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When is Enough, Enough Already?

 In #QuietingTheSilence, Articles, Mental Health, Passover

As Pesach draws near, I am contemplating part of the Seder. In my family, as in so many others these days, we add to the singing of Dayenu the wonderful custom of smiting one another with scallion. “Dai, dai’yenu, dai, dai’yenu. . . ,“ we sing joyfully. “It would have been enough. Enough, enough, enough. To bring us out of Egypt, to give us Shabbat, to give us Torah — enough, enough. . . 

But when examining the stages of Dayenu, I wonder, would each of these moments really have been enough? To have been brought out of Egypt, but left at the Red Sea?  To have been brought into the desert, but no manna? To have been brought to Sinai, but no Torah? Would that really have been enough? 

And so, too, now we wonder. In each of our lives, we have moments when it is simply not “enough.” To have been given chemo for our cancer, but not given remission — lo dai/not enough! To have cutting-edge treatment for my depression, without feeling better — lo dai. To have worked toward a vaccine without lowering the rate of transmission of COVID — lo dai.  

And when, at the time of Elijah’s cup, we remember/recite the tradition of “Pour out Your wrath,” when we note “in every generation, tyrants have risen up to oppress us,” we might think — yes, G-d, enough. Perhaps more than enough. In this time of coronavirus, we may think, “Yes, oh G-d, enough already.” Surely we could learn to feel G-d’s Presence, G-d’s redemption in our lives without yet another plague or persecution.  

I led two Zoom Seders last year. Ordinarily I lead one, and my family is invited out to the other. Not only was I exhausted afterward, but it was hard to tell how they went. As opposed to “in-person” sedarim, online ones are murky. Were other people singing along? Was there joy in being together? Did we lift up our voices together in Hallel (the psalm of praise), and were we silly as a group in the songs at the end . . . or were people just tired, bored, waiting for the end. 

If I felt worn out after two nights of leading family and friends, I can only imagine both the over-functioning of my pulpit and other working colleagues — and their need for positive feedback — to know their efforts are hitting the mark often enough. That they are dai.  

And so it occurs to me that perhaps this is what Dayenu means to us this year. Not (only) that we say to G-d, “What You have done for us is enough” but also Dayenu “We are dai, we are enough.” For rabbis, we need to remember: If our seder leadership brings families to Sinai (without a major Torah revelation), well, then, we are dai! We are good enough, and we did enough. If our remote visits to the sick or with mourners comfort them — but not as good as a hug would have — אנחנו די, we are enough!!  

For those of us experiencing mental health challenges — now and/or on an ongoing basis — tune out those voices in our heads telling us we are somehow “bad” for having a mental illness, that we are lazy or just not trying hard enough. Remember: You are enough, just you. Did you get dressed this morning? Dai. Did you have a conversation with your spouse, your child, your friend, even though it is hard to concentrate? Dai. Have you sought resources, like therapy, medication, mindfulness training? Dai. Shaming ourselves will get us nowhere, except feeling worse about ourselves. It creates a downward spiral wherein we hate ourselves and then become even more anxious or depressed or whatever symptom, which then makes it even more difficult to do anything.  

Having a mental illness, as I do, as so many of us do, is not shameful; it is not a failure of will or effort. It is an illness. And if, in the midst of our struggles to live “normal” lives (whatever that means to you), we sometimes fall short, we must remember: I am dai; I am enough in the eyes of G-d and others. The sense of failure is internal. But it need not define how we live each day. Rather, let the celebration of what we do and, most important, of who we are, set the tone for how we see ourselves. Each of us, created in the image of Gd, is enough, just as we are.  

In this extraordinary time of uncertainty and fear, when we are all trying, whether successfully or not, to be fully human, fully ourselves and yet still present for others in our lives, let our Pesach hymn carry us forth. G-d will give us enough to work with, when we affirm that we, ourselves, are enough. And that is the blessing of gratitude and limits, of thanksgiving and self-acceptance, wrapped into a song of joy and scallions. 

Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs. She and her husband live in Denver. She can be reached at ravsjcohen@gmail.com.

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