Dayenu: The Power of Enough-ness

March 27, 2023Crystal Hill

Last year was my first time celebrating Passover and one of the first times I sang with the congregational choir. One of the songs we performed for the seder was "Dayenu." The choir director explained during practice that in Hebrew, "dayenu" means "enough." I loved the melody of the song and found myself humming the tune as I prepared for Passover.

Whether I was at the grocery store, pre-reading different Haggadot, or pondering ways to make the table look nice without using a tablecloth that could be pulled off by an inquisitive one-year-old, I had the tune of "Dayenu" running through the back of my mind. Perhaps I was trying to master it while I prepared to sing with the choir during the congregational seder or because I found the melody particularly catchy, but in hindsight, I wonder if my subconscious may have been trying to tell me that I was beginning to get overwhelmed and that I should have been telling myself "I've done enough."

As I prepare to celebrate Passover this year, I realize that one of the biggest lessons I've learned has been to not only accept but revel in my "enough-ness."

Whenever I take on new responsibilities, I tend to start out by trying to tackle everything at once. Looking back at my preparation notes for last Passover (yes, I still have them on my computer), I realize that buying two five-pound boxes of matzah, five canisters of macaroons, and cooking at least half a dozen different dishes for my family of three, one of whom had only begun eating solid food, might be what some people (including my present self) would call "overkill."

When I began my Jewish journey, I was juggling being a new mother, going back to work, and figuring out what was truly important and what I could let slide. Ever since I was a child, I have had a very strong perfectionist streak. This tendency became even more pronounced as I started navigating being a mother with a full-time job. While seeing the message "you are enough" on social media was galvanizing, it seemed that for every "you are enough" post was an ad that screamed "get your body back;" "give your baby the care they deserve;" or a perennially viral Facebook post implying that being a stay-at-home mom is better than being a mom with a career (or vice versa).

When I first began to observe Shabbat, my perfectionist streak showed itself once more. I tried to make sure that I was lighting the candles at precisely the right time according to my Jewish Life wall calendar, making challah from scratch (since there aren't any Jewish bakeries nearby), and making sure the house was clean. However, doing all of this quickly turned Shabbat into a source of anxiety instead of the day of rest and family time it was supposed to be. Added to the anxiety of prepping for Shabbat was the worry that, if I didn't do things perfectly, I would risk angering God, which came with its own set of traumas and issues for my mental health.

When I mentioned these difficulties to my rabbi, she asked whether I had ever heard of the saying "perfection is the enemy of action." She explained that it's better to do something imperfectly than to not try at all because you're afraid that you aren't going to do it right. Once I looked at things that way, I began to push through my worries and pay attention to my emotional state. If my son was particularly fussy during the time when I would usually make challah, the bread for Shabbat dinner was French bread bought from the grocery store across the street. If he napped too long and dinner was served later than usual, the candles got lit a little later than I preferred. If I had stayed up most of the night soothing and feeding a crying infant (or was just plain exhausted), I'd skip the gym, knowing that more rest was better for my mental health.

After a few months, I noticed something. While my observance and self-care had been far from perfect, there was no earth-shattering kaboom from above. I was also (slowly) learning to embrace my post-pregnancy body and viewing it not as a problem to be solved, but as a blessing for which I was grateful. My efforts may not have been perfect, but they were mine and reflected what I could do.

I began looking at my various responsibilities and projects less like pass/fail tests and more like steps on a journey. Not only that, I learned that one of the best ways to prioritize my tasks was to ask myself whether the outcome would really make a difference in my life in five years' time. Once I started allowing myself to say "enough," I found I became much more fulfilled in my Judaism, at work, and in my role as a mother. That isn't to say that my perfectionist tendencies have vanished, nor that I have managed to find a perfect work-life balance. But I can say that as I look at where I am in my life now, I am at peace with the big picture.

As I gear up to celebrate Passover this year, I'm focusing less on what I do or don't do and more on what my abilities will allow without getting burnt out. This year, my focus is on creating good memories for myself and my family, not on baking large amounts of kosher for Passover food or finding the perfect decorations. This year, as I sing "Dayenu," my focus won't be on the things on the table, but the people around it. If we are all happy and enjoying ourselves, it will truly be enough for me.

Related Posts

Creating Community on World Refugee Day

June 20 marks World Refugee Day, which honors the experiences of refugees and celebrates their contributions to their communities and the world. The UN Refugee Agency reports that more than 114 million individuals were forcibly displaced by the end of 2023, with more than 35 million identified as refugees.