Have you heard of “the Kvetcher’s Haggadah”? It goes something like this:
“If He had just brought us out of Egypt, and not made us shlep all of their wealth . . . that would have been bad enough. If He had made us shlep all their wealth, and had not frightened us half to death at the Red Sea . . . before the water finally split . . . that would have been bad enough. If He had frightened us half to death at the Red Sea . . . and not made us shlep through the desert for forty years, that would have been bad enough. If He had made us shlep through the desert for forty years and not made us eat the manna, which tasted like cardboard . . . that would have been bad enough.”
Too many people look at life like the kvetcher! What we have is never good enough; we always need more. Whether it is a more sophisticated phone, a nicer car, fancier clothes – we always need better, improved, more.
The Midrash (Shmot Rabba 24:1) teaches that in spite of the many miracles that were performed on their behalf, the Children of Israel still had difficulty finding happiness. The Midrash says that as they were crossing the sea, the people said to each other, “b’Mitzrayim b’chomer u’v’levenim, u’ve’yam chomer mayim rabim – in Egypt, we had mud and bricks, and now we just have more mud!”
It is easy to find things to complain about. Even as we sit around our Seder tables, we will be surrounded by imperfect people. That is the reality with family and friends: no one is perfect. And the better acquainted we are with others, the more aware we are of their shortcomings (and they are aware of ours!). For every one chacham (wise child), there are three who are not wise. And even the chacham finds a way to get under our skin every now and then.
The challenge, then, becomes how to change our orientation and become more positive in our outlook. How do we avoid being kvetchers?
There is a well-known Chassidic story about how a young Menachem Mendl of Riminov was “discovered” by his teacher, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. The young boy lived in poverty, was hungry and in need of new clothing, yet he was overheard saying, “I feel so blessed that I have a loving family and so many other wonderful things in my life.” Upon hearing these words, Reb Elimelech immediately knew that Menachem Mendl would one day become a great Rebbe.
This positive outlook is a sign of greatness, and it is also the central meaning of dayenu. At every stage, even if we haven’t reached the full potential for our happiness and satisfaction, we must find the strength and wisdom to say, “This is good. Thank you. Dayenu.” Even if God had only brought us to Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah – wow, what an amazing blessing to be standing at Mount Sinai, together with so many holy people!
Happiness in life depends on our ability to appreciate the small achievements. In fact, the entire story of Passover hinges on one small act. The Torah describes the vulnerable and lonely baby Moshe as he cries, and the daughter of Pharaoh sees the child (Exodus 2:5). If she doesn’t respond and see the good in the situation, then the story is over: there will be no exodus and no redemption.
Thankfully, she stops, looks and behold the beauty of human life, and va’tachmol alav, she has compassion towards Moshe. In a historical period of darkness and despair, she sees the good in the child.
That is the dayenu approach! We look for the good, we look for the spark of life and of Godliness in others, and we look for the blessings that are present in our lives. Now and then, we might find a moment or two to kvetch…but at the holy Pesach Seder, let our mouths be filled only with good food and words of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Abby, Aviya, Ayelet, Annael, Allegra, and Arella join me in wishing the Akiva School family a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!
Rabbi Adam Scheier