimely upbeat and uplifting. In our own house – when we, God-willing, are all together again – we mimic the sounds of the different animals and act out the verses.
But here, too, a question pops out at us. As the song begins, the cat attempts to devour us. But along comes the dog and bites the cat, thus saving us. Okay so far. But then, along comes the stick and beats the dog. Huh? Is this fair? If the dog got rid of the cat – which threatened us – why should the dog be beaten? The dog should be rewarded for helping us!
Some answer that the dog did not bite the cat to save us; the dog attacked the cat because, well, dogs just don’t like cats! It did what it did for its own reasons, not to help us.
But the deeper idea, I think, is that even if the dog did help us – and certainly we should acknowledge that – our true help comes from one source and one source alone – and that is God. Yes, God has countless messengers to do His bidding, and they have a part to play. But our sense of gratitude must always focus primarily on the Almighty, who conducts the orchestra, who looks out for us throughout history and “saves” us every day in countless ways, from both seen and unseen dangers.
That is the message that permeates both the Haggadah as well as the entire Exodus saga: hakarat hatov, appreciation of the good which God performs on our behalf every moment. And that is the message we should be left with as we sing the songs and as we close the Haggadah until next year.
I WANT to take a moment to say thank you, to express gratitude as well. Even in the midst of this unprecedented global crisis, even as our lives constrict and anxiety surrounds us, we must not fail to see the positive and pause to acknowledge the good that we have been blessed with.
I am grateful for my amazing family, near and far, who are handling this crisis with courage and creativity.
I am grateful for the self-sacrifice of our health professionals, who endanger their lives on a daily basis for us.
I am grateful for our prime minister, who has shown great leadership in the hour of need.
I am grateful for the politicians who (finally) are seeing fit to unite in common cause.
I am grateful for all my fellow citizens who adhere to the restrictions of the Health Ministry, who are bearing up under the burden of unemployment and temporary estrangement from their extended families.
I am grateful for the institutions of the nation at large, which sees to it that I have water, electricity, security, food and the other basic necessities of life.
And, of course, I am grateful to God, who will see us through this and every other challenge. He will surely bring days of fresh air, health and prosperity to us, His people: One kid, one kid, eternally protected by Father.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]