The Seder’s Dipping And Dayenu


On seder night, when we are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus, the Mishna tells us that the retelling should be in response to questions asked by the children (or, as if asked by children). Traditionally, these are the Four Questions, the Ma Nishtana. At every seder the questions are asked and the answers discussed. But there is one question that has 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 section of the seder.

Another question. We all enjoy a spirited singing of “Dayenu,” the quintessential thanksgiving to God for every step through which He guided us on the road to Redemption. “Had He taken us out of Egypt and not wrought so many judgments against the Egyptians, it would have been sufficient – dayenu.” However there is one line in Dayenu that has always troubled me: “Had He brought us in front of Mount Sinai and not given us the Torah, it would have been sufficient —dayenu.” How would that have been enough? What value could there have been for God to have taken us close to the mountain without revealing his laws?

The fact is, the entire drama of slavery and Redemption begins and concludes with “dipping.” The story unfolds with Joseph being sold into Egyptian servitude by his brothers. Since the brothers had to offer some explanation for Joseph’s mysterious disappearance, they dipped his special coat of striped colors into 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. The Talmud Bavli teaches us that it was the sin of the brotherly hatred that was responsible for the Egyptian enslavement of the Israelites [Shabbat 10a]. Hence, some Jews have the tradition of dipping the karpas not only in salt-water, symbolizing the tears that the Israelites shed, but also in the red charoset, symbolizing blood, according to Talmud Yerushalmi, expressing the tragedy of Jewish internal hatred, the root cause of our exiles and persecutions.

The second dipping took place at the end of enslavement and the beginning of emancipation. At this time, each Israelite family slaughtered a lamb in preparation for the Exodus: “You will then take a bunch of hyssop and dip it into the (lamb’s) blood which will be placed in a basin. Place some blood on the beam over the door and the two doorposts, 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. They performed this pascal sacrifice during the time of the killing of Egypt’s firstborn — the Tenth Plague, from which the Hebrews were saved by the blood that was on their doorposts.

The Israelites were united in their commitment to God, and united in their fulfillment of His command, including the fact that they all remained in their homes. It must be remembered that it was the night when the Egyptian streets were ripe for unrest during the hysteria that most certainly accompanied the death of every firstborn.

The second dipping served as a tikkun, or a repair, for the first dipping (of Joseph’s coat), the sin of brotherly hatred that found its repentance in the form of brotherly unity, by which merit we were liberated from Egypt. This explains dipping twice at the seder, and intensifies the fact that if only we, as a nation, could be united, no force on earth would be able to harm us.

When the Torah describes the momentous Revelation at Sinai, we are told, “They had departed from Rephidim and arrived at the Sinai desert, where they,” the Israelites, in the plural, “encamped in the desert; and Israel,” in the singular, “encamped there opposite the mountain” [Ex. 19:2]. The shift from plural to singular within one phrase is quite remarkable. It was as if, Rashi comments, “they were all one individual with one heart.” It was their very unity of purpose and commitment — their togetherness as a nation — that enabled them to merit the Revelation.

This, I believe, is the meaning of Dayenu. Had God merely brought us to Mount Sinai, united in spirit, that unity would have been sufficient!

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

Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 7:21 p.m. (Fri.); 8:22 p.m. (Sat.)
Torah: Ex. 12:21-51 (Sat.);
Leviticus 22:26-23:44 (Sun.);
Numbers 28:16-25 (both)
Haftarah: Joshua 5:2-6:1, 27;
II Kings 23:1-9, 21-25
Havdalah: 8:22 p.m. (Sat.); 8:23 p.m. (Sun.)