It was at his older brother's bar mitzvah that 9-year-old Josh Levy gave the answer that everyone from the Dalai Lama to Janet Yellen wants to know:
How much money is enough?
"$35," he said from the front-row pews of a synagogue in suburban Minneapolis.
Although I had been encouraging call-and-response in my pulpit speech, I didn't quite understand what he meant (which I'll get to in a bit.) So I went on talking about the concept of "Dayenu" - a Passover song with the word roughly translating to "Good enough."
Some verses are: "If God had split the sea for us, but not taken us across on dry land - Dayenu! (Good enough!)
"If God had taken us across the sea on dry land, but had not drowned our oppressors in it - Dayenu!"
My question to the congregants was what constitutes good enough? Would it really have been good enough to have been freed from slavery only to die in the desert?
Though it's sung at the Passover seder table, "Dayenu" isn't found in the Bible.
"It's a much later poem first appearing in the 9th century," said Rabbi David Steinberg of Temple Israel in Duluth, Minn. In fact, it conflicts with a Torah passage that says the children of Israel celebrated their liberation with a different song before kvetching to Moses about how hard it was trying to survive in the desert.
Another concept that seems almost sacrilegious to me is a verse stating it would have been good enough to have been fed on manna for 40 years and led to the Promised Land but never to have received the Ten Commandments.
What kind of religion is that - where you get tons of good stuff and don't have to do anything in return?
That's not to say I don't appreciate the fundamental value of liberation, which the late James Brown explained as cogently as the ancient rabbis:
"We'd rather die on our feet than live on our knees," he sang in "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing" (a far more militant song than "Say it Loud!"), rhyming it with "the birds and the bees."
That song, too, was call and response, and a key word in both it and "Dayenu" is "we" - which personalizes the affliction, past and today.
So I get it, though to truly understand good enough, you also have to deconstruct "good" and "enough." Was the manna from heaven really that good? It's described as tasting like honey, though interpretations range from mushrooms to bird droppings. Regardless, the passage says the people tired of it after a while. Maybe it was more than enough of a good thing.
As for "enough," exactly how much is enough - especially when it comes to money?
Fortunately, Josh was paying attention, and he gave the $35 answer to the $64,000 question. The amount, his grandmother explained afterward, was the remaining cash he needed to buy an iPod.
Good answer. And enough said.
Robin Washington is a research scholar for the San Francisco-based think tank Be'chol Lashon. He lives in Duluth, Minn.
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