His Hasidim asked Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk if he were certain that he was assured a place in the World to Come.
“Absolutely,” the rebbe replied without hesitation.
“And how, Rebbe, can you be so certain?”
“When we die in this world, we go before the heavenly court in the World Above. Standing before the divine court, we are asked certain questions regarding Torah, avodah, and mitzvos. Answer these properly, and you will go to the World to Come.”
“And you know these questions, Rebbe?” the students asked.
“And you know the answers?”
“And will you share them with us?”
“The questions are the same for all of us. Your answers must be your own. Yet, I will tell you just what I will tell them. They will ask: Rebbe, did you study Torah to the best of your ability?’ And I will answer honestly: ‘No.’ They will then ask: Rebbe, did you fully surrender to God in worship?’ And I will answer honestly: ‘No.’ They will then ask me: ‘Rebbe, did you do the mitzvos and good deeds you could do while alive?’ And I will answer honestly: ‘No.’ And then they will say: ‘If so, then you are telling us the truth, and for that alone are you welcome into the World to Come.”‘
Torah, avodah, mitzvos: “Torah” refers to the written and oral teachings found in the Bible and Talmud. Avodah refers to the three-times-a-day worship service. Mitzvos are the commandments revealed by God and interpreted by the Rabbis.
Does this mean that Reb Elimelech avoided Torah study, prayed half-heartedly, and ignored the commandments? Not at all. It just means that he realized he had never reached his full potential regarding any of these things. This realization could have driven him to despair. He could have felt himself unworthy of heaven, and driven himself mad with self-flagellation. To do so would have meant that heaven can be earned and that Reb Elimelech simply failed to measure up. But he knew differently: You cannot earn your way into heaven. All you can be is honest with and about yourself.
Reb Elimelech knew the truth of dayyenu, enough. There is always another page of Talmud to study; there is always a deeper level of spiritual awareness open to us in prayer; there is always another act of kindness to seek out and do; but we cannot do everything. We must only do enough.
What is enough? Only you know that. Reb Elimelech, however, gives a hint. He answers the judges of the heavenly court without remorse. He doesn’t deny or defend his life; he simply accepts it. When you can do the same, you have reached dayyenu.
Wouldn’t that excuse laziness and even immorality? If you are looking for an excuse, you are not accepting what is. If your claim to dayyenu is false, meaning that you did not do all you could given your circumstances, then honesty, humility, and grace are lost. Without these, there is no way into this world or the World to Come.