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The order of the verses in Dayenu, one of the songs sung during the Pesach Seder has always troubled me. It seems to me that they should be in reverse order. For example, the first verse says

אִלּוּ הוֹצִיאָנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם וְלֹא עָשָׂה בָּהֶם שְׁפָטִים דַּיֵּנוּ

If he had taken us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgements against them, it would have been enough.

And then the second verse says

אִלּוּ עָשָׂה בָּהֶם שְׁפָטִים וְלֹא עָשָׂה בֵּאלֹהֵיהֶם דַּיֵּנוּ

If he had carried out judgements against them, and not against their idols, it would have been enough.

That order does not make any sense to me. We already said that it would have been enough had he not even carried out judgements against the Egyptians, so by reason of kal vachomer, of course it is enough if he did carry out the judgements against the Egyptians. The statements get weaker and weaker as the song goes on.

So why is Dayenu written the way it is and not reversed?

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I've always understood this as "it would have been enough, but if you say it wouldn't have, then surely this next thing would have been enough" (iterate). It limits the scope for "actually it wasn't enough" to one verse (at a time). – Monica Cellio Jun 17 '13 at 14:37
The key to understanding this is to understand what it would have been enough for. 1) We would have had no complaints (i.e. we wouldn't say that G-d still owed us). 2) It would have been enough for us to offer praises (i.e. have a seder and talk about it). – Menachem Jun 17 '13 at 15:58
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I have no source on this, but it has always been my understanding that Dayenu is simply a poetic build-up to the next paragraph:

Thus how much more so should we be grateful to the Omnipresent One...

That is, it builds a nice chronological list (not priority order or there would be fewer answers to this question) of all the great things G-d did for us. It says, "Even if He brought us from Egypt it would have been enough. And He did that! If He brought us from Egypt and carried judgments against them, it would have been enough. And He did that, too! Awesome!" etc.

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See the Lubavitcher Rebbe's commentary on the Haggaddah where he shows how even the seemingly out-of-order Dayeinus are still in chronological order: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=15765&pgnum=34 – Menachem Jun 17 '13 at 15:57

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