Learning to Say Genug Shoyn, Enough Already

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There is no doubt that Yiddish has exerted an influence on English. There are expressions in English that seem to have been around for a long time but, in reality are relatively modern and originated in Yiddish. For example, “I need something like I need a hole in the head” only began in the early 1950’s. It is a direct translation of the Yiddish expression, “tsu darfn vi a loch in kop.” “OK by me” is also relatively recent and comes from Yiddish.


Another example: The expression “enough already” is constructed very poorly using the rules of English grammar. There’s a good reason for that, since it, too, comes from the Yiddish and is just a translation of the phrase “genug shoyn.”


Genug shoyn is not just an expression, it is one of the most important themes of Pesach, one that can in fact set us free. The Rambam does not have Dayeinu in his Hagaddah, and even Rav Sa’adia Gaon, whose Hagaddah serves essentially as the basis for ours, only includes Dayeinu as an addendum at the end of the Haggadah among those songs that only those who can hold their wine sing.


But for us, it is almost impossible to imagine the Seder night without the singing of Dayeinu. Everyone from young children to octogenarians look forward to this moment during the Seder, not only because it indicates we are finally coming close to the meal, but because it is a centerpiece of the Hagaddah and a highlight of the Seder experience.


Dayeinu’s message is simple; genug shoyn. Enough already! Enough is enough. On this evening during our journey from slavery to liberty, we achieve our very freedom by saying Dayeinu, genug shoyn, we have enough, we experienced enough, we are satisfied enough.


Dayeinu. It is enough to enjoy this moment, to be present in this experience, to savor this gift and to cherish this opportunity without having to already look forward or crave the next one. Of course, each stage and each stanza is incomplete and imperfect, but nevertheless, dayeinu— each is still enough. Enough to say thank you and even enough to make us happy.


Like the stanzas of Dayeinu, our lives are often incomplete, they are imperfect. If we focus on what is missing, what we don’t yet have or may never have, we become debilitated and deprived of happiness. But, if we find the capacity to sing Dayeinu, to focus on what is and not what isn’t, to enjoy what we have and not long for what we don’t, we set ourselves free to find happiness.


Chazal (Koheles Rabbah 1:34) highlight a basic human quality: Mi she’yesh lo mana, rotzeh masayim, he who has one hundred desires two hundred. Ambition, aspiration, and determination are admirable qualities; they push us towards greatness. But they come with a great cost. An insatiable appetite for more, a voracious need for the latest, being unsatisfied without the newest and the best, robs us of serenity, denies us happiness, and often distracts us from what matters the most.


We live with unprecedented freedoms: freedom to practice our religion, freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness. And yet, with all this freedom, our generation remains enslaved. We are slaves to “more.” We are dominated by needs. Our need for more money, need for more time, need for more things, need for the latest things, need for a better seat, need for a better room, need for more power, need for more friends, need to have the last word, even our need to be needed.


Our needs, wants, and lack of contentment become our taskmasters. They occupy space in our head and in our hearts, they hijack our thoughts, they dictate to us how to feel, and they command us to say things and do things that are self-destructive.


On Pesach we set ourselves free by singing Dayeinu, by proclaiming genug shoyn, enough. We indeed have enough. We are satisfied with our things. We are happy with our friends. We will make the most with our time. Dayeinu, genug. We are happy to pause with what we have and say thank you.


Moreover, we are so firm in our belief that we have enough that we are even willing to share. We begin the Seder with an apparently disingenuous invitation: kol dichfin…whoever is hungry, come and eat. Our door is locked, our windows are closed, and here we are making this generous offer. Why? Is it not blatantly an artificial invitation? With a different perspective, we can suggest that this statement is not directed at others, it is a statement about and directed to ourselves. We begin the night of redemption by proclaiming we own our things, they don’t own us, and therefore we are happy to share them. We recognize that by giving others we will have more, not less. We start the night by stating that we aren’t enslaved by the need to hold on to what we have, we aren’t imprisoned by the fear that we won’t have enough.


Dayeinu is not just a song, it is a way we emulate Hashem. The Midrash describes that when He created the world, the elements didn’t want to observe limits, and each tried to overstep its bounds and dominate the world. Water wanted to swamp the earth, fire wanted to consume, and the land wanted to encroach on the sea. Each only wanted to expand and Hashem turned to them and said dai – enough! That is why one of His great names is Shad-ai, meaning mi she’amar l’olam dai, Who told the world genug shoyn, enough already, you each have enough, dai.


Hashem showed us this quality in another context. When Hashem solicited for the Mishkan, the people brought, and they brought again, and then they gave even more. Ultimately, Moshe had to stop the campaign, as they had enough:


וְהַמְּלָאכָ֗ה הָיְתָ֥ה דַיָּ֛ם לְכל־הַמְּלָאכָ֖ה לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אֹתָ֑הּ וְהוֹתֵֽר׃

For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and it was too much.”


Hashem didn’t want too much; He didn’t want more. Dayam, dai, it was enough. The Mishkan was built not out of more, but the building blocks of holiness are made out of “enough.”


Living with limits, finding happiness within what we have, maintain the capacity to say “enough” is liberating, empowering, and enriching. When we always want more, we never pause to enjoy what we have, we forfeit what is in the pursuit of what is next. Tal Ben-Shahar, the Harvard expert on happiness, says, “When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.”


Hashem told the world dai, enough, Moshe told the people dayam, we have enough and Pesach tells us dayeinu, enough. At attitude of dayeinu is not for Hashem or for anyone else. It is for ourselves, it sets us free: free to feel, free to think, free to dedicate our time not to the pursuit of more, but to the pursuit of that which is more important, more meaningful, even more valuable.


Over this Yom Tov, take a few moments to reflect. Look around your table, take stock of your life and don’t notice what isn’t, what is missing, what you wish was there. Instead, sing Dayeinu, say genug shoyn and say “enough.” These people are enough. These things are enough. This life, no matter how impaired or imperfect, is enough. This Pesach, say, “I have enough” and set yourself free.