November Sermon – Dayenu

Kate Mietus
UTO Board Member
Diocese of Spokane

Ben Zoma, an interpreter of the Jewish scriptures teaches:
“Who is rich? The one who is content with what one has.”

I first heard the word, dayenu, over ten years ago.  I was sitting in a church pew during a memorial service for the 30 year-old son of one of my friends. We were all struggling to understand Ben’s senseless death due to the failure of a smoke alarm during a home fire.  Ben’s uncle gave the eulogy and introduced us to the word, dayenu (pronounced dye – ay – new).  Dayenu is translated, “It would have been enough” or “It would have been sufficient” or “It would have sufficed.”   

First of all, Dayenu is the title of a spirited Jewish song written over a thousand years ago and sung during the Passover season to describe the many gifts God gave to the Israelites, his chosen people. It is essentially a song of gratitude.

For example:

It would have been enough if God had taken the Israelites out of slavery in      Egypt, but he also gave them the Torah.  Dayenu.

It would have been sufficient if he had given them the Torah, but he also gave them the opportunity to build the Temple.  Dayenu.  

How manifold are the great deeds that God has performed for us.  Dayenu. 

The idea of “not enough” has its roots all the way back to the beginning of time.  The Garden of Eden that God provided for Adam and Eve was not, in their eyes, sufficient. They wanted “more” ~ just the bite of a piece of fruit from the forbidden Tree of Life ~ and from that time on, mankind has been plagued by a sense of insufficiency in life, persuading us to want more than we have.

Presently, our world is choking, literally and figuratively, on unbridled consumerism.  In 2019, the National Geographic magazine estimated that there were over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in our oceans.[1]  Brene Brown, a preeminent psychology professor and researcher, has written: “We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and over-medicated adult cohort in US history.”[2]  According to the self-storage industry statistics of 2020, 1.709 billion sq. ft. of self-storage space has been constructed in the US, of which almost 92% is already rented out.[3] Credite Swisse Global Wealth Report last year reported that individuals owning over $100,000 in assets including a home make up less than 11 percent of the global population; however, they own 82.8 percent of the global wealth.[4] 

Secondly, in addition to being a Jewish song, dayenu could also become an exciting challenge to all of us today to answer the question, how do we live our lives amid growing capitalism and rampant consumption in our land today?  Dayenu could present us with an opportunity to change. Instead of our continually seeking more and more, what if we were to embrace the practice of dayenu ~ sufficiency ~ and to begin to think deeply about what is enough and live into this potential for changing our acquisitive habits, our world, and us?

If we made the decision to embrace dayenu, where would we begin? A good place to start is with gratitude, a practice of gratitude to God for all that we have already received. Gratitude is not a feeling but an act of the will, observed the write Anne Husted Burleigh. We choose to be grateful. Gratitude is a practice that we all can do.  Gratitude can be the secret of a happy life.  It reminds us that we all drink from wells that we have not labored to dig. It moves us to count our everyday blessings. Asked what was the biggest lesson he learned from drifting 21 days in a life raft lost in the Pacific, the war hero Eddie Rickenbacker answered, “If you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.”

We could begin to think of ways we can use our bounty to give back to those less fortunate than we are.  Henri Nouwen, famed Dutch Catholic priest and theologian wrote, “Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude.” During this time of pandemic, I have had little opportunity to go shopping and make purchases for my home, my family, or myself.   Because of this self-imposed restraint on shopping, I have lived into an adage from President Calvin Coolidge during the First World War: “Use up, wear out, make do, or do without.”  Following Calvin’s advice, I began to notice that I actually required less. By the end of each month, I had more of my budget left over, and found myself becoming more aware of and sensitive to the needs of my community. Living with less has opened my heart to the possibilities for sharing my abundance with others. 

Accepting the challenge of Dayenu does not necessarily have to mean self-sacrifice or living as an ascetic.  But it can lead us to living in gratitude each and every day.

Once, a wealthy American came to visit a 19th century rabbi
renowned for his modesty, ethics, and wisdom.
The American was astonished to see the famed rabbi sitting in a room
with nothing but a bed, a chair, a desk, and some books.
“Rabbi,” the American asked, “where are all your things?”
“Where are all yours?” the Rabbi replied.
“Mine? I am just a visitor.”
“So am I,” replied the Rabbi.


[2] Brown, Brene, The Power of Vulnerability


Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash