A New Dayeinu

Beshallah By :  Gerald Cohen Assistant Professor of Music, H.L. Miller Cantorial School Posted On Jan 22, 2016 / 5776 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective

“Dayeinu,” composed by Cantor Gerald Cohen
from the Passover Cantata V’higad’ta L’vincha (And you shall tell your child)
Performed by the Syracuse Children’s Choir, Barbara Tagg, conductor

How many acts of kindness God has performed for us!
If God had brought us out of Egypt, Dayeinu! (it would have been enough for us!)
If God had split the sea for us, Dayeinu!
If God had sustained us in the wilderness for forty years, Dayeinu!
If God had brought us before Mount Sinai,Dayeinu!
If God had given us the Torah, Dayeinu!
If God had led us to the land of Israel, Dayeinu!

כּמּה מַעֲלוֹת טוֹבוֹת לַמָקוֹם עָלֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִצְרַיִם, דַיֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ קָרַע לָנוּ אֶת הַיָם, דַיֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ סִפֵק צָרְכֵנוּ בַמִדְבָר אַרְבָעִים שָנָה, דַיֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ קֵרְבָנוּ לִפְנֵי הַר סִינַי, דַיֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ נָתַן לָנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה, דַיֵינוּ!
אִלּוּ הִכְנִיסָנוּ לְאֶרֶץ יִשְרָאֵל, דַיֵינוּ!

As we progress through the cycle of Torah readings, we come to associate certain stories with a particular time of year: the creation story in early fall, Joseph and his brothers later in that season, the revolt of Korah in the summer. The story of this week’s Torah reading, however, has a double life in the course of the year: we associate it with the winter when we read the parashah in the cycle, but it also becomes the focus of our spring Pesah celebration in a few months. In the Torah, the Israelites celebrate their deliverance by singing Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, their grand poem of thanks for liberation. Of course, Judaism has since then built up an extensive liturgy related to the liberation from Egypt, most centrally found in the Hagaddah, our family and community liturgy for Pesah.

When the Syracuse Children’s Choir commissioned me to compose a piece for them, I decided to write a piece based on selections from the Haggadah, focusing on the themes of passing the story from one generation to the children of the next generation, and on our gratitude for deliverance from slavery. “Dayeinu” was an obvious choice for one of the movements, as it summarizes the entire expanse of the Exodus story from the outlook of giving thanks: “Dayeinu–it would have been enough for us.” It is often a challenge, but ultimately a delight, to give gratitude for all the blessings we receive, no matter how large or small. This version of Dayeinu selects key verses to create a joyous dance of thanks and celebration. “Dayeinu” will also be performed by HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April 3, 2016. 

May we have gratitude, in the spirit of Dayeinu, as we read the parashah this week and when we sit at the seder in April.