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    The serious side of Chad Gadya

    Chad Gadya from the Szyk Haggadah

    Don’t be taken in by Chad Gadya.

    It’s not as ancient as people imagine, even though it is in Aramaic. It has no real connection with Pesach, even though it concludes the Seder ceremonial. It is philosophical, even though it looks and sounds like mere fun. It is messianic, even though it seems quite mundane.

    The song begins with a kid which was bought for two zuzim. The kid was eaten by the cat; the cat was eaten by the dog; the dog was beaten by the stick; the stick was burnt by the fire… and so on until in the end God Almighty appears and brings the chain effect to an end by destroying the Angel of Death and asserting His sovereign power.

    The first Haggadah to include it seems to have been as recent as 1590, though the idea goes back to the Mishnah (Avot 2:7), where Hillel sees a skull floating on the water and says, “Because you drowned others, you yourself have been drowned – and they who drowned you will finally be drowned themselves.”

    The Vilna Ga’on applied the song to Jewish history, identifying each of the characters with a person or age in Jewish history until in the end nothing remains but God. Emil Fackenheim pointed out that history – as poetically described in Adon Olam – began with God’s sole Presence and will end with God once more reigning alone.

    What Chad Gadya has to do with Pesach is questionable, though some see in it a hint of the paschal lamb.

    There are those who simply say that it is a nursery rhyme, written to keep the children awake and alert but adopted by adults to end the long Seder procedure with a triumphant crescendo.

    The truth probably is that the poet who composed the song was no comedian but a subtle philosopher. We don’t know his name. His theme was Cause and Effect. His maxim was that nothing just happens randomly.

    There may even be a hint of Darwinian Survival of the Fittest – with a devastating commencement and a decisive conclusion that totally contrast with Darwin.

    Chad Gadya starts with the purchase of a little goat. By implication the song asks where everything began. Its answer: “Father”, i.e. God. Nothing occurred or erupted by mere chance. There was an act of Creation. God brought the world and its inhabitants into being. He gave man free will.

    He said, “Man, I have given you a world. I have endowed you with the energy and ability to make something of the world and yourself. What now happens is up to you. If you are wise, you will follow my recipe of moral principle. If not, you will be responsible for your results. I will not dictate to you or force you. I will not intervene. But I will be there and when I am ready I will assert My control.”

    If we want a connection with Pesach, it must be that this is the festival that shows how low man can sink and how high he can rise. The despair and gloom of Egyptian slavery is everyman’s depth of darkness. The Hebrew yearning for freedom is everyman’s saving grace. Man can be pulled towards either pole.

    Pesach proves that breaking free and bringing the Messiah is possible. The Angel of Death can and will be vanquished and the Holy One, blessed be He, will have the last laugh and rule forever.

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