February 22, 2020

A Deeper Look at Chad Gadya

“As our family Seder comes to a close, no one is really in the mood for deep discussion. At this late hour, and after four cups of good wine, we and our guests just want to sing the classic songs and enjoy ourselves. As a result, Chad Gadya, the enigmatic little ditty about a father and his unfortunate goat, gets little serious attention, although we do relish doing the actions and the animal sounds.

Chad Gadya, however, does have some profound undercurrents, especially when an often-made mistake is corrected. It is well-known that the “Pesach” was the paschal sacrifice offered by each Israelite family when the Temple stood in Jerusalem on the eve of Passover. However, many make the mistake of thinking this was always a lamb offering. In fact, the Torah calls the animal to be offered a seh.

This is a Hebrew collective term for a lamb and a kid, as it says, “An unblemished seh, a year-old male you shall have, from the sheep or from the goats you may take it” (Exodus 12:5). So the Pesach offering could be a paschal lamb or a paschal goat. This places the Chad Gadya story at the centre in the Seder. For that goat can represent the Jewish people surviving oppression, as they did way back in ancient Egypt when the paschal goat was first eaten.

With this knowledge, each stanza of Chad Gadya can represent a subsequent oppressor of our people. First is the cat “that came and ate the goat”. The cat represents ancient Egypt who considered the animal sacred (the goddess Bastet), and often mummified them. A cat eating a goat is anatomically dubious but the author of the song is forced to employ a feline as he wants to reference a popular symbol of Egypt.”

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