[ Explanation of these symbols ]
The seder is over. You are about to settle back into your chair, when suddenly you are roused from your wine-induced reverie by everyone launching into the traditional rendering of Chad Gadya. "What are we doing singing nursery rhymes at a time like this?" - You think to yourself. "Here we all are energetically belting out a song that everyone sings, and no-one has the slightest idea of what it's got to do with Pesach! Is Chad Gadya no more than what 'I know an old lady who swallowed a fly' would have sounded like if Burl Ives had been Jewish? Is it no more than a harmless ditty to amuse the children? Or does Chad Gadya have a secret meaning? A hidden depth of allusion beneath the surface...
Let's look at the surface a second. Chad Gadya has ten stanzas.
- One kid. 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.
- And came the stick and hit the dog etc.
- And came the fire and burned the stick etc.
- And came the water and doused the fire etc.
- And came the ox and drank the water etc.
- And came the slaughterer and killed the ox etc.
- And came the angel of death and killed the slaughterer etc.
- 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.
It goes like this:
The ten stanzas of Chad Gadya correspond to the ten kingdoms that will rule from before the beginning of time until the end of the world.
- Hashem alone before the creation.
- The Babylon of Nimrod
- Yisrael until the destruction of the First Temple
- The Babylon of Nebuchadnezar
- Persia and Media
- Greece and Macedonia
- Hashem alone
Before the beginning of all things, Hashem reigned alone. His is the first Kingdom.
Avraham Avinu is the gadya that 'Daddy' (Hashem) 'bought' for two zuzim.
When you buy something it implies that the money you give is equal the acquisition that
you receive. Avraham Avinu is weighed against the two gold zuzim of heaven and
earth - the entire creation - because it was Avraham who first recognized his Creator.
Avraham thus became both the foundation of creation and its purpose - that man should
recognize his Creator.
Then came the cat - the shunra. The second kingdom is Babylon.
Nimrod's capital where he built the tower of Babylon was in the valley of 'shinar'. The
motivation for that tower came from a soneh ra - 'an evil hater'- Nimrod who
hated Hashem and his representative on this world Avraham Avinu. Nimrod came and 'ate' the
gadya - Avraham Avinu. He threw him into the consuming fire of a fiery furnace.
When Avraham miraculously emerged, he emerged as a new creation.
"As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool to his folly." There
can be no greater example of a fool returning to his folly than Pharaoh, King of Egypt.
Despite all the plagues of Egypt, Pharaoh repeated his mistake over and over again. The calba
- the dog - is the symbol of the third kingdom, the kingdom of Egypt which 'bit' the
cat of Babylon. It overshadowed and outshone the kingdom of Babylon, even though there was
never a direct military confrontation. Thus it only 'bit' but didn't 'eat'.
The stick is the staff of Hashem that Moshe used to 'hit' the Egyptians. This was the
staff that turned into a snake and ate all the staffs of the Egyptian sorcerers. This was
the staff that was raised over the Nile and turned it to blood and it was this staff that
vanquished the might of Pharaoh. The staff symbolizes the fourth kingdom - the kingdom of
Yisrael. Yisrael achieved tranquillity with the building of the first Beis Hamikdash,
when the staff - the scepter - of Yehuda held sway. Then came the fire...
When the Jewish People turned aside from the Torah and began to sin, a fire
was dispatched out of Heaven. A lion of fire appeared to blaze through the Paroches
- the curtain that divided the Holy from the Holy of Holies in the Temple. This lion of
fire, in terrestrial form, took the shape of the Babylonian kingdom of Nebuchadnezar which
'burned the staff' of Yisrael. Nebuchadnezar became the instrument of Heavenly justice to
punish TheJewish People. Nebuchadnezar razed Zion. The Temple was burned to the ground and
Yisrael was lead into slavery. But fire can be doused by water...
The sixth kingdom is that of Persia and Media, whose fortunes swelled like the waters
of the sea, extinguishing the might of Babylon. "Their voices will roar like the
sea." Said the prophet Yirmiyahu, describing the torrent that was to be Media.
Taurus the bull is the astrological force appointed by Hashem to steer
the fortunes of Greece. In Jewish thought, Greece is associated with spiritual darkness -
"And the earth was empty and void and darkness on the face of the
deep." (Bereishis 1:2) The Greeks tried to darken the eyes of the Jewish People,
claiming that they had forfeited their unique connection to Hashem as a result of the
incident of the golden calf. They said "Write upon the horn of a bull
that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel. This bull of
Macedonian Greece came and licked up the water that was Media.
The bull of Macedonia met its demise at the hands of the slaughterer
of Rome. No other nation is stained so red with blood as Rome. Ruled by the warlike planet
Mars, the kingdom of Romulus is the spiritual descendent of Esav, who was born covered in
a mantle of red hair. Rome stands for the power of the material world. He encapsulates
everything physical and 'this-worldly'. We are still under the sway of Rome in the guise
of its current cultural heirs.
Immediately prior to the coming of Mashiach, there will be a tremendous confusion in
the world. Everything will seem to have gone haywire. The natural order will be turned on
its head: Age will bow to youth. Ugliness will be trumpeted as beauty, and what is
beautiful will be disparaged as unattractive. Barbarism will be lauded as culture. And
culture will be dismissed as worthless. The hunger of consumerism and the lust for
material wealth will grow more and more, and it will find less and less to satisfy its
voracity. Eventually Esav/Rome/Materialism will grow so rapacious that it will become its
own angel of death. It will literally consume itself and regurgitate itself
back out. But from this decay, the line of David will sprout, like a plant that springs
forth from no more than dirt and earth. There will be three wars of confusion, and then
the penultimate kingdom will rule - the kingdom of Mashiach.
"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."
In the final chapter of world history, Hashem will remove the pall of spiritual poison from the world completely. He will take the 'negative drive' alias the angel of death, and slaughter it. Then Hashem will wipe the tear from every face, and He will return the Kingship to Himself. The circle will be complete. And then joy and simcha will reign as a mother rejoices over her children.
Chad Gadya. Just an innocuous nursery rhyme to send you off to sleep at the end of the Seder. Just a little nursery rhyme...which just happens to encapsulate the whole panorama of world history from before the beginning of time...
Written by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
based on Ohr Yesharim in the Haggadah 'Migdal Ader Hachadash'