Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two positions you can take. Either you believe that nothing in life is a miracle, or you believe that everything in life is a miracle.”
One of the favorite songs sung at the Passover seder is the song called “Dayeinu,” which means “It would have been enough.” In this song we go through all the miracles that God performed for the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt and say that even if He had only performed that one miracle, it would have been enough. It would have been enough had God taken us out of Egypt, even without all the miracles. It would have been enough had God brought us to Sinai, even without giving us the Torah.
Of course, the obvious question about this song is “really?” It would have been enough? Obviously taking us to Sinai without giving us the Torah would not have been enough – we would have disappeared as a nation thousands of years ago had we not received the Torah!
What is the deeper meaning of this song?
Alain De Botton, a popular British philosopher, makes a very insightful point about our ability to appreciate modern inventions and technology. We live at a point in history in which our lives have been made radically easier, more than at any earlier point in history, due to a slew of incredible inventions. Electricity, washing machines, airplanes… the list goes on an on.
And yet, we find it almost impossible to be grateful for these life changing inventions because it is rare to admire a technology which was already well established when we were children. Appreciation of the light bulb is dependant on a contrastive grown-up memory memory of the candle, appreciation for the telephone depends on memories of the carrier pigeon, and gratitude for the plane depends on having experienced travel on a steamship.
And so Botton suggests that historians of technology should focus not only on when a particular invention was introduced, but even more interestingly, also when it was forgotten and taken for granted; when it disappeared from the collective consciousness through familiarity, becaoming as commonpace as a pebble or a cloud.
If we take inventions for granted because we have grown up with them, we are even more likely to take for granted the most fundamental blessings of life: the food we eat, our bodies that function properly, and our family and friends that care for us.
Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda (c. 1050–1120), in his book Chovot HaLevavot, gives a classic parable:
A man once found a boy abandoned in the forest and adopted him, caring for him like his own son. He fed him, clothed him, educated him and gave him everything he could possibly need. Growing up, the child, like any other child, took it for granted that his family would take care of him and love him.
Subsequently, the man who had adopted the child performed the great command of freeing a Jewish prisoner who had been kidnapped. The freed prisoner thanked him profusely and said “I owe my life to you for saving me! I could never thank you enough!”
In reality, the adopted boy was far more indebted to this man than the prisoner who had been freed. Whereas the man had performed one great act of kindness for this prisoner by paying to free him, he had done infinitely more for the boy! He raised the child from a young age, caring for him for years and years! And yet, the freed prisoner was much more grateful.
We, of course, are the ungrateful adopted son. Like the little boy, God cares for us every minute of every day. But we have grown accustomed to His kindness. Like electricity, it’s old news and we no longer appreciate it. The problem is that while it may be human nature to take things for granted, appreciation of God’s blessings is the very bedrock of the religious personality. To be a religious person means to be a person who experiences awe; to be someone who who appreciates.
Appreciating the kindness that God is constantly bestowing upon us is what compels us to serve god. By really looking at the world, by paying attention to the blessings of life, we are moved to want to repay God in some way, for all of His kindness. And so each of us is bidden to pay attention and to notice the blessings in our lives. By paying attention to the extraordinary array of different blessings in our lives we overcome our inclination to be ingrates; we can slowly transform ourselves into thankful personalities, which is the very root of serving god.
This is why the daily prayers are saturated with reminders that stress the importance of thanking God, in specific ways, for all of the blessings of life both big and small. And throughout every single day, we make dozens and dozens of highly specific blessings: before and after we eat, after we use the bathroom, and more.
And this is what the song, Dayeinu, is all about. Dayeinu is about learning to appreciate all the pieces of the puzzle; all the little miracles of life. Dayeinu is about being able to see the blessings that underlie the annoyances and struggles of life and learning to appreciate, in detail, all the goodness that we have in our lives. Dayeinu is about sitting at the seder table and thinking about the countless miracles that had to fall into place so that each of us could be here today. Dayeinu is about counting our blessings, in detail, before God.
The song reminds us to count our blessings and appreciate them in detail, rather than taking them for granted. By doing so, we can transform ourselves into thankful personalities and cultivate a deep sense of awe and appreciation for God and everything He does for us.