If God had provided for our needs in the wilderness for 40 years -- dayenu!
If God had fed us manna -- dayenu!
It's arguably the most famous Passover Jewish song. Each year, sing-song verses and repetitive chorus stick in my head almost as long as the matzah sticks in my stomach. But here's a twist you might not have heard about: when singing the song, some Sephardic Jews take long stemmed green onions or leeks and use them to playfully whip each other on the head!
Some attribute the source of this custom to the following verse, where the Jewish people are grumbling in the desert: "We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all. Nothing but this manna to look at!" (Numbers 11:5-6).
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What's the connection? The manna was a food miracle from God: Sustaining, nutritious, plentiful, consistent and free. Yet the children of Israel couldn't appreciate it. The custom to whip each other with green onions and leeks is a physical reminder of our mistake in the desert: not appreciating the food miracles we had.
For some Americans, myself included, the modern food system is also nothing short of miraculous: sustaining, nutritious, plentiful, consistent and affordable. Almost any fruit, from all over the world, in any season, can be found fresh in a local supermarket. Going to bed hungry is unthinkable. Dayenu, dayenu, dayenu! But we forget, we grumble. "Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all!"
How many of us have looked inside a full refrigerator or a stuffed pantry and thought, "There's nothing to eat!" How many of us have complained about food that was healthy, sustaining and plentiful, but didn't meet our sensual desires? How many of us have exclaimed "I'm starving!" after eating a meal just a few hours ago? How many of us feel that not eating chametz for a week is a real hardship, without ever going close to hungry? I know that I have.
On a holiday when many of us eat exorbitant amounts of food, we are called to maintain that dayenu mentality. This year, may the recitation of dayenu helps us do just that, through its lyrics, melody and, for some, the end of a playful whip!