What Is Enough Freedom?

04/03/2013 07:39 am ET | Updated Jun 03, 2013

The weeklong Festival of Passover just ended, not with a bang but a whimper. There was no big ritual, no loud family gathering, no singing, no telling the powerful story of our journey out of Egypt, Mitzrayim, the narrow place.

Why not? Maybe because the journey doesn't really end.

Passover challenges us to look upon ourselves as though we really had come out of "the house of bondage." But that is just the beginning. Where are we going once we have come out of Mitzrayim? What is that Promised Land we are working to create in the larger world? What steps are we taking to get there? What is this journey of ours?

We raise this question in our seders when we sing Dayenu, proclaiming that " it would have been enough."

Daynenu begins: "How many favors, how many blessings, has God bestowed upon us?" Fifteen are recounted in a traditional Hagaddah. Fifteen -- the same number as the numerical value of God's name; the same number as the steps leading up to the ancient Temple, the same number as the steps in the seder ritual. The list in a traditional hagaddah begins with God taking us out of Egypt, exacting revenge against the Egyptians, taking care of us in a physical way and climaxes with the spiritual gifts God gave us: the Shabbat, bringing us to Sinai, giving us the Torah, bringing us into the land of Israel, and building the Temple for us to atone our sins.

In the traditional Hagaddah, the journey ends with the Temple. But of course that isn't the end; Jewish history has continued long after the destruction of the Temple.

The first Reform version of this text is quite different. It not only omits all the stages that speak about revenge against the Egyptians, but it also continues beyond the Temple: God brought us prophets of truth and made us into a holy people charged with the responsibility to repair the world. The "Open Door" Reform Hagaddah adds more: that God has been with us in our trials, kept alive our hope for a return to Israel, made the dream of return to Israel a reality, and gave us strength to create a vibrant diaspora.

Notice the different ways we have of telling our story, of reflecting on our journey -- and imagining where it ends.

Where does the journey end? How you answer that question tells a lot about how you understand what it means to be Jewish, what your story requires of you. To be part of a people charged with perfecting the world is not an easy task. That responsibility is part of our story. To celebrate the reborn State of Israel requires that that we do something real to connect ourselves to that land and its people. To be grateful for a vibrant diaspora challenges us to create a rich and meaningful Jewish spiritual, cultural and intellectual life right here where we live.

Dayenu does more than ask where the collective Jewish journey ends. It challenges us as well in a deeply personal way. To say Dayenu, "it would have been enough," suggests that wherever we are along the way is actually where we are supposed to be; that the goal of the journey is to experience the journey itself.

If God had taken us out of Egypt, but not divided the sea for us, it would have been enough. If God had split the sea for us but not taken us through to dry land, it would it have been enough. But would it have been? Where would we be? We'd be dead! So how are we meant to understand what Dayenu is teaching?

Would it have been enough: What is enough? How do I live my life with the consciousness of the many blessings that are already in my life without always wanting more? If my personal story were to end right now, would I be able to say dayenu about my life? What would it mean to relate to any given moment, this moment, right now, right here, as if my whole life has led up to it -- to really say dayenu?

And when would it be wrong to say dayenu, to settle for less than we should demand, to give up too soon? I look around our imperfect world, is it dayenu? I don't think so. There are always other steps. The journey never ends. The world is still waiting to be repaired. Lo Dayenu -- not enough.

But still, if I stop for a moment and pay attention, here's what I see: sS many blessings that have been bestowed on us as a people -- and also on me. It is that consciousness that gives me strength and vision to continue the journey and the work of repairing the world.

Where does the journey end? It never does. But we can stop along the way, and be present to this moment -- to this very moment. And appreciate that, yes, this is enough.