For the week ending 28 March 2015 / 8 Nisan 5775

Just Kidding?

by Rabbi Richard Jacobs
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One of the main purposes of Seder night is to learn the depths of the miracles that G-d did for us when He took us out of Egypt – G-d's strength, His ability to change nature at will, and His eternal love for the Jewish People. These themes resonate throughout the entire Hagadah, including the songs at the very end.

At first, “Chad Gadya” seems reminiscent of a nursery rhyme. But if we reflect on its meaning for a few moments we can see hidden depths.

The Midrash at the end of Parshat Noach quotes a fascinating conversation between Avraham and Nimrod. When initially challenged to worship fire, Avraham responds that it would be better to worship water that extinguishes fire. Nimrod then invites Avraham to worship water, and Avraham counters that it would make more sense to worship the clouds that bring the water. When subsequently requested to worship the clouds, Avraham's rejoinder is that really the wind which carries the clouds would be more worthy. The discussion continues in this vein until, having had enough, Nimrod has Avraham cast into a burning furnace.

Chad Gadya follows a similar pattern.

One kid (goat). One kid. That daddy bought for two zuzim. One kid. One kid.

And came the cat and ate the kid that daddy bought for two zuzim. One kid. One kid.

And came the dog and bit the cat that ate the kid etc. etc. until…

… And came The Holy One Blessed be He and killed the angel of death that killed the slaughterer that killed the ox that drank the water that doused the fire that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid that daddy bought for two zuzim. One kid. One kid.

Except that this time the conversation is between the Egyptians and Jewish People.

The Egyptians worshipped the lamb and the goat. This is one of the reasons why the Korban Pesach had to be one of these two animals. In the year of the Exodus, when the Jewish People set aside the animals for the offering, they tied them to their bedsteads and left them there for several days in order to check for blemishes. Passing Egyptians would ask what the bleating sound was, and they would be informed that the kid (their deity) had been set aside as an offering. When the actual offering was made it had to be roasted. This rich succulent aroma would spread through the town, pervading the Egyptians' homes. There was no avoiding the fact that the animal the Egyptians served was being offered to the Hebrews' G-d.

Instead of succumbing to the Egyptian pressure to serve their idols, the Jewish People pointed out that the cat was their predator and as such it was more worthy of service. The cat itself was another Egyptian deity, and the Jewish People were invited to worship it. The discussion repeated itself, passing through dog, fire, water, ox, man (slaughterer) — finally reaching the malach hamavet (angel of death). At this point the Jewish People argued that if the Egyptians were going to worship the angel of death, it was more fitting to serve G-d. It was more fitting to believe that “He does, has done and will do”, and that He rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress.

Chad Gadya. This song too commemorates that on Seder night, the night of the Exodus, G-d took His people out from the servitude of the most powerful nation on Earth and elevated them to receive the Torah.

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