THE MAGIC FIFTEEN
The song popularly known as "Dayeinu" enumerates fifteen acts of kindness that Hashem did for the Jewish people from the time that he took then out of Egypt until the time that they built the Beit HaMikdash, 480 years later. Given the fact that numbers are very significant at the Pesach seder (witness the recurring number four, as well as the song "Echad Mi Yode'a" at the end of the seder), it is important for us to ask why the number fifteen is so important - certainly the author of the hagadah could have listed more or less items!
The Kli Yakar connects this number to two other famous fifteens in Judaism. He first notes that the fifteen lines of this song correspond to the fifteen generations from Avraham until Shlomo (Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Yehuda, Peretz, Chetzron, Ram, Aminadav, Nachson, Salmon, Boaz, Oved, Yishai, David, Shlomo), who built the Beit HaMikdash. As this song traces Jewish history from its roots until its pinnacle, thus the number contained within the song alludes to the historical process as well.
The Kli Yakar then discusses perhaps the most famous fifteen in Judaism, the fifteen steps that led from the women's courtyard to the main courtyard in the Beit HaMikdash. As a result of this connection, he explains the fact that the kindnesses here are described in the hagadah as being "ma'alot," or steps, parallel to the steps in the Beit HaMikdash. While this is a nice parallel, what is its significance? The Kli Yakar explains that the gemara in Sotah 11b says that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of the righteous women among them. As such, the first step of the process described in this song is the taking of the Jews out of Egypt, which corresponds to that which was brought about in the merit of the women, which corresponds to the first step in the Beit HaMikdash, which was in the women's section. While all of the Jews merited the entire process of redemption, the foundation of the entire chain of events is rooted in the deeds and merits of the women of the time.
The students of theVilna Gaon offer a different perspective. They ask why these are called "ma'alot," steps, and not kindnesses. They thus suggest that the Jews are not intrinsically worthy of everything that Hashem does for them (an idea further symbolized by the Vilna Gaon's interpretation that the fifteen levels here correspond to the fifteen levels of heaven and atmosphere that separate Hashem from the earthly creation). Thus, Hashem has to do things slowly, gradually bringing them along, step by step, until they reach the highest level of goodness that He can do, namely coming to rest among them in the house that they build for Him.
Finally, the Peirush Kadmon and theShibbolei HaLeket note that this section of the hagadah comes after the section where we detail all of Jewish history, noting the greatness of Hashem in bringing us to this point. As such, now that we have reached a point where it seems that there is no more to tell, that we have sufficiently recounted all of the greatness and mercies of Hashem, we sing this song showing that they are always more levels to ascend, always more great deeds that Hashem does for us that we have to thank Him for.
NOT LIKE THEM
The first paragraph said in the Hallel section of the seder (Tehillim 115) emphasizes the point that our God is not like the gods of the other nations. Their idols do not see, do not speak, do not hear, and so on, whereas Hashem is described as doing all of these things. Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch explains in Devarim 4:28 that pagans had two difference concepts of their idols. There were the common, simple people who believed that some divine spirit actually resided in the wood and stone that had been crafted for them by other men. The more educated pagans realized that the idols were but mere representations of some higher forces that existed in the world, and it was those higher forces that they were worshipping.
Either way, our statements here in Hallel refer to both of these groups. Obviously, the dead stone and wood had no sensory powers, but even the forces of nature that were believed to be represented by the graven images were also powerless to help mankind in any way befitting of a true deity.
However, our commentary on these pagans goes even further, as we proclaim that those who make these idols will one day become like the idols themselves. One who believes in nature as being a god lacks true freedom, as he blindly follows his foolish belief to subjugate himself to a force that knows not of their servitude. They abandon all moral and intellectual freedom to pursue this silly endeavor. As such, they themselves become like their gods - morally and intellectually bankrupt creations, completely removed from all of the grandeur that they can achieve as humans.
Not so the Jews. The end of this paragraph of Tehillim notes that there are three types of Jews - Yisrael, the children of Aharon, and those who fear Hashem. The first group refers to all Jews in their role of enlightening the world and teaching mankind about Hashem. The second group, the sons of Aharon, are charged with leading the Jewish people internally in the same manner that the Jewish people lead the rest of the world. Finally, by being people who fear Hashem, we can merit the protection of the only God who can truly sense and respond to the needs of His people.
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