One of the most central and memorable readings that we do every year at our Passover Seder lists, one by one, the acts God performed for the Israelites when they left Egypt, moving from slavery to freedom. I probably don’t need to refresh your memory, but here is a short excerpt:
How manifold are the blessings and favors that God has conferred upon us! Had God brought us out of Egypt, and not divided the sea for us – it would have been enough for us- DAYEINU!
How God divided the sea for us, and not sustained us for forty years in the desert – DAYEINU!
Had God sustained us for forty years in the desert and not fed us with manna – DAYEINU!
And the musical version has a very memorable refrain: DA-DA YEINU!
The Hebrew word “DAI” means “enough.” While its most famous usage is that passage in the Passover Haggadah, there is a little piece of DAYEINU that relates to holiness and to the realm of human community in the Torah reading for this Shabbat. The two combined portions for this week describe the making of the Israelite house of worship in the wilderness, the Tabernacle. In the section I will read from the beginning of Exodus Chapter 36, the artisans, led by Bezalel and Oholiab, received a wide variety of gifts and donations from the people, tangible items that were intended to be used to make their portable holy place. The people were contributing every morning….until this happened.
4All the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged, 5and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the ETERNAL ONE has commanded to be done!" 6Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: "Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!" So the people stopped bringing: 7their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.
Their efforts had been more than enough – the words are DAYAM – there is that word DAI again – V’HOTEIR – which means “and more.” In this communal donation effort, there was no cajoling, no pressure and no ad campaign. There was no need for parlor meetings or one-on-one requests. The people just….gave. Perhaps this was like an antidote to the tragic episode of the golden calf, when the people donated to a cause that led them astray. In this case, they were giving for a holy purpose from their hearts, and with a special generous spirit, so much so that the message to STOP had to be given to them with vigor. So how many congregational building funds in the history of religious communities have had such an experience when the people enthusiastically gave more than was needed? I don’t have the data to share, so I won’t go there. In this case, the tangible gifts given by the people expressed something intangible – a feeling of connection with each other, and a sense of wanting to draw near to God in a holy space. What they gave was more than enough….but they were not yet done giving.
What they still had to give after they made the Tabernacle, a holy place, was holy action. And for this, please take out your prayerbook and turn to page 88. The “EILU D’VARIM” reading, which combines two ancient texts of the rabbis, lists some of the positive acts we can perform that can strengthen the foundation of any community. Please turn to page 88 and read with me:
These are things that are limitless, of which a person enjoys the fruit of this world, while the principal remains in the world to come. They are: honoring one’s father and mother, engaging in deeds of compassion, arriving early for study, morning and evening, dealing graciously with guests, visiting the sick, providing for the wedding couple, accompanying the dead for burial, being devoted in prayer, and making peace among people. But the study of Torah encompasses them all.
This passage presents study as a path to the actions that are listed. When we engage in learning with each other, we create partnerships and friendships that can keep us on a path that sets a high standard for all that we do. When the passage says, “these are things that are limitless,” we could understand it to mean, “these are the things that you have to do enough….and more.” It is a counterpart in the realm of human relationships to the Israelites who brought more-than-enough gifts for the building of the tabernacle. This passage calls on us to bring the best gifts of our character to create holy spaces in our everyday lives.
When we turn this reading into its opposites, it can bring home for us the message of why the positive acts of the EILU D’VARIM prayer are so important. The opposite values to the ones reflected in that passage are disrespect, cruelty, laziness, rejection of others who are different, lack of concern for community members, arrogance, creating conflict for the sake of conflict, and ignorance without a desire to learn something new. This description of what some people could do in a negative way may sound all too familiar because we can readily think of examples of how people act based on those dark principles and approaches to life. I believe the rabbis knew that, too. And what they said at the beginning of the reading really is this: “These are things that you should practice and do enough…and more. And even if it seems you aren’t making any headway, even if you feel that there is no immediate reward for the good that you do, don’t stop. Have faith that what you do to help and support others will lead to a greater good that you cannot even begin to imagine.”
So may the gifts we bring to our families and communities express our own sense of purpose and enhance the lives of everyone around us. And may we not stop giving, because what our world demands of us is, always, to do enough…and more. So may we do – and let us say amen.
Prayers texts from Mishkan T’filah, CCAR.
Haggadah excerpt from Sharing the Journey, CCAR.