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D'var Torah: Parashat Toldot: Dayenu

11/11/2018 05:11:20 PM

Nov11

Rabbi Elisa F. Koppel

I’ve had a refrain going through my head these past few weeks: Dayenu, it would have been enough for us.  But not the joyous Dayenu we sing at Passover, but a more somber one—enough is enough.  Had this one thing happened, Dayenu.  It would have been enough for us. 

Had there been a shooting in Pittsburgh, but not on Shabbat during services: Dayenu.

Had survivors of the Las Vegas shooting just over a year ago, not also been at the bar in Thousand Oaks: Dayenu.

Had there been a shooting in Thousand Oaks and not wild fires ravaging that same area: Dayenu.

Had swastikas been drawn in synagogues and public spaces throughout the country, but other synagogues not faced arson attacks: Dayenu.

Had our JCC had bomb threats nearly 2 years ago, and not been evacuated again this week: Dayenu.

Had Kristallnacht shattered windows and lives 80 years ago, and antisemitism and other hateful prejudice not continued to exist in the decades since: Dayenu.

Dayenu. It’s enough.  It’s too much.  

Between all these things, amidst other moments of challenge that so many of us have, traumas and wounds barely healed the reopen with each headline. When even our moments of joy can feel muted, for some of us: Dayenu. 

When some of us feel bad for feeling joy: Dayenu.

As Rebecca cried out with twins fighting with her womb: אִם־כֵּ֔ן לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֖ה אָנֹ֑כִי

“If this is so,” she asks, “Why am I?” 

If this is so, Why are any of us? Why are we? Dayenu.   It’s enough.

And yet, we turn towards the news, morning after morning, to see what else has happened.  For many, with a dread and a knowledge that there will be something.  Some other horror that has faced our world since the night before.  A sense of relief at those times when the world has been quiet—but a feeling that those times are fewer and further between than they used to be.  A sense of numbness and lack of surprise when we read of a new horror, that feels as unnatural as the tears that might burn on our cheeks.

And we find moments of hope.  We find sources of support.  We find opportunities for resilience.  And yet: Dayenu.

And yet we know we cannot be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief; as Rabbi Rami Shapiro reminds us, we must do justly, now.  Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.  We are not obligated to complete the work, but nor are we free to abandon it.  We must say dayenu, now.

We know what happens for those fighting twins that Rebecca eventually births.  Jacob and Esau go on to lives of fighting.  But surely—we cannot accept that we are to live lives that are full of reports of almost daily trauma.  We cannot accept that while there may be factions around us who cannot agree and whose messages only grow louder, that they will continue to fight within our midst.  At some point, it must truly become enough.  For when it truly enough for us, then we must do something.  We must realize that we need to begin to repair, ourselves and our world, so that the future is better than the present may seem.

So what do we do with this sense of dayenu?

I believe that the answer is in those very twins, warring in Rebecca’s womb.  Because even those brothers eventually come together, a few chapters later than this week, Jacob and Esau crying over each other in a deep embrace and seeing in each other the Face of God.  In those brothers, we can see hope, a glimmer of the idea that eventually, the hatred and violence, the trickery and the manipulation, is, indeed, enough.  And it is in our young people that I continue to see hope.  This week’s Torah portion, after all, is called Toldot: generations.  It is through the generations that we can continue to make mistakes, and through the generations that we can find the hope towards repair.

Rebecca and Isaac, it seems, do not learn to change for the better, the behaviors of the generations before them.  Isaac instead digs anew the wells that his father had dug before him, instead of finding new wells of his own.  He urges his wife to pretend she is something other than who she is, in order to protect himself—just as his father had done.  Isaac and Rebecca both love one child more than the other, increasing the strife that existed for those children.  Perhaps, the story could have moved forward differently, if they had changed, and found a way to give their children the tools they could have used to make their world different.  Each generation has the potential to repair the damage of past generations—if only they are given the tools and the ability to do so.

 Perhaps, the next chapter in our own story can be different.  To those young people growing up in a world where shelter in place drills are commonplace, because too many shootings have happened in schools.  Those young people who are evacuated from their schools because of suspicious packages.  Those young people who have learned that they need to be careful wherever they are, because they read the same news that we read.  Those young people who have only begun to speak out against what they see as wrong.

Perhaps, it is through them that it will truly become dayenu.  Enough.  If we listen to them.  And help them to grow.  And help them to learn lessons that will help them to build the world that we all must believe is possible.  And listen to them.  And let them speak their truth and their power.

We have not yet learned.  And yet we can.  We can learn and we can teach what we have learned.  And together create that better world.  Where our broken and breaking hearts are mended.  Where our fractured world is healed.

And then, we really can create plowshares out of swords.  And musical instruments out of those.  And music out of those instruments.  A world where we don’t come together with our neighbors at rallies and vigils, but out of celebration and love.  

I believe that such a world is possible.  Because, as I heard this week, whole worlds pivot on acts of imagination.  It is imagining that world, and how to build it, and that we can, that keeps me going.  May this be the week where we, as a world, truly can say dayenu: It is enough.  

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Sun, October 20 2019 21 Tishrei 5780