Sabbath Week: Dayenu And Double-Dipping

Sabbath Week: Dayenu And Double-Dipping

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.


Candlelighting, Readings:

Candles: 7:03 p.m. (Fri.); 7:05 p.m. (Sun.); 

8:06 p.m. (Mon.) 

Torah reading: Exodus 33:12-34:26; 

Numbers 28:19-25

Hafarah: Ezekiel 37:1-14


One question from the Mah Nishtanah always disturbed me: “On all other nights we do not dip even once and on this night of Passover we dip twice.” This particular question is never answered within the Maggid portion of the seder. The fact that we do have “dips” as a kind of forshpeis to our seder meal is certainly in keeping with the Passover feast, but why our specific dips of first the karpas (green vegetable) and then the bitter herbs in charoset?  

Another question. We all enjoy a spirited singing of Dayenu. However there is one line that has always troubled me: “Had He brought us to Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been sufficient — dayenu.” In what sense would it have been enough? What value could there have been for God to take us close to the mountain without revealing to us His laws? 

The fact is that the entire drama of the servitude and Exodus began with an act of ‘dipping’ and concluded with an act of ‘dipping.’ The Israelites initially made their way down to Egypt as a result of the fact that Joseph was sold into servitude by his brothers. Since the brothers had to explain Joseph’s sudden disappearance, they dipped his special coat of striped colors that his father had given him (the very word karpas is used in Megillat Esther 1:6 to describe such a fancy cloth and is probably the initial derivation of the biblical Hebrew passim) in the blood of a slain goat. When Jacob saw the bloodied garment of his beloved son, he assumed that Joseph’s body had been torn apart by a wild beast. Our Sages teach us that it was the sin of the brotherly and hatred that was responsible for the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt [B.T. Shabbat 10a]. Hence, some Jews have the tradition of dipping the karpas not only in salt-water, symbolizing the tears that the Jewish people shed, but also in the red charoset, which according to the Jerusalem Talmud symbolizes blood, expressing the tragedy of Jewish internal hatred, the root cause of our exiles and persecutions.

The second dipping took place at the end of slavery. At that time, each Hebrew family slaughtered a lamb in preparation for the Exodus: “You will then take a bunch of hyssop and dip it into the blood (of the lamb) which will be placed in a basin. Place some blood on the beam over the door and the two door posts after you have dipped your finger in some of the blood in the basin. Not a single Israelite may go out of the door of his house until morning” [Exodus 12:22].

The blood of the lamb represented the willingness of the Israelites to sacrifice an Egyptian god (the lamb) to their higher belief in the Lord of redemption and freedom. They performed this paschal sacrifice during the time of the killing of the first born of the Egyptians – a plague from which the Hebrews were saved by the blood that was on their doorposts. The Israelites were all united in their commitment to God and fulfillment of this command, including everyone remaining in their homes despite the fact that the Egyptian streets were ripe for looting in the frenzied hysteria that most certainly accompanied the death of the Egyptian first-born. 

The second act of dipping served as a tikkun or repair of the first; the sin of brotherly hatred found its repentance in brotherly unity, by which merit we were redeemed from Egypt. This explains both dippings at the seder and intensifies the fact that if only we as a nation could be united together, no force on earth would be able to harm us.

When the Bible describes the momentous Revelation at Sinai, we are told, “They had departed from Rephidim and had arrived at the Sinai desert, where they (the Israelites, in the plural) encamped in the desert; and Israel (singular) encamped there opposite the mountain” [Exodus 19:2]. The change from plural to singular within one phrase is quite remarkable. Rashi comments, “As if they were all one individual with one heart.”

It was their very unity of purpose and commitment — their togetherness as a nation, which enabled them to merit the Revelation. This I believe is the meaning of the verse from Dayenu: Had the Almighty merely brought us in front of Mount Sinai with a singular goal and united in spirit, even before He gave us the Torah, that unity would have been sufficient! 

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.


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