Q. Why does Dayyenu keep telling us that if God had brought us out of Egypt and done nothing else it would have been sufficient?
Does this mean that we would not have minded drowning in the Red Sea, perishing in the wilderness, never getting the Torah, never reaching Eretz Yisrael, never having the Temple and so on?
A. The song lists altogether fifteen Divine boons, and we can not imagine life without any of them. Yet we still say Dayyenu when we list each one. If this means that we are willing to give up all the rest, it is a preposterous thought, and clearly not what the author had in mind.
Judaism without Torah? Impossible. Judaism without Eretz Yisrael? Inconceivable.
So how are we to interpret the song?
One answer is to see Dayyenu as a question – i.e., “Had God brought us out of Egypt and not (for example) brought us to Mount Sinai, would it have been sufficient?”
The famous Lehmann Haggadah tells a story about a ruler who wanted to appoint a friend as ruler over one of the provinces of his kingdom. But the friend had no official robes, so the prince gave them to him. He had neither horses nor servants, so the prince supplied them. He had no palace, so the prince built one for him. He had no experience of government, so the prince instructed him.
When the time came to thank his benefactor, the friend said, “Had the prince given me an office of honour but no robes, could I ever have carried out my role? Had he given me robes but not equipped me with horses and servants, could I have conducted myself as a ruler? Had he given me all this but not provided a palace, would I have been treated with respect? Had I received all this, but not been taught how to exercise rule, would I have been a success?”
In the same way we ask, “Had God provided (only) one boon, would it have sufficed?”
A second view is that we have to be thankful even for small mercies. Had God only done one thing for us, that would already have been cause enough to thank and praise Him. After all, do we have a right to expect ongoing miracles? Remember the miracle of 1967 – and how badly scared and shaken we were in 1973 when things were not so swift and miraculous?
We have to say Baruch HaShem for everything He does, and be grateful for what we have… and if further boons come our way, each will be a bonus.