The diamond ring I inherited from my mother, of blessed memory, is -- or should I say was -- my most beautiful possession. My father, o.b.m., had given the ring, a band of 16 perfect diamonds, to my mother shortly after their wedding in 1944. As precious to me emotionally as materially, the ring adorned my hand every Shabbat. Every time I looked at its glistening perfection, my Shabbat joy soared.
Then, sitting at the Shabbat table six weeks ago, I glanced down at my ring and was horrified to see a gaping, black hole. A prong of the white gold setting had broken, and one diamond had fallen out. My horror gave way to a frantic search, with all members of the family on hands and knees searching the floors in the kitchen and living room, then sweeping, and finally giving up. The diamond was gone.
My gorgeous ring had become a toothless hag.
Every time I looked at my ring, all I saw was the gaping, black hole, like a beautiful woman smiling to reveal a missing front tooth. My gorgeous ring had become a toothless hag. Bitterly, I took it off and put it in its box. I could not bear to look at it.
Replacing the diamond would be an expensive and complicated procedure, as the setting itself had to be repaired. We were not just then in a position to undertake the expense. The ring remained in its place of exile every Shabbat, and whenever I, by force of habit, reached for it, I was poignantly reminded of my bitter loss.
Then one Friday evening two weeks ago, I missed the ring so much that I decided to take it out and wear it. After all, I reminded myself, there were still 15 perfect diamonds there for me to enjoy. Why focus on what wasn't there when I could choose to focus on what was there? A ring is round, I told myself, and whenever the black hole faces me, all I have to do is turn it to reveal the still-perfect other side.
This turned out to be a potent spiritual exercise. Whenever I glanced down and saw the ugly hole, I said to myself, "I will choose what I will look at and what I won't look at," and I turned the ring until all I saw was the sparkling, perfect diamonds.
Then something strange happened. At one point, I looked down and saw the gaping hole. Instead of turning the ring, I chose, by an act of will, to look at the diamond adjacent to the hole. I gazed at it intently, noticing its clear-almost-blue color, its exquisite cut, and its happy sparkle. Then I realized with a start that in the fifteen years I have owned the ring, while I loved the ring as a whole, I never really bothered to look at the individual diamonds. Losing one diamond made me begin to appreciate the beauty of the remaining diamonds.
One of the favorite parts of the Passover Seder is the song, "Dayenu." The 15 verses of this song enumerate the various kindnesses God bestowed on our people during the Exodus, such as taking us out of Egypt, splitting the sea for us, taking us through it on dry land, taking us to Mt. Sinai, giving us the Torah, etc. The refrain, "dayenu," means: "It would have been enough for us."
Focus on each individual blessing you are given. Regardless of what came before or after it.
Anyone who stops to consider the lyrics would find them enigmatic. After all, it's preposterous to proclaim that if God had split the sea for us and not led us through it on dry land, "it would have been enough for us." If God had not led us through it on dry land, we would have all been slain by the pursuing Egyptian army. And what good would it have served us to be led to Mt. Sinai and not to be given the Torah? In what sense is any of these individual steps "enough for us"?
The song teaches the same lesson as my no-longer-perfect diamond ring: Stop and notice the greatness of each and every part. The splitting of the sea itself was a tremendous miracle. Appreciate it for what it was, regardless of the next step in the progression.
The Torah requires us to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day. Such remembrance leads to gratitude, the core characteristic of the Jewish people. The very name "Jew" derives from the Hebrew name "Yehuda," which means "thank" or "acknowledge." In the midst of the Seder, which is a process of spiritual elevation consisting of 15 steps, the song "Dayenu" teaches us how to achieve that quintessential virtue of gratitude: Focus, really focus, on each individual blessing you are given. Regardless of what came before or after it.
Every blessing is a stand-alone gift, just as every diamond is its own treasure.