The Meaning Behind Passover’s Most Famous Song
Dayeinu: Would It Really Have Been Enough?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Many songs are sung during the Passover seder, including the song of Dayenu, literally meaning “it would have been enough.” With its catchy Hebrew chorus, everyone at the seder can heartily join in. But behind the fun lyrics lies a profound message of wisdom that shouldn’t be missed.
Singing the 15 stanzas, the Dayenu takes us on a journey through the history of the Israelite nation, detailing the nation’s tragedies and God’s miracles that saved them. In this respect, Dayenu is an appropriate song for Passover, as one of the commandments is to personally experience the redemption from slavery to freedom. But after each event, the song reflects that if this was God’s only intervention to save the Israelites, “it would have been enough.” What does “enough” mean? What are we thankful for by singing Dayenu?
In this video course, Rabbi Fohrman looks closely at the song’s structure to find a deeper meaning behind the lyrics. Entering through a rabbit-hole of questions, Rabbi Fohrman uncovers that Dayenu is really a path to understanding the events that led to the miracle of the Exodus.
Dayenu Lyrics in Hebrew and EnglishIf He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְלֹא עָשָׂה בָהֶם שְׁפָטִים דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ עָשָׂה בָהֶם שְׁפָטִים וְלֹא עָשָׂה בֵאלֹהֵיהֶם דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had destroyed their idols, and had not smitten their first-born Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ עָשָׂה בֵאלֹהֵיהֶם וְלֹא הָרַג אֶת בְּכוֹרֵיהֶם דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had smitten their first-born, and had not given us their wealth Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ הָרַג אֶת בְּכוֹרֵיהֶם וְלֹא נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת מָמוֹנָם דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had given us their wealth, and had not split the sea for us Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת מָמוֹנָם וְלֹא קָרַע לָנוּ אֶת הַיָּם דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it on dry land Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ קָרַע לָנוּ אֶת הַיָּם וְלֹא הֶעֱבִירָנוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ בֶּחָרָבָה דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had taken us through the sea on dry land, and had not drowned our oppressors in it Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ הֶעֱבִירָנוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ בֶּחָרָבָה וְלֹא שִׁקַּע צָרֵינוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had drowned our oppressors in it, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for forty years Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ שִׁקַּע צָרֵינוּ בְּתוֹכוֹ וְלֹא סִפֵּק צָרְכֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the manna Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ סִפֵּק צָרְכֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וְלֹא הֶאֱכִילָנוּ אֶת הַמָּן דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ הֶאֱכִילָנוּ אֶת הַמָּן וְלֹא נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had given us the Shabbat, and had not brought us before Mount Sinai Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַשַּׁבָּת וְלֹא קֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had brought us before Mount Sinai, and had not given us the Torah Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ קֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי וְלֹא נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had given us the Torah, and had not brought us into the land of Israel Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה וְלֹא הִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל דַּיֵּנוּ
If He had brought us into the land of Israel, and had not built for us the Beit Habechirah (Chosen House; the Beit Hamikdash) Dayenu, it would have sufficed us!
אִלּוּ הִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא בָנָה לָנוּ אֶת בֵּית הַבְּחִירָה דַּיֵּנוּ
What Does Dayenu Mean?Dayenu is one of these songs we sing, I think we all take for granted year after year and it's a nice song. But I think [it's best apprehensible 0:08] from the outside - oftentimes I think the best questions we can ask in Judaism are questions that come to us from the outside when we can remove ourselves from the system and completely let go of everything we know.
I would even go so far as to suggest that if you want a neat, meditative trick to help you prepare for the Seder this year, rather than – or in addition to – doing all the research which you may do looking at the Seder, you might also spend a little bit of time just erasing from your memory everything that you know about the Seder from Seders past and pretending to yourself that you're experiencing it for the very first time as an outsider. Almost like as a non-Jew invited to observe your Seder. Then asking yourself the really big questions of how come this thing is structured the way it is, and how come we're doing it the way we are, and isn't this a strange ritual and we don't have rituals like this outside of Judaism? Those are the really important questions.
So Dayenu is one of those things that when you're in the system makes a lot of sense but when you come outside of the system it doesn't make a lot of sense.
A Pesach Dvar Torah on Dayenu, From the OutsideLet me just give you a quick example to kind of bring across this idea of seeing things from the outside. A friend of mine tells a story of a woman who experienced Shabbos for the very first time and came to his home. So she's washing her hands for Hamotzi which is, so there's this long line of women washing their hands for Hamotzi, and there's this law that your hands need to be completely covered with the water that is pouring from the cup as you wash your hands for Hamotzi. This is the same law, by the way, for if you go to the Mikvah you're supposed to be completely free of anything that comes in contact between yourself and the water.
So anyway, one of the problems is if you have rings on your hands, so what do you do with the rings, you can't leave them on when you wash your hands, because it can come into contact between you and the water. So now you might think well you just put them on the side of the sink. This is not a great idea. Why? Because if week after week or day after day you're taking your rings off and putting them on the side of the sink, what's going to happen? It's only a matter of time before someone's elbow brushes – it just has to happen once to those rings, and then it's a diamond engagement ring down the sink. So nobody is going to do that. So what do you do with the rings? You could put them in your pocket but the simpler thing to do – which has devolved into just a basic sort of custom – take the ring off your hand and put it in your mouth for a quick second, and then you wash your hands, take it out of the mouth, put it on there, right?
Anyway, so there's this woman and she's just seeing this for the very first time, and she's watching this bizarre ritual unfold before her very eyes. One by one, there's this whole line of women in front of her that are very conscientiously taking rings off of their hands, placing them in their mouth and then washing their hands. And she has no idea what's going on, but everyone seems very confident that this is the right thing to do and she's not going to be the one to make a fuss about it. But then she realizes, horrified, as the line gets up to her, that she looks at her hands and she realizes she doesn't have any rings on.
So this is a great crisis. I mean, she's going to look really foolish, right? So she turns around and she's next in line and she has no rings, and everyone's got their rings in their mouth. So she turns to the woman in the back of her and says [in a whisper], excuse me, could I borrow your ring? I need it to put in my mouth.
So this kind of illustrates that everybody else going through this line just thinks that this is just the way to, you just take it for granted, you don't realize how silly you look to the outsider, putting these rings in your mouth. But from the outside you see things in a different kind of light. I think there are many things in Judaism that are like that and I want to examine three of them with you this evening and focus on one of them, and through that one to understand the other three.
The one I really want to focus on is Dayenu, but before I get to Dayenu I'll look at one more and that is the laws of blessings. Laws of blessings are very strange. If you know anything about the laws of blessings you know that they are rather complicated. So for example, what blessing do you make on wine?
[Response from audience member: Boreh pri ha'gefen.]
Boreh pri ha'gefen – the fruit of the vine. But that's different from the blessing that you make on bread which is?
[Response from audience member: Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz.]
Hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz – which is different than the blessing that you make on cake for example, which is Boreh minei mezonot, which is different than the blessing that you make on fruit, which is Boreh pri ha'etz, which is different than the blessing you make on vegetables, which is Boreh pri ha'adamah, which is different from the blessing that you make on water, meat and fish, which is Sheha'kol niheye b'devaro.
Now, the complicated stuff doesn't end there. You've got laws of precedence; what happens if you have three foods in front of you which food do you make the blessing on first? There's laws of precedence, there's laws of if this one is whole and this one is not whole, so you make the blessing on this one first. It's all very complicated. By the way, it gets, you have to be quite a connoisseur to really be able to get this, because the laws are very complicated and you have to sort of memorize which blessings go on which foods, because it's not always so simple.
Classic example is strawberries. So what is strawberry? Is strawberry a vegetable or a fruit? Last time you looked at a strawberry it was a fruit, right? But you do not make the standard blessing of fruits on strawberries. Standard blessing of fruits is Boreh pri ha'etz, standard blessing on vegetables is Boreh pri ha'adamah, which blessing do you make on strawberries? Well, was it turns out, that a strawberry is sort of a hybrid case, a strawberry is technically considered a non-classic fruit because fruits come from trees and strawberries come from bushes that regenerate every year. So technically they're considered like a vegetable. So because the distinction between vegetables and fruits is really between that which grows on the tree and that which comes directly from the ground, so a strawberry comes directly from the ground, so you make Ha'adamah.
Now, the upshot of this is that if you make a Ha'etz on a strawberry you are in deep water indeed. As a matter of fact the same thing, for example, a mushroom. Last time you looked at a mushroom a mushroom was a vegetable, but if you make the blessing on vegetables on mushrooms you're also in deep waters. Because as it turns out a mushroom is actually a fungus and not a vegetable. And a mushroom, if you look carefully, biologically speaking, does not need to grow from the ground, it can grow from tree stumps and from anywhere, so it doesn't really get its nurturing from the ground. So if you make a blessing that it came from the ground you are in deep water, the blessing did not count, you have to make the blessing all over again. So it's all very complicated.
Now, imagine for a moment that you had no idea about any of this complicated stuff and you are studying with some convert to Judaism or something, the basic laws of Judaism. You rabbi said, study the laws of blessings with him. So you buy the 350-page Artscroll tome on the laws of blessings, so it describes all of these laws in minute detail. You start flipping through and you're going through this, so what's the first question that this perspective convert is going to ask you about all these laws? There's a great way to simplify all of this, right? How can we simplify the system?
[Response from audience member: Just make it over 'food'.]
Right. Why don't we just have one blessing; Thanks G-d for the food? That's it. Thank G-d for the food, we're all set. We have to have blessings for vegetables and for fish and this, and if you make for fish on the vegetables and things – so then, so much complication, we really can cut out 80 pages of Jewish law very nicely by having one blessing over the food. So why is it that it's so complicated?
With that in mind let's go to Dayenu.
What Is the Meaning Behind Dayenu Lyrics?Dayenu is also a very strange kind of thing. Why? Because the song which we joyously sing every year makes absolutely no sense. As a matter of fact, if you were coming at this from afar – I venture to say if you were a non-Jew sitting at somebody's Seder listening to Dayenu – you would think they were all stark raving mad, what they're singing over here. I mean, you'd think they came from Mars. Now you may not have enough guts to say anything, because you're the outsider and you're not going to make waves, but if you had enough guts there is a very big question which you would ask on Dayenu as you listen to everyone singing this thing and that is the following.
Listen to how Dayenu goes. Dayenu has got lots of verses and here's how it goes – roughly, I'm paraphrasing it, I don't have the Haggadah in front of me. So in the beginning it makes a lot of sense.
If G-d had only brought us out of Egypt and had not wrought judgment against the gods of Egyptians so then we would have fine, it would have been enough.
And if G-d had only wrought judgment against the gods of the Egyptians but not killed out their firstborns, so it would have been enough.
If G-d had killed out their firstborn and not give us their money, so it would have been enough, who needs money?
But then it starts getting very tricky. Here's the next verse.
If G-d had just given us their money but had not split the sea, it would have been enough.
If G-d had split the sea but not dried out the land at the bottom of the sea; V'loh he'eviranu betocho becharavah – but not brought us through on dry land; He had only split the sea, but not brought us through, so there was mud at the bottom, so that would have been enough too.
If He had brought us through on dry land but had not drowned the Egyptians, it would have been enough.
And if He had drowned the Egyptians but had not taken care of our needs in the desert for 40 years it also would have been enough.
Okay now around this point you should have your question, which is that the song makes no sense. Let's play what would happen next? You know they have this game on Sesame Street; What Would Happen Next? So okay, we have all the money of the Egyptians so we're very happy, we have all this gold, we are really thrilled, we're millionaires. But then we get to the Red Sea, the Egyptians armies are in hot pursuit, we're completely surrounded on all three sides, the only thing at our back is the ocean, the sea does not split, so we have their money but the sea does not split, what happens next?
[Response from audience member: (Unclear 10:16)]
We don't have, they get their money back, right?
So now, but let's say G-d does split the sea. So what happens? He has now split the sea, but He has not brought us through on dry land, which means to say that it's a muddy mess at the bottom of the ocean, everyone gets stuck in the mud, what happens next? We get slaughtered in the middle of the mud!
So now let's say He brings us through on dry land but unfortunately, one detail He forgot, and that is the part about the water closing up over the Egyptians, so what happens next? So we get, so the Egyptians pursue and we get slaughtered on the other side of the ocean, right? So what difference does it make which shore you get killed on?
Then, let's say all of that happens and we sing the song at the sea, we're all very thrilled, but G-d neglects to take care of our needs in the desert for 40 years? So what happens, three days later, you've got 2.1 million people in the desert, and lo and behold there is no water. Okay so what happens next? Everyone dies of thirst.
So there's a certain point at which this song ceases to make any sense. It works for the first couple of verses and if you skip the middle verses you're fine – like if you do the abridged version, but if you actually do the song as it says, the song seems to make no sense. So how is it that we understand Dayenu? That is the central question that I want to deal with you tonight; how is it that we can understand Dayenu?
A Closer Look at the Words of Dayenu SongLet me ask you this, if you look at the song Dayenu carefully, you'll find a couple of interesting things about the song that I think are key to understanding how the song works. Now I want to be very clear with you, we're not analyzing a Biblical text here. So the degree of nuance which exists here we don't expect to have the same degree of depth and meaning as in a Biblical text. It is, after all, medieval poetry, so maybe the medieval poet is just being poetic, it's a possibility. But it's also possible that he means something by it, so let's just take a look.
If you look Dayenu you'll find that there is a constant refrain that happens over and over again. Does anyone know what the refrain is? One of the words of the refrain is simply the word…
[Response from audience member: Dayenu.]
Well there's Dayenu, and then there's two other words, and those are Ilu and V'loh. So every phrase in Dayenu goes like this. In Hebrew; Ilu hotzi'anu mi'Mitzrayim v'loh asah bahem shefatim Dayenu. It's really a three-part formula. The formula goes; Ilu x, V'loh y, Dayenu – which translated into English means; if only x, and not y, it would have been enough. If only q, and not z, it would have been enough. So on so forth.
Let's analyze these pieces for a moment. Can you see a relationship between these two things conceptually; if only and but not? How are they similar? Or are they similar? Or how are they related to each other? Imagine for a moment that you would just listen to a snatch of conversation, you heard somebody say, if only, and then you heard someone, but not, what's the mood or the tone of those – or how are they related to each other? Or are they?
Let's say you were channel surfing and you are going through your cable TV and you come upon the Wizard of Oz and you catch three seconds of the Wizard of Oz and you see Dorothy holding Toto, looking up at the rainbow, saying, you know Toto if only… and then zoom, you're off to the NCAA championships, so that's all you saw. Somebody says, describe to me the mood of what you saw with Dorothy, what was the tone, the tenor, the emotion behind that mood? Then imagine that 50 minutes later you were channel surfing again and by this time the Wicked Witch is deep into her machinations against Dorothy and you get to the part where the Scarecrow is pulling off apples from the apple tree and the Wicked Witch shows up with her. throws some fire at the Scarecrow and says, you're not getting out of this or but not! Dorothy, my little pretty, you're coming with me. Then you're out of there and you just hear the 'but not' of the witch.
If someone asks you to describe the mood there or the tone or the sense of what's going on, how would you describe these two senses of what's going on? Or are they related? Are they apples and oranges? Are they similar? Are they different? How would you relate to them?
One is harsh, cold reality; the witch is real in Oz, and it brings Dorothy back down to life and makes her realize that her dreams may not be realized after all. And 'if only' is the hope when you're in Kansas that maybe things might be different over the rainbow and the hope for something better. So really they're opposites; 'if only' is the language of hope, of opening up a new world of possibilities, a dream world, and ['but not' 15:29] is the world of cold, harsh reality that you can only go so far but then your dreams fizzle out. So 'if only' and 'but not' are really opposites.
The really cool thing is that they're opposites in more than one level. How do you spell Ilu in Hebrew? Anyone know? Take a stab at it. First letter?
[Response from audience member: Ayin.]
[Response from audience member: Aleph?]
Aleph. Second letter? I-lu? Lamed. Third letter? Vav. Aleph, Lamed, Vav. Now spell V'loh. Vav, Lamed, Aleph. Ilu – Aleph, Lamed, Vav. V'loh – Vav, Lamed, Aleph. Ilu and V'loh are actually the anagram spelled backwards of each other. So they are not only conceptual opposites but they are actually, they are the inverse spellings of each other as well as the inverse meanings of each other. So that's kind of neat.
So perhaps the Ilus and V'lohs in Dayenu are significant. If so, what significance might they have?
Finally, one other piece of Dayenu which I think bears mention is the following – and this is rather speculative. But we might speculate as to the number of verses or discreet events mentioned in Dayenu. We might say is it just random as to, Dayenu is a very long song, how many discreet events are mentioned in the song? Is it just that this is all that they could think of, or is there some significance to the amount of verses in the song?
Now if you actually look at the song you'll notice that there are 14 verses in the song and there are 15 discreet events mentioned in the song. So we might ask in a very speculative kind of way whether the 15 aspect of the song is significant? Now, I want to be very clear, the answer to this may well be, no – in other words, it may just be that it's not significant and it's just coincidental. But then again, the answer may just be yes, that it is significant and it's not coincidental. So let's just entertain the possibility that it is not coincidental for a moment.
A Deeper Study of the Meaning of DayenuThe theory I'm going to share with you tonight is the theory of the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Isaac Loew of Prague, the author of many prolific works, and the maker of the famous legendary Golem, if you've heard of the Golem of Prague. Historically what he was really seeking to do was to take the great mystical traditions of Judaism – the Zohar, the Midrashic accounts in the Midrash and the Talmud – and to rationalize them and make them accessible to the modern western mind, essentially, in his time. He succeeded to a great extent.
One of the things he takes on is Dayenu; he tries to figure out what Dayenu is all about. And he takes us on a fascinating, mystical journey through numerology in an attempt to come to terms with Dayenu. Here's what he says. He plays with this notion of whether 15 is significant and his theory is the following. If you look at numbers from a Jewish point of view, you'll note that numbers are not just numbers, they are significant in terms of them representing basic paradigmatic concepts.
So for example, the number 1 is representative of not just of G-d but of a concept. That concept being what? What would 1 represent? It might just represent, if we say, actually even nowadays we talk about it this way, that which is utterly unique. So for example, in physics nowadays we talk about the Big Bang as a singularity. What we mean by that is it was a constellation of events that happened only once in history and will never happen again. In other words, it was a unique event, but the language we use for that is a singularity. So the language 1 sort of stands for that which is single or that which is all alone and unique – which by the way, when you see it that way, makes you think twice about the meaning of Shema.
When we say, Hear o Israel, G-d is our L-rd, G-d is one, so what are we saying G-d is one? So most people think we're just making a declaration of monotheism, we're saying that there is one G-d and not two. Now it may be that that's true, but it may also mean that we're making a declaration about G-d being unique. In other words, we're saying that insofar as G-d is one, He is utterly different from anything else around Him, He is utterly unique, He can't be compared to anything else, and that's what we mean when we talk about G-d being one.
What would 2 symbolize? If 1 symbolizes that which is unique, what would the number 2 symbolize conceptually? That which is beyond the unique or that which is dual or plural. So really what 2 seems to signify Kabbalistically is the beginning of plurality. As long as there is only one so there's that which is, in other words, when G-d is the only thing there is, He's not only unique but He's also all alone. Once you have two, so there's an end to loneliness, and there's a beginning of companionship, so two is the beginning of plurality. In other words, the difference between 1 and 2 is fundamentally greater than the difference between 2 and every other number that comes afterwards. You have to say that there is a greater gap that divides 1 from 2, than divides 2 from 100,000, in a sense. That 2 and 100,000 is all degrees of plurality and the difference between 1 and 2 is the difference between singularity and plurality.
So it's probably no coincidence that the Torah begins with Beit. Beit is the letter – we know that every Hebrew letter corresponds to a number; the letter Aleph corresponds to the number 1, the letter Beit corresponds to the number 2. The letter Beit is what inaugurates the creation story. Because what's the difference between the world after creation the world before creation? The world before creation is a world in which G-d is all alone. The world after creation is a world of duality when G-d has company. What inaugurates creation is Beit – Bereishit – with 'two-ness' G-d began to create the world.
[Response from audience member: Is that somehow the reconciliation of Judaism with the Big Bang theory? Or is there a…]
Oh, I'm not dealing with the Big Bang theory right now and reconciliation – I don't believe that Judaism is at odds with the Big Bang theory. As a matter of fact, I think much in the Big Bang theory not only is not at odds with Judaism but has been in a strange way anticipated by Medieval Jewish Commentators. So if you actually look at the Ramban, Nachmanides, I don't have my Tanach with me, but if you look at [Maimonides/Nachmanides 22:41] in the very beginning of the Genesis story, when he interprets, I'll share it with you very briefly.
He interprets – it says in the very beginning of the Genesis story; Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu v'choshech al pnei tehom v'ruach Elokim merachephet al pnei ha'mayim. The second verse of Genesis says that the entire earth was – generally translated as – was formless and void, and the spirit of G-d was upon the face of the waters. But the words formless and void in Hebrew are very, very uncommon words; the words are Tohu and Vohu. The question is what is the difference between Tohu and Vohu? Or what exactly does Tohu and Vohu mean? Nobody really knows but the Ramban has a theory, and the Ramban writing in the eleventh-century Spain gives the following theory – it would be more powerful if I could quote it to you, because the way he says it is literally right out of modern textbooks of astronomy.
But he says – he captures it a bit in Aristotelian terms – he says what, Aristotle dealt with this notion of form and matter, in the Aristotelian view of physics everything that exists in the world is a combination of two things; of form and matter. So for example, this table before you its matter is the basic substrate of existence, but there's an element of form to the table which we would call hardness, the color brown is part of its form, its shape is part of its form. All of these things are things that are imposed upon this basic substrate of matter that make it into what it is.
So the Ramban says that in the very elementary moments of creation that's being spoken about in the second verse of the Bible, we have a situation which is utterly different than anything that we have in the world as we know it; which is to say that in the world as we know it, we never have form and matter separate from each other, everything that we have is an amalgam of matter and form. So for example, in this table there is matter and form. You never have abstract form or abstract matter; it doesn't manifest itself in this world. This really is an argument between Aristotle and Plato a little bit; this really is Aristotle rather than Plato. But according to Aristotle, what this world is, is the union between matter and form, and there's no such thing – in other words, there's no such thing as abstract matter, because every matter that you'll find has some form. And, there's no such thing as abstract form that hasn't imposed itself upon some matter, in this world.
The Ramban suggests is what Tohu is, is Tohu is abstract form and Vohu is abstract matter. In Hebrew the word Bohu literally means 'it is in it', which is to say that everything is in it. And Tohu is the word – really comes from the word Tohei which means to be astonished, to be astonished at a sense of no matter and just a world of complete abstract forms. What he says is that; Veha'aretz haytah tohu vavohu – that the Aretz, the world, at that point was in a stage of Tohu and Vohu, which is a separation between matter and form and all there was, was abstract form and there was abstract matter.
Now the way the Ramban describes this is really rather chilling because he says that at that point in time the entire universe was condensed into a point that was smaller than a mustard seed, and that was the point of abstract matter at that point. Then there was abstract form that G-d created which was separate from that abstract matter. Then what happened was that there was this abstract matter and abstract form in Tohu Va'vohu, and the next words are; Vayehi Or, and then G-d said, let there be light. What 'let there be light' was, that G-d caused the abstract matter and the abstract form to come together and brought the form into that piece of matter that was smaller than a mustard seed, which encompassed the entire universe, and that created an explosion essentially of light, which then led to the entire universe. And everything that the universe was, was the developing out of that act of the coming together of the abstract matter and abstract form, from that one infinitesimal point. And then the light coming from that leading to the expansion of the whole universe.
Now if that doesn't sound like the Big Bang theory, I don't know what does. But that was written in eleventh-century Spain. So I think the argument that Judaism is incompatible with the Big Bang is not really on solid ground.
Anyway, but that's a digression. So 2 is the beginning of plurality. We can go on, but primarily I'm interested in 7 and 8 with you now. The symbolism of 7: what important 7s are there in Judaism? The most significant is what?
[Response from audience member: G-d created the world.]
G-d created the world in seven days. So 7 seems to signify a certain kind of completion within a natural cycle. The natural cycle of creation reaches its completion in 7 – in seven days.
Now what then is 8? If 7 is completion in a natural cycle, what's 8? So you might think that 8 is starting the cycle over again, but that's not true, because if 7 is completion of natural cycle, there is no 8 in the natural cycle; starting the cycle over again is 1. You have to imagine a base 7 world. So in a base 7 world there is no 8; when you're starting the cycle over again you just go back to 1. So 8 doesn't exist in a base 7 world. Which means that what does 8 symbolize? That which is other than nature. So if nature comes to completion in the world of 7, then 8 is that which is supernatural. So you'll find that 8 is shorthand in Jewish mystical thought for the notion of the supernatural, that which is literally – and by supernatural I mean in a very literal sense. I don't necessarily mean G-d or miracles, I mean that which is beyond the natural.
If I had more time I'd get into this in detail, but it's not coincidental that circumcision happens on the eighth day. Circumcision is fundamentally a supernatural act and if you think about the argument against circumcision, the argument against circumcision is exactly that, that it's not natural. In other words, if G-d wanted it that way He would have created it that way. The fact that circumcision is on the eighth day is a statement that we're going beyond the natural and we recognize that G-d did it this way, but we're doing it a different way and that is 8.
By the way, you can't circumcise before the eighth day, you can do it after the eighth day but not before. If you circumcise the kid before the eighth day you have to do it over – you can't do it over again, but can't do that, poor kid [laughs]. But there's a Hatafat Dam Brit – there's a way that you can go about it and create a Halachically valid circumcision afterwards. But it doesn't count. So that's 8.
Now the question is if we think in numerological terms is there any significance to the number 15? Now the argument I'm going to make to you is that there is a significance to it, and it's the union of 7 and 8. In other words, the easiest way to get to 15 is to get to it by 7 and 8, and if you look at the examples of 15 that occur in the Torah, there's a very chilling and eerie similarity to all of those examples, to the notion of the combined union of 7 and 8. Let me share with you some of the examples of 15 within Jewish literature, and I think by the time we're done this evening you'll see how this works.
Here are some 15s in Jewish literature. First of all there's the 15 of Dayenu. But let's leave that aside for a moment. Well, let me ask you this, Judaism works on a lunar calendar, what is so significant about the fifteenth day of the month?
[Response from audience member: It's payday!]
Right, it's payday, and it's payday not only monetarily, it's also payday for the moon. Because the beginning of the Jewish month is when the moon has waned, the end of the month is when the moon has waned again, the fifteenth day of the month is full moon. So it's probably not coincidental that so many Jewish Holidays fall out on the fifteenth day of the month – Passover being an example, Sukkot being another example, Tu B'Shevat, Tu B'Av, Shushan Purim. So stuff falls out – in other words, if you would do one of these graphs and plot Jewish Holidays you would find a great preponderance of them falling out on the fifteenth day of the month.
Other 15s. There's 15 steps in the Temple – 15 steps in the Temple separating floor 1 of the Temple from floor 2. Now you might say, that's an interesting bit of trivia, but those 15 steps were very significant. So for example, if you look in the Book of Psalms you'll find that there is a certain type of Psalm that works with the construct of Shir Hama'alot. Shir Hama'alot for example, is a song that you sing before Bentching – before you say Birkat Hamazon you say Shir Hama'alot. Shir Hama'alot really means it's a Song of Ascents or a Song of Steps. Historically, these were songs that the Levites used to sing when they were on the steps of the Temple – standing on the steps of the Temple. So how many Shir Hama'alot do you think there are in Psalms? Well there's 15 of them. There's one for each step of the Temple. The Levites used to sing that when they were on the Temple steps.
Now, not only did they sing the 15 Shir Hama'alot songs when they were on the 15 steps of the Temple, but they also stated a verse from the Torah as they got down from those 15 steps. They would turn around, the Gemara says, and face the steps and they would say the following verse. Anu le'Kah, v'eineinu le'Kah – we are to G-d and our eyes are to G-d. Now in English that doesn't sound so dramatic and so interesting but in Hebrew it's actually rather dramatic because, as you know, G-d has different names and the name that they're calling G-d here is the word Y-a-h or Kah we say because we don't like to pronounce G-d's name so we say it Kah. But the name Kah - Yud and Heih – is [numerologically 33:34] 15, because Yud stands for 10 and Heih stands for 5, so if you put them together you have 15. So as they would get down from these step so they sang this Song of Ascents, of which there were 15 of, they got down the 15 steps, they would turn around and they would look and they would say, we are to Kah, the 15-numbered name of G-d, and our eyes are to Kah, the 15-numbered name of G-d.
So the Maharal says, what's going on with 15? What exactly is so significant about all these 15s and what's happening here? So the Maharal has a theory and he says if you really want to understand 15 in Jewish literature, you have to understand the following verse, and he quotes you a verse that he thinks is the source for what 15 is all about. Here's the verse. The verse is; Ki b'Kah Hashem tzur olamim – with the name Kah, the 15-numbered name of G-d, G-d is Tzur Olamim, which literally translates as He is the rock of worlds. With the name Kah G-d is the rock of worlds. Now what does it mean G-d is the rock of worlds? If we would take that language and modernize it for a moment, what would it mean? How would we, we wouldn't say rock, we would say what?
[Response from audience member: Foundation.]
Foundation. G-d is the foundation of worlds.
Which worlds? Primarily we would talk about this world and the next world. In other words, why not world? G-d is the foundation of the world? It doesn't say that, it says He's the foundation of worlds – not just this world but the next world. The foundation of two worlds.
The Maharal says if you really want to understand 15, it's all there in that verse. G-d is the foundation – the name Kah, the 15-number name of G-d – is the foundation of two worlds; this world and the next world.
So for this I'd like to bring you back to a discussion we had about three months back when we were talking about Shabbos and we talked about the difference – about the nature between this world and the next world. We talked about it briefly; let me flesh it out for you now. If someone accosted you on the street and said, you look like a religious Jew, you go to Synagogue on a regular basis, you're an active member of your Synagogue, I have a theological question I always wanted to know about Judaism and I'm going to ask you. He then turned to you and said, you're going to be my Rabbi for the day. So he says to you, you know I'm a Christian and we believe that life is all about the hereafter and this world is damned and it's nothing, and you as a believing Jew, you evidently don't believe that because you don't accept our savior to be able to get to the next world, could you explain to me what the Jewish concept of this world is and the next world? What is the difference between this world and the next world according to Judaism?
Would you be able to give him a two-sentence answer to that question as to what the difference between this world and the next world is? So, I mean that's a pretty tough assignment, how would you summarize the difference between this world and the next world?
So I'd like to give you a theory which I think will help bring the Maharal's point to life. The theory is the following – and if you don't understand this theory, life in this world is really inexplicable, and life in the next world is inexplicable. And just to bring you back to something, a point I made about three months ago with you, very briefly, here's why it's inexplicable. Because if you really think about it the next world makes no sense. What's the Jewish concept of the next world? It's a life of eternal bliss. How long would you enjoy eternal bliss for?
Imagine going on a vacation, so you're going to, you're touring Europe and it's your ideal vacation, you've saved up money forever and you're touring Europe, so you're going on vacation. How long could you go on this vacation for? Now it's a great vacation, five-star hotels, great meals, and you're touring and you're going around Europe to all the sites. So now you're doing it for two weeks, it's really good. Can you do it for a month? Probably? Now what about if the vacation takes you, say, six months? So would you still be into it? Now you're going and everyday it's Copenhagen and then you're off and then month 3 you're back to Copenhagen again, and then you, how long is this fun?
Now imagine this vacation doesn't last for three months, but you're in the world to come and the reward to come is eternal. So you're now in the world to come and you have an eternal tour of Europe, so we're talking about 1,000 years. It's year 1,347 and you've just been, and you've gone to Copenhagen seven times, so now you're going to a little hamlet north of Amsterdam because it's the only place in Amsterdam you haven't seen yet. So how much fun is this vacation? You're just itching to get back to Baltimore. It is hellish this vacation. So you're really stuck.
I think, by the way, this is, you see often among Jews we don't talk very much about the next world, this is one of the differences between us and Christians. Is that Jews, when was the last time you found a Jew that was really looking to get to the next world and was, all they, we just generally tend to ignore it. I actually had a Rabbi – [Rabbi Refson 38:46] in Israel. He says, he was very impressed with this one woman who came to him that she actually seemed to be trying to get to the next world. She actually seemed to be looking forward to this and trying to get somewhere and it actually was a motivating force in her life, what life was going to be [like 39:02]. Rabbi Refson said, for me it's completely not motivating what life is going to be like, I do stuff for this world, I don't do stuff for the next world, it's just not a motivating factor.
And you can kind of see why, because from this world's perspective if you project anything into eternity, it's hell itself and we'd like to lie to ourselves and pretend that maybe the next world is going to be okay, but it does not sound to be the kind of thing that we're looking for. I asked this question to some of my Rabbis in Ner Israel and you can see that this is a real problem; how do you deal with this?
So the next world does not seem so appealing – at least not viewed from the eyes with which we're used to viewing it. This world doesn't seem so appealing either when you view it through the same eyes, because this world also if you look at this world you'll find that the really only fulfilling thing about this world is process not reward. You know, we often fool ourselves into thinking that we're doing stuff for the goal; I'm looking to make my first million, when I make my first million so then I've really had it. Or, I'm looking to, I don't know, to write this book. So I wrote a book for Artscroll. I'm looking to write this book, if I write the book so then I'll really have made it. But then you have your party for the book and it's all over and it's six hours and it's nice and the friends are there, and then you say, what next? You're on to the next thing. If you think about it, it really did not make any sense, because here you spent three years trying to get to this thing and the thing is nothing and it's six hours and it's all gone!
So if you really think that you're just striving for those goals, you're not getting anywhere. The really only fulfilling thing is process. You have to be able to say the process of writing this book is fulfilling for me, or the process of educating my kids or dealing with my kids or watching my kids grow up or educating them, is fulfilling for me. But not the end result, because the end result never gives you enough oomph to be able to really make it worthwhile. That's a very sad state of affairs, it strikes me when you think about it. Because process is nice, but we would hope that we could actually take pride in something that we actually accomplish. Yet, life seems to be wired in such a way that it doesn't allow us to do that for very long.
I think that if you think about these concepts long and hard enough, they will lead you to an understanding of what the difference between this world and the next world is from the Jewish perspective. Really I think the answer to why this world actually is fulfilling and why the next world is fulfilling is understanding that we have two different worlds and that each world is fundamentally different from each other. By different I mean that they are wired differently. It's not a software difference, it's a hardware difference. Which is to say that we're just dealing with two different animals and once you realize that you're dealing with two different animals you have to understand that you can't look with the eyes of this world upon the next world, because you won't understand the next world. And you can't look with the eyes of the next world upon this world because you won't understand this world.
What's the difference between this world and the next world? The difference between this world and the next world, in a nutshell, is this. I would say that if you had to answer that guy on the street, what's the difference between the two, here's the answer I would give them. This world is a world of becoming, is a world of work, and the next world is a world of being. Okay? This world is a world of becoming and the next world is a world of being. This world is hardwired for becoming and the next world is hardwired for being, which is to say that what is it? G-d wants us to accomplish something in life, but there's a basic problem. If He would create only one world where you could both accomplish, which is a world for both work and reward or satisfaction in accomplishment, and both of those exist in the same world, you have a great problem.
In other words, put yourself in G-d's shoes. You're creating human beings and you want them to actually achieve something in life. So you decide, you say, okay, now remember that when they actually achieve something the true feeling of achievement is overwhelming, it's just, it's total, complete bliss to actually have achieved something. Now imagine you create one world where you both labor and when you're done laboring you can truly experience in a very fulfilling way, in a way that doesn't lag, in a way that never wears out, that feeling of accomplishment and bliss? How successful is your creation going to be? Very unsuccessful. What's going to happen?
[Response from audience member: You'd stop.]
People will create one important thing and then that's it. They will stop because they will have such great bliss from what they've created, so why go on?
It's like the rat that, you have the electrodes in the cage that give them the stimulus points and then, so the rat just stays there until he dies, he won't eat, he won't do anything else.
So what G-d did was He created two worlds and each world is hardwired differently. This world is hardwired for work, for becoming; the next world is hardwired for accomplishment, for being, for experiencing that which we've become and that which we've made of ourselves, of the relationships that we've made with others, relationships that we've made with G-d. That we work on those relationships in this world and the next world we experience those relationships in their fullness.
So this world is only wired for work, which is to say that the only fulfillment that you can get in this world is out of work. There's enough taste of reward in this world that you can – and enough to kind of keep you as an incentive to go on – but it fades so quickly that the only thing you can do is just plunge back into another process. Because this world is designed to keep you going and the only thing that's really going to keep you going is work. The next world is different. In the next world you can't work, you're dead, there's no action anymore, it's eternal, time and space don't apply anymore – time and space are just vehicles for work, for change.
If you look at physicists they argue that time and space are only relevant in worlds in which change happens, or in worlds which are characterized by becoming. By being one thing and then becoming another. That's the environment which we need space and time. But in an environment where there is no more becoming, it's all being, so space and time is irrelevant and we don't need those anymore. It's an eternal world, and it just is, beyond space and time, it's a world of actually experiencing that which we have become.
In that world you can't do anything anymore, work you leave behind, and it's a world which is hardwired for experiencing the deliciousness of that which we've become. And the reason why it seems so awful from this world is because we're looking at it from the perspective of this world. It's like fish in a fishbowl trying to divine what life is like without water. So they can intellectualize what life is like without water, but they're not going to really get it. So we can never really get what it's like in the next world, because we're in a world with water, we're in a world which is hardwired for work. To try and imagine what it's like, we can't really imagine.
But, so if you realize that there's two different worlds, both of these questions begin to make sense. In other words, the questions really answer themselves. In other words, the world to come is a world which is fulfilling, once you look at it from the eyes of the world to come and not the eyes of this world. So yeah, eternal bliss you can get into, you just can't get into it if you're in this world; if you're looking at it with eyes in this world. Conversely, if you look with the eyes of the next world upon this world, it's also very unfulfilling. In other words, you say, what, the only happy thing is process? In the next world there is no process, that's really terrible. But in this world it's different, in this world, this is a world of process. So in this world that's just life; the only thing you can get is process.
Now it doesn't mean that, in other words, the point is this, is that the sadness of not being able to take pleasure and reward in this world, is not so sad once you realize that there is another world and it's just that this world isn't hardwired for that. In other words, it's not that that which we accomplish is truly unappealing, in other words, it's truly something that we can't enjoy, it's just something we can't enjoy given the hardware of this world. But it doesn't mean that there is not a place and not a time that we can enjoy it, it's just that the worlds are separated.
Okay so this world is a world of becoming and the next world is a world of being. That, the Maharal says, explains 15, and it explains G-d's name. What G-d's name is Kah, 15; Ki b'Kah Hashem tzur olamim – with the word Kah, G-d is the rock of two worlds. The '15' name of G-d is the foundation that somehow straddles becoming and being.
Let's just leave that very abstract and just put that in a corner and see how that applies to Dayenu and this will, I think, all begin to make sense. Let's look at Dayenu and apply it to this 15 stuff and bring it all together.
Getting to the Core of What Dayenu Is AboutWhat kind of song is Dayenu? What are we seeking to achieve in Dayenu? What is Dayenu really all about? So in other words what's the point theologically? What are we doing in this song? We are expressing what?
[Response from audience member: Our gratitude.]
Gratitude. It's a song of thanks, it's a song of gratitude. One of my main themes in many of my classes, many of my classes revolve around the concept of gratitude in one form, it's really a fascinating concept, and understanding it helps us understand a great many things. For those of you who were in my Melton class last year, we spent a long time on this. I'm just going to very briefly revisit the points now.
The Hebrew word for gratitude is Hoda'ah. The word Hoda'ah has three meanings; it means thanks, praise and admission. It doesn't just mean any one of them, it means all three of them. If you have one Hebrew word that means three things; thanks, praise and admission, it must mean that it means a conglomerate of all three. That there must be some fundamental concept at the core of all three, which all three are derivative from.
The theory which I argued in my classes is that that concept is an uncomfortable recognition of an imbalance in my relationship with another human being – which is to say, that relationships that I have with you start out in balance, but they can get unbalanced. They can get unbalanced primarily in two or maybe three ways. One way they can get unbalanced is if I do something terrible to you, so then I'm down here and you're up here. Another way you can get it unbalanced is if you do a favor to me, so now you're here and I'm down here. Or, we can both be in similar situations, you can act nobly and I can chicken out, so you're down here and I'm up here.
Now how do we get relationships back in balance when they're imbalanced? So there's various ways that we can do it. The most commonsense way we can do it is through what we call reciprocation, we can reciprocate. This is the desire to reciprocate a favor. If somebody does something nice to you so you immediately want to reciprocate and do the favor back to them, because you're trying to get the relationship back in balance. This is also the drive for revenge. If somebody does terrible things to you so you have a natural desire to do terrible things to them back, so that you can reciprocate and bring your relationship back into balance.
But there's also times when reciprocation is something which we can't do or don't want to do. Sometimes we can't do it; let's say you saved my life and I don't have the opportunity to reciprocate by saving your life, so then I have this great imbalance in my relationship, how do I rectify it? Let's say I don't want to reciprocate. Let's say you did something terrible to me but I don't want to take revenge because I don't want to bring myself down to that level. So again, how do I achieve balance in the relationship?
So to this, in a nutshell, there seems to be the Jewish concept of Hoda'ah, which is very paradoxical. The Jewish concept of Hoda'ah is, paradoxically it makes no sense when you think about it, but it works anyway. The Ramban argues that Hoda'ah is a miracle because of this, because it makes no sense. What Hoda'ah is, is recognition of the imbalance. If I can look you in the eye and recognize that my relationship with you has become imbalanced and express that to you and you can understand that and accept it, so then our relationship can get back into balance.
This, so for example, if I look at you and I say thank you, and I don't say thank you I say, I appreciate that which you've done for me and I truly understand that which you've done for me, so my understanding – if I understand the imbalance, if I understand what you've given to me and you accept that – so then magically our relationships can rebalance. Or, if I say, that I, if I've done something terrible to you and I look you in the eye and I understand that which I did to you and I express that, and I express regret, and there's an understanding and a recognition of the imbalance and you can understand that and perceive that and accept it, so that also can rebalance the relationship.
Now if you think about it this is very paradoxical and it makes no sense. Because why should it be that a mere recognition of an imbalance causes the imbalance to go away? I mean if anything you'd think if I recognize the imbalance it will just magnify the imbalance. But that's not the way it happens.
Children by the way, need to be taught this, because, again intuitively it doesn't make any sense, which is why children have such a hard time – and some adults have such a hard time – saying thank you and saying, I'm sorry, because they're backing away from recognizing the imbalance, because they think that if they recognize it, it will just magnify it. I once did this with a group of kids and I asked the kids, I said to them how would you say you're sorry without using the words you're sorry? So one kid is going like this, you know, so I call on him and he says, you know how you say you're sorry, you say, I didn't mean to do it.
Now is that the way you say I'm sorry? No. That is a very lousy way of saying I'm sorry. Why? Because you did mean to do it. You darn well did mean to do it, you did it anyway, and if you say you didn't mean to do it, what are you doing, you're shirking away from the recognition of the truth of the situation and you're doing the exact opposite of what Hoda'ah really is. What Hoda'ah really is I did mean to do it and I'm sorry and I did an awful thing by meaning to do it.
So our natural response is to shy away from that because we think that if we really look at what the imbalance is there's, we'll be dwarfed by it. But paradoxically, for some reason G-d hardwired nature that it works, that Hoda'ah – the recognition of Hoda'ah – allows us to rebalance our relationships. So in a nutshell, Hoda'ah means three things; thanks, praise and admission, all three of these is a recognition of an imbalance which has happened in some way, and a rebalancing of our scales in light of that imbalance.
[Unclear 54:21] I always like to say Twerski from Pittsburgh always says that there's three words that you need to understand in marriage; if you understand these three words you'll have a happy marriage, and that is: thank you, I'm sorry and I admire you. If you can say thank you, I'm sorry and I admire you, so you're fine. Why? Because those are the three words of Hoda'ah. Those are the three words of recognizing an imbalance.
You can't say I'm going to have a perfect marriage because I'll never do anything to imbalance my relationship with my wife; I'll never do her a favor, she'll never do me a favor, I'll never step on her toes, I'll never – it's not going to happen. You are going to have imbalance of your relationships, you have to find some way of rebalancing.
Now reciprocation can work sometimes but not always; what happens if you can't reciprocate the favor? You're going to take revenge every time you get on each other's nerves? That's going to not make for a very happy relationship. So you have to have Hoda'ah. So if you can say those three words, the three words of Hoda'ah; thank you, I'm sorry and I admire you, you have the capacity to live a balanced relationship with each other.
Dayenu and True GratitudeAll right, so Dayenu is a song of Hoda'ah, but Hoda'ah is a tricky concept and it's very tricky for the following reason. Hoda'ah is very strangely an all-or-nothing process, which is to say that Hoda'ah doesn't work very well when it's incomplete. Let's say, for example, that you were the victim of a terrible assault on your character by a rather prominent member of the community and for five years – I actually had a friend that was in exactly this situation – for five years they were the subject of a barrage of carefully orchestrated character assassination by someone who was very highly placed in the community and it was, and this fellow came to me and said, I don't know who is right and who is wrong in this situation, I'm not judging the situation, I don't know the people in it. But from his vantage point this was what was going on and he said, how can I forgive in this situation? Is it possible to forgive in this situation?
So let me just construct with you a theoretical here. Let's imagine that the person who was doing this character assassination to you came to you – and this is like really big stuff, I mean this is really serious stuff in your life – and came to you to seek your forgiveness, and wants to be Modeh, wants to do an act of Hoda'ah with you. So they come to you, to your office, and say, you know I realize for the last five years I've really been acting like a jerk, and they go through what it is that they've been doing. But you're listening very intently to what it is they're saying, and as you're listening you start getting this sinking feeling that they don't quite get it and they don't really understand what it is that you've gone through. They don't really understand their culpability in this matter. They – yeah, it's true they want to make up with you, they feel bad that you've suffered, they – but they really just want to get it behind them and let bygones be bygones, they haven't, they don't really get what it is that they've done to you.
How easy is it for you to say, yeah, you know, I really forgive you, let's just go on? Can you do that?
[Response from audience member: (Hard to do 57:48).]
That's hard to do. Is it even possible to do? Can you really shake hands and give this person a hug and say, you know let's go on as if nothing happened?
[Response from audience member: No.]
[Response from audience member: There's a way to do it, which requires changing your expectations.]
Right. There is a way to do it – and that's what we talked about in Melton last year. There is a way to do it if you change your expectations for the relationship, but then the relationship is never what it once was. Whereas if you realize that this person is a frail, human being and is never going to get there and all of that, so you can go on and that's fine and you can move on, that's true, but the relationship is never going to be what it once was. Can the relationship ever become what it once was? It's very difficult.
For Hoda'ah to really work, the kind of Hoda'ah that revives the relationship and repairs it and makes it what it once was – in other words, the miracle of Hoda'ah that can rejuvenate a relationship and make it anew again – it can only happen when it's full. It's really all or nothing. You can then make a unilateral act of changing your expectations to say okay fine, our relationship won't be what it once was, I realize you're doing your best, you can't do it – so I'll be wary, I'll be on my guard and we'll just go on in life, we can do that. But to really rejuvenate our relationship it's very difficult to do.
Hoda'ah doesn't work very well on partial credit, and that I believe, the Maharal is suggesting is the key towards understanding Dayenu. Here is the theory. There is a certain kind of gift that we can receive that is very difficult to express proper Hoda'ah for. Let me explain to you what I mean by way of analogy – it's actually a very good analogy, I've only recently come to understand how good of an analogy this is. I'll try and get it across as carefully as I can. The analogy comes from the world of biology.
There's a book by Michael Behe – a biologist from Lehigh University – in which he talks about a notion that he calls irreducible complexity in biology. It's a book really which he's trying to force the reader to reexamine neo-Darwinism and to formulate a sort of new theory of evolution that deals with this issue. But he says that the classical neo-Darwinist vision of evolution is flawed. The reason why it's flawed is because he says recent advances in biochemistry have shown that there are certain kinds of systems that exist in the natural world that are impervious to assembly by evolutionary means, by classical evolutionary means. So he says there are systems which can be assembled in an evolutionary way but there are some systems which just can't be assembled that way. Theoretically, what he's talking about is the following.
He says that what is the theory of evolution? The theory of evolution is that there are two processes that work in tandem to be able to assemble organisms of increasing complexity. Those two processes are genetic mutation and natural selection. So what happens is, the theory goes, that you have an organism that does a job fairly well, and then it mutates, and there's 70,000 mutations and 69,999 of those mutations are not beneficial to the organism, and all of the progeny of those mutations die out. But every once in a while there's one mutation which is beneficial to the organism and which confers an advantage upon that organism before all the others. So all of the progeny of that organism will have that beneficial mutation and over time that progeny will repopulate faster and better and compete for scarce resources better than the others. And eventually the others will die out and this will become the dominant species, and then this will be the new dominant species until there's 70,000 other mutations, one of which is beneficial and then the beneficial mutation again becomes dominant. And so on and so forth, and there's billions of mutations and eventually you have a really exciting thing like a human being.
Okay that's basically the theory of evolution as Darwin conceived it. But Darwin himself recognized that conceptually his theory was vulnerable because he said if you could ever show me something that couldn't be assembled in that gradual way then the theory would completely fall apart. What Behe argues is that recent advances in biochemistry have shown that there are examples of biochemical things that happen which cannot be assembled in that kind of way. What are examples of that?
Notice that for the theory of evolution to work, the way it has to work is the following. You need something that basically does the job well and gets a little bit better through a mutation, and does the job a little better. What happens if the mutation confers no advantage to the organism now? That maybe 500 years from now it will confer some advantage but right now it confers no advantage. Will that organism become dominant? No. Because it will have no advantage over the others in natural selection at that point.
So he says the following. Very briefly, he says that generally speaking – and I'm over simplifying here – but he says generally speaking evolution works well to explain how organisms that already function, got better. But it does very poorly to explain how organisms that didn't function at all began to function in the first place. So he says for example, you can imagine that an organism that basically functions gets better through evolutionary means. He says, let's take for example, the example I like to give for this is a watch. Let's say for example, you had a watch that was biological and that created progeny and that mutated and all of this. Okay, so let's imagine that you had an imperfect watch, you have a watch without any faceplate on it, that has aluminum dials instead of brass dials. So imagine now you have all these mutations and there's wooden dials and there's all this, but then there's brass dials, and brass dials don't rust. So eventually brass dials would become the dominant species.
Then this watch is vulnerable and it's going to fall apart but then there's faceplate. So there's faceplates that come on and some of them are opaque and you can't see through them and they don't work for timepieces so they go. They're not really selected for, but then one out of 70,000 mutations there's a clear glass cover, so the clear glass cover then becomes the dominant mutation and this is acceptable, and now all watches have clear glass covers.
Then some are square and some are jagged, but then one happens to be round and perfectly fits over the watch, and that becomes the dominant watch. So then you could see how you could have a biologically evolving watch. So you would look at this watch and you say, wow, what a nice watch, look how the cover comes, it must be designed. You say no, there's an evolutionary process that exists in how we get the watch.
Okay, everyone with me? But then he says, that doesn't mean that a watch can be designed by evolution. It only means that a rudimentary watch that you already have can get better through evolution, but try designing the watch itself through evolutionary processes. Imagine that you have a great junkyard of watch parts, so you have this pre-biotic soup of the earth, or you have a great junkyard. So there's hurricanes going around and there's lightning in the junkyard and all sorts of stuff. There's all these dials and gears flying all over the place. So now, so one in a billion years, or every 100,000 years, so two dials get together and wedge together in exactly the formation that they would wedge together in a real watch. Now will natural selection save these dials? Is this now a good timekeeping mechanism that has an advantage over all the other dials as a timekeeping mechanism? Should natural – we now have this mutation, there are two dials in exactly the right place for a watch, will natural selection now say this is a better watch than all of the other "watches" in the junkyard?
Let's say you had a third dial come together exactly like a watch, so now does it keep time any better than the other two dials?
[Response from audience member: Of course not.]
No. Let's say you then added a spring, does it keep time any better? No. Let's say you added a second hand. No. So the thing with the watch is, is that there's at least 157 pieces which are needed in order for a watch to have any minimum viability whatsoever and unless you have all of those you have nothing.
So now he says that if you can find something in the biological realm that was watch-like, it would be very difficult to explain through evolutionary means. In other words, if you could find an organism that has no functionality whatsoever in any basic way unless it has 157 parts that are all functioning together – we have 130 parts you have no, it's not that 70 per cent functionality, or 15 per cent functionality, you have no functionality. When you have 153 parts you have no functionality, it's only when you have all the parts together then you have something which is very difficult to assemble by evolutionary means. Now it could happen that it all randomly happened and came together, it could randomly come together, but it wouldn't come together through natural selection.
So he gives a, and I recommend you read the book. So for example, cilia, so what's needed for cilia to function – you know cilia in a cell – to function well? How would you get cilia to function well? So he shows that there's basically 157 components that are required to get cilia to function at all, and that conceptually there's a number of things that cilia need to be able to do, and if they don't do any one of them it's not that you have a cilia that functions a little bit, like it functions seven per cent better than a cell that doesn't have – you have a cilia that doesn't function at all. In other words, what cilia are, are like, are paddles, that paddle the cell and allow it to motor around. So if you have paddles that have motors but they can't coordinate, so they just flail without any kind of coordination, so is your cilia better than any other cell? No. I mean your cell is moving around randomly, it has no…
[Response from audience member: Are you saying that cilia did not come about through evolution?]
Right. He's saying there's no way to assemble cilia through natural selection. He says it could come about randomly – in other words, you could argue that all these 157 parts just happened to come together, but you can't assemble it through natural selection. That's his argument.
The blood-clotting system in the human being. The blood-clotting system of the human being is a cascade of biochemical forces and there's 37 biochemical things that need to happen in order for your blood to clot, and if one of those things is missing your blood doesn't clot at all. So how could you assemble the blood-clotting system through evolutionary means? So he says that it couldn't be that you just had 13 of these things come together and natural selection saved them, because the organism that has this has no advantage whatsoever over an organism that doesn't have those 13 things. So even if the 13 things came together randomly they wouldn't be saved because the organism has no advantage over any of the others.
Read the book, this is the theory.
Now you want to argue on biological grounds, you can argue on biological grounds, but I'm interested in the concept. The concept I'm interested in is irreducible complexity. And the reason I'm interested in this concept is because I believe that it is not only just from the world of biology that irreducible complexity exists, but it's also in the world of gifts. It is possible to give somebody an irreducibly complex gift. You can, for example, what happens, there's simple gifts and there's also irreducibly complex gifts. Let's say somebody is having a baby and they have no family in town, so you step in the breach and you babysit their kids, and you shuttle them to the hospital and you pick them up from the hospital, and you buy their car seat and you make them meals and you do all of this.
So then what have you done for this person? And you could summarize what you've done for this person is that you've helped them transition into having a child and give birth. That's one way of talking about it. But in effect what you've done is you've given them an irreducibly complex gift; they wouldn't have been able to "survive", they wouldn't have been able to "make it", without 15 or 17 things that you did. And you did all of those 17 things and, as a result, they had a successful transition into this position, but if you hadn't done one of them, that situation wouldn't be successful.
Now how do you express gratitude for that gift? Given our notion that gratitude is an all-or-nothing proposition can, is it just, is it sufficient in a thank you note to simply say, thanks for your help in helping me in this situation? So that kind of works, but if Hoda'ah is an all-or-nothing proposition then we might suggest that to really perform Hoda'ah that works, you really need to truly get it. To truly get it you need to really understand what the person gave you; it's not just that oh they gave you some stuff, you have to understand that they gave you something that if any piece of what they gave you was not there, the whole thing would have fallen apart. You have to understand each discreet piece and the role that each discreet piece plays and make some reference to that specificity, in order to be able to express thanks appropriately.
That's why people come, sometimes we have guests or guys from Yeshiva will come to your homes. So there's a difference between the guest that says to the hostess, thanks for the food, everything was delicious, in a perfunctory kind of way, to sort of being specific and saying, I really, the turkey was really delicious. If you can recognize the specificity and understand that this was something that was a combination of specific things, then you begin to get it. Whereas if you don't, and you're glib and you just recognize that there's something in general, you don't really get it.
So the theory that the Maharal suggests – and what I'd like to give you today, is that Dayenu is the response of Hoda'ah specifically to an irreducibly complex gift. Because you can give irreducibly complex gifts and one of those gifts was the Exodus.
Dayenu: A Song that Expresses PassoverIf you look at what is it that Dayenu express gratitude for, Dayenu expresses gratitude for 15 things that were really all one thing. The one thing was that we got out of Egypt and we became a free people serving G-d in our own land, that was the one thing in a nutshell. But you can't say thank you that way, you have to say thank you in a specific kind of way and recognize each one of these gifts along the way. And recognize that there's not just one thing, but I recognize the whole but I also recognize the pieces that make up the whole.
Now, you would say, what do you mean to say, it would have been enough, for each one of these pieces? What does it mean, it would have been enough? I think what it would have been enough means, in other words, in the context of Hoda'ah, what Hoda'ah means is to recognize that I'm unworthy of what it is that you've given me, to make that recognition of imbalance. In an irreducibly complex Hoda'ah, I must recognize not just that I'm unworthy of the whole, but that I'm unworthy of each piece in the whole. Now, how do I look at each piece? Dayenu is the only way you can do it. You look at each piece individually but in the context of the whole, which is to say having gone through all of it and standing on the other side, the type of Hoda'ah we make is a Hoda'ah of the whole and say, I don't deserve the whole, but I don't deserve each part that makes up the whole.
Ah, each part is meaningless. Each piece means nothing. If I got through the sea and I was slaughtered by the Egyptians then it's nothing. You're right. But you know what, that's only when you look at it from the perspective of this world, from the perspective of becoming. But from the perspective of being, it's not true. Let me be very precise about what I mean for you.
There's two ways you could look at Dayenu and there's two ways you can look at every irreducibly complex gift. Irreducible complexity is a paradox because I can ask you this question about something that's irreducibly complex. Is each component in an irreducibly complex system significant or insignificant? The answer is both. On the way to assembling the system each piece is insignificant, because as I put each piece in I have no more functionality than I did before. When I have the motor part of the cilia but not the part that controls them, I still don't have anything which helps me at all. So it's insignificant at that level. However, that's just as I'm assembling the situation – in this world, in the world of becoming. But now let's say it's assembled and all the pieces are together, now is each piece significant?
[Response from audience member: Yes.]
Yes. Each piece is ultimately significant because paradoxically if you take one away the whole thing would fall apart. So each piece is completely insignificant but completely significant at the same time. It's insignificant in the world of becoming, as I assemble the system, but it's ultimately significant in the world of being. That is the paradox of irreducible complexity.
So how do you recognize that? Standing at the shores of being, when I already have the system, and I look back towards becoming, then I'm able to say, wow I recognize there were all these pieces. The reason you can't see it is that if you're in the middle of the process you can't express the Hoda'ah on each part, because each piece is nothing. At the end of the process when each piece is not just nothing but essential to the whole, then you go back and say, wow I didn't deserve the whole thing, I didn't deserve each piece of this, which is essential to making this whole work.
What Is This Passover Song Really About?What Dayenu is, is the way that we express thanks for your irreducible complexity, and what it is, I believe, is that 15 is the code word really in Judaism for irreducible complexity, and the code word for that is steps. There's 15 steps in the Temple, there's 15 phases or steps that the moon takes to get from a situation of waning to a situation of completion. What journey is the moon on, on its way from nascency to fullness? It's on a journey from becoming into being. From nothingness all the way into being completely full. What journey is it where we're going up steps? Also from becoming – we're getting somewhere and then finally we're there, we're being. What journey is it when we go from this world to the next world? We're on a journey of becoming into being. This world is becoming, becoming, becoming – everything we do in this world is steps, towards being which is the complete fullness of everything that we've become.
The 15-number name of G-d says that that 15 is the name of G-d that we associate with that process of becoming into being, and that is the union of 7 and 8. Seven is the world of the natural, the world of becoming and 8 is the world of being, the world of the supernatural, and 15 is the union of 7 and 8, and the bridge between 7 and 8 from being into becoming. And that is Dayenu.
And that is why Dayenu is steps, because if you look at the language of Dayenu you'll find that the prologue to Dayenu are the following words in Hebrew; Kamah ma'alot tovot le'Makom aleinu – how many good things, we say before we say Dayenu, do we owe the Creator for?
The Steps of DayenuBut in Hebrew the word Ma'alot doesn't really mean things, doesn't really mean how many good things do we owe the Creator for. Ma'alot means steps. The Hebrew, what we thank G-d for Dayenu is for steps; how many steps do we owe the Creator for. And the 15 verses of Dayenu are literally steps that we owe the Creator for.
What's fascinating as well is that's what Ilu and V'loh are. A step is composed of two components; the tread and the riser, the tread and the riser, the tread and the riser. What's the difference between the tread and the riser? The tread ushers you in to a whole new world that was impossible just a moment before. But you're not there yet; the riser cuts you off and so you can't go anymore unless you go up another step, and then there's a new world of possibilities and then there's a riser. That's Ilu and V'loh. Ilu is 'if only', the tread, 'but not', the riser. Only up to here, but then there's another tread – if only, and then, but not – and there's a riser. What Dayenu really is, is a series of steps and fascinatingly, finally, and that by the way is the opposites of Ilu and V'loh spelled backwards.
Finally, if you look at Dayenu visually in your Haggadah you'll find that it actually looks like steps – and with this I'll close. But if you look at your Haggadah, if you have a whole bunch of Ilus and V'lohs going down the page, the letter in the middle of both Ilu and V'loh is what?
[Response from audience member: Vav.]
What does a, it's Lamed, what does a Lamed look like? It's look like this. Imagine that you had a whole bunch of Lameds connecting with each other, going down a page, it would look like steps. And if you look at David Moss' Haggadah that's exactly how he draws it. He has Ilus and V'lohs going into steps in the whole Haggadah, because that's what, exactly what it is that we're thanking G-d for.
So in a nutshell I would argue that what Dayenu is, is the only way that we can express gratitude for the miracle of the Exodus, which is the miracle of going from nothingness as a nation, through a stage of becoming, into fullness as a complete nation in Israel, which is the transition from 7 [to 80:39] 8. From becoming into being. And the only way we can express gratitude for that is through the 15 steps of Dayenu.
That's what I would leave you with tonight.