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Dayenu! Have we done enough yet?

Posted by Rabbi Ron Symons on April 25, 2016

On Friday night, as my family and guests retold the time-honored story of our journey from slavery to freedom, my son Micah inserted his seder gift into the festivities.  He explained how he had been studying Civil War history in school and thought that it might be appropriate to read the Emancipation Proclamation at the seder.

The Emancipation Proclamation
January 1, 1863

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom….

…And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defense; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God….

(Partially quoted.)

The table fell silent.  Every single one of us, Jew and Christian, Black and White, Young and Old, was asking the same question in their heads and hearts, “Have we done enough yet?”  Or, in Hebrew, “Dayenu?”

President Lincoln identified the following perennial issues:

  • The government will do nothing to repress the actual freedom of previous slaves
  • The government and military will recognize and maintain the freedom of these people
  • Freed slaves should abstain from violence, except in self-defense
  • Freed slaves should labor faithfully for reasonable wages
  • Freed slaves will have equal access to opportunity in the military
  • This is an act of justice from mankind and grace from God

Reviewing the themes that Lincoln articulated, those people sitting at our table went off script (out of the hagadah) into a lengthy conversation about how the PROCLAMATION didn’t appear to actually EMANCIPATE us: violence, wages, lack of opportunity, systemic racism.  All of us are still slaves to systemic challenges that confront our community.  Enough already – Dayenu!

I was all of 6 months old, I had yet to taste the bread of affliction, when Dr. King sang the same song:

We still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom.

Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shores of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice…

Let us be dissatisfied

until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.

Let us be dissatisfied

until those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.

Let us be dissatisfied

until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family will live in a decent, sanitary home.

Let us be dissatisfied

until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into bright tomorrows of quality integrated education.

Let us be dissatisfied

until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.

Let us be dissatisfied

until men and women…will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not on the basis of the color of their skin.

Let us be dissatisfied

until from every city hall, justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Let us be dissatisfied

until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!” when nobody will shout, ‘Black Power!’ but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.

16 August 1967 “Where Do We Go From Here?,”

Delivered at the 11th Annual SCLC Convention, Atlanta, Ga.

As so many of us eat that bread of affliction during this week, I think we should ask ourselves, “Have we done enough yet? – Dayenu?”

(Image from https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97507511/resource/cph.3b53030/?sid=40c1ec586dad774d8a08ebfbf8cdff07)

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