Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conversations on Pesach: Dayenu: Maintaining Meaning in an Imperfect World

There is a dissonance between the Exodus story in the Hagaddah, which primarily focuses on the Jews leaving Egypt, and the Exodus story in the Torah, which emphasizes the importance of leaving Egypt in order to enter the Promised Land.

The Haggadah's change in tone and downplaying of Israel is most likely in order to maintain the meaning of Pesach as a 'time of our freedom.' After all, if Pesach is about coming to Israel, then how can a 16th Century Polish Jew reading the story in the shadow of a potential pogrom truly celebrate our journey from slavery to liberation without being miserable?

Marking the victory of slaves against totalitarianism meanwhile is inspiring regardless of which generation one finds themselves in.

However, if the ultimate aim of the Exodus was coming to Israel, then how can we say Dayenu, it would have been enough if only we would have left Egypt without getting the Torah or entering the land?

In the Shiur, we discussed how while entering Israel may have been part of our people's meta-narrative, there is still value in understanding and appreciating steps along the long walk to freedom. In fact, as Jonathan Sacks explains, failure to understand historical processes (as reflected in the French and Russian revolutions), or to force perfection and redemption before its allotted time (what Amos Oz calls 'now-ism') can lead to disaster.

Ultimately, the lesson of being satisfied with less than we may believe we deserve, as reflected in the Talmudic Rabbis' command to say grace (bensch) after eating an olive, (and potentially with the Yishuv's acceptance of the Partition Plan in 1947) allows us to find meaning even without all our aspirations being fulfilled.

Click here for the source sheet and for the audio recording.

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