Goat’s Goading

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01 Apr 2022

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Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The formal reading of the Haggadah ends with drinking the fourth cup and declaring, “Next Year in Yerushalayim.” However, many have the custom to continue the Seder with the singing of liturgical songs, concluding with Chad Gadya/One Kid that father bought for two zuzim. While on the surface, this seems to be a childish poem wherein each stanza does one up on the preceding action, this is not a silly ditty. There is indeed much depth and symbolism relevant to us as Jews embedded in these verses.

Lest we think that this poem is a fairly recent addition to our Seder observance, a copy of this poem together with a copy of Echad Me Yodea/Who knows One was found in the Beth Medrash of the Rokeach who lived in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries. The poem begins with the kid who is then eaten by the cat. Each subsequent character inflicts increasing damage on its predecessor: The dog, stick, fire, water, ox, slaughterer, Angel of Death, and finally, Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

Singing this and the other songs may indeed be a means of continuing the discussion of the exodus, especially if we include talk of the mystical interpretations, writes Rabbi Glatstein in Maggid Harakiya. On a simple level, writes Rabbi Glatstein citing Rabbi Yaakov Emden, the lyrics may serve to keep us humble, that even though we have completed the entire Pesach preparation and observed the entire Seder according to all its laws, it is really Hashem Who is in control.

To support the theme that Hashem is in control and creates seder/order in the world, Rabbi Glatstein cites the Ben Ish Chai who sees each ensuing “character” as righting or avenging the previous wrong. So the cat was wrong in eating the kid, and therefore the dog was right in hurting the cat. The stick was then wrong in hitting the dog, etc. If we take this progression to the end, it would seem that Hakodosh Boruch Hu was wrong for slaughtering the Angel of Death. However, who gave the dog the right to interfere? He was neither preventing further harm nor righting a wrong. In modern terminology, we would consider him to be a vigilante. When we start with that premise, it is indeed Hashem Who is in charge and rights all the preceding wrongs.

Now Rabbi Glatstein connects these verses to our history. While Hashem had ordained that Bnei Yisroel serve a nation that would oppress them, who appointed Pharaoh and the Egyptians that it was their mission to fulfill that prophecy? Who gave them permission to make the servitude so severe? Hashem will be the final Judge and mete out justice against Pharaoh and the Egyptians, instituting the proper order in world events. Ultimately, there is judgment and accountability, writes Rabbi Schwab in Otzrot Hatorah, even when all we see is chaos.

All that exists in the universe exists in three dimensions: in time, in space, and in the human being, represented by the acronym OSHoNOlam/world/space/history, Shanah/year/time, and Nefesh/soul. The classic example is the Kohein Gadol [person] entering the kadosh kodashim/holy of holies [place] on Yom Kippur [time]. Let us explore how Chad Gadya can be interpreted in each of these dimensions.

Otzrot Hatorah quotes the idea that the entire poem is about the Beit Hamikdosh, how it was destroyed and how it will ultimately be rebuilt. The Beit Hamikdosh is a theme that runs throughout the Haggadah. We begin and end with reference to the korban Pesach/Pascal sacrifice in the Beit Hamikdosh.  Further, the Magid part of the Seder which recounts the exodus, is the passage that the farmer would say when he brought his first fruits to the Beit Hamikdosh, “A wandering Armanean was my father…” Shortly thereafter, we remind ourselves that Hillel ate the Pesach sacrifice as a sandwich, with Matzoh and bitter herbs. and we conclude with the prayer that the Beit Hamikdosh will be rebuilt.

It is believed that this poem was written when the Sages realized that this diaspora would be much longer than the previous one. In the previous diaspora, after seventy seventy years Bnei Yisroel returned to the land and rebuilt the Beit Hamikdosh. The Sages wrote this poem to maintain hope of the future redemption in Bnei Yisroel despite the continuing exile. In Shir Hashirim, the gedi/goat represents the Beit Hamikdosh which King Dovid acquired by taxing Bnei Yisroel two zuzim/shekel. From the verse in Shir Hashirim the interpretation is that the Beit Hamikdosh was the orchard in Ein Gedi. [In this context, I cannot help but see an additional interpretation of the verse 1:14: Eshkol kopher Dodi li bcarmei Ein Gedi. I have harvested hakopher/atonement from my Beloved in the Beit Hamikdosh through the two goats of atonement of Yom Kippur. CKS]

In a historical perspective, Otzrot Hatorah continues to interpret the characters as follows: The shinra/cat is soneh ra Nebuchadnezzar the/evil enemy; the dog is Koresh who “ate” Belshazzar (“son” of Nebuchadnezzar) and allowed the Jews to return to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Temple;  the stick is Greece who conquered Persia and defiled the Beit Hamikdosh; the fire is the Hashmoneans who rededicated the Temple; the water is Edom/Rome who destroyed the Beit Hamikdosh; the Tora refers to the Yishmaelim as well as to Yosef who the Yishmaelim sold until Yosef eventually descended to Egypt. Moshiach ben Yosef [Both Yosef and Yishmael are referred to as an ox.] will defeat the Yishmaelim, but he himself will be killed. This will be followed by Hashem reigning supreme with the establishment of the kingdom of Moshiach ben Dovid and a rebuilt Beit Hamikdosh.

We do not know when when the final redemption will come, but one thing is clear, writes the Novominsker Rav, empires rise and fall, have their golden ages and disappear, but one day Hashem will eliminate evil from the world, and He will reign supreme. Therefore, we always have hope, for we are His gedi, His flock, writes Rabbi Bernstein.

`There is tremendous power for blessings on this night. the night that Yitzchak Avinu blessed Yaakov Avinu, writes Rabbi Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. We continue to draw on the power of that blessing throughout the generations. It is a night of blessing for all, for even if you have the outer appearance of the evil Esau, your inner core is still the heart of a Jew, and the blessings can descend on this night.

The connection to this idea is alluded to in Yachatz, when we break the matzoh in half, secrete one half to use for the afikomen [representing the korban Pesach] and allow the children to “steal” the afikomen as Yaakov “stole” the blessings from Esau. How does Rabbi Glatstein make this connection? He sees Yachatz as an acronym for yadav and chelkat tzavaro, Yaakov’s hands and the flat top of his shoulders where Rivkah put the goatskin on Yaakov. Nevertheless, we continue to suffer from the tears that Esau shed that night. All the troubles of our history are symbolized by the one kid.

Our history really begins with the Covenant between the Halves, when Hashem tells Avraham Avinu that his offspring will be slaves in a land not their own. Esau chose not to be the bearer of this prophecy, and Hashem gave him the Land of Seir. Yaakov chose to fulfill this prophecy, and thereby merit the fulfillment of all subsequent blessing resulting from this servitude. But had Yaakov not stolen the blessings that night, writes Rabbi Mandelbaum quoting the Gra, then all the blessings would have gone to Esau. Yaakov brought Yitzchak two goats that night, one for the future korban Pesach and one for the future korban Chagigah. We became the chosen people that night, and it was validated on Pesach.

Our entire servitude was precipitated by conflict over the issue of the firstborn, just like the conflict between Yaakov and Esau. The ten brothers of Yosef were jealous of the special coat Yaakov had given Yosef, a coat whose material cost about two coins but which signified the special firstborn status of this son. That is why they sold Yosef, and that is how we ended up in Egypt. We had to go through the enslavement to eradicate the jealousy that divided us so that we could become the chosen people in our entirety. Other nations may claim that due to our sins we have forfeited our chosen status, and they are now the chosen ones, but that is not so. We remain God’s chosen firstborn.

In fact, the Vilna Gaon interprets each of the characters in Chad Gadya to reflect this idea. The jealous cat represents the brothers whose jealousy resulted in Yosef’s descent to Egypt. The dog is Pharaoh himself who sought to “sink his teeth” into Bnei Yisroel. The staff of Moshe brought retribution on Pharaoh and was also the instrument of salvation. The fire was the sin of the golden calf which almost eradicated the status of Bnei Yisroel. The water represents the tears Moshe shed in praying that Hashem forgive His people. The ox re-establishes the sin of the golden calf, as Yeravam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom after the split, posts two golden calves for the people to worship instead of going to Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the idol worship that culminated in the destruction of the First Temple. Then the Men of the Great Assembly presided over the building of the Second Temple and prayed that the evil inclination toward idol worship be destroyed. But baseless hatred was the Angel of Death for the Second Temple and was the catalyst for the diaspora we continue to find ourselves in. Even so, we look to Hakodosh Boruch Hu To redeem us and restore our former glory. We remain Hashem’s chosen people, and we should wear that distinction with pride.

Let us return to the historical interpretation of Chad Gadya as Rabbi Glatstein tweaks his interpretation. While we begin with one kid representing Bnei Yisroel and end with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Rabbi Glatstein, quotes R. Chayim Kaniefsky based on the Medrash Sochar, who notes that there are eight intervening steps. He notes that although we generally speak of four diasporas, each actually includes two different, overlapping kingdoms. The Babylonian exile includes the oppression by the Chaldeans; the Persian exile, as stated in Megillat Esther, was an empire of both Persia and Media; Greece included Macedonia; finally, Rome includes Ishmael. Each will be subsumed by its “partner.” The Slaughterer/Rome will be destroyed by Ishmael who “will be a wild man” whose interest is only in plundering people, not wealth., a characteristic we see them exhibiting to this day.

The Haggadah comes full circle. It begins with the sale of Yosef to the Yishmaelim and ends with Ishmael as the Angel of Death, only to have a final redemption through Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The Torah alludes to this final step. The Torah states that Ishmael will “fall” on the faces of his brothers, after which the Torah begins, “These are the offspring of Yitzchak.”

Before we get to Maggid, the “official” retelling of the exodus story, we have allusions to the source of our descent to Egypt. When we dip the Karpas in the salt water, we are reminded of an earlier dipping, the dipping of another karpas. In Megillat Esther, one of the luxurious fabrics festooning the palace was karpas, a fine wool. So although we are dipping a vegetable, we are also remembering the other meaning of karpas, the special fabric that Yosef’s brothers dipped in goat blood after they sold Yosef, and the process of the Egyptian enslavement had begun. Our enslavement began with the Yishmaelim bringing Yosef down to Egypt and the final diaspora will end with Hashem destroying the Yishmaelim.

In Halekach Vehalebuv, Rabbi Schorr approaches the parable from the perspective of the individual soul. The narrow straits of Mitzrayim is the physical body that surrounds our soul. There is constant tension and conflict between the two. On Pesach, we eat the matzoh, the bread of emunah/faith to feed the growth of our souls. The one Gadya is equivalent to 18, the living soul. Hashem gave us ways to zaz/move, to navigate the path and serve as signs between these two sources, and each has two aspects. Two are those relevant only to men, circumcision and tefillin, each having two components. But Shabbat is for all of us, with with the twofold shamor/guard/keep, and zachor/remember as its two aspects.

We have a dual mission in our lives, sur meira/abandon the bad, sinful, and asei tov/do the good, positive, mitzvoth. The gedi is constantly involved in this tension. Like a cat, the body often does not want to be loyal to its master. It is a young and playful child, interested only in the physical. But a goat also likes to leap high. Even when totally involved in its own physical needs, the soul of the Jew also wants to rise higher.

The dog represents the yetzer horo. Although it is present at birth, it is basically powerless until it connects with and “bites” the physical aspect of man, beginning at around bar mitzvah age. But mussar, the teaching of morality can rein in the wildness of the dog. The fire is the passion of a yetzer horo that gets ignited in young adulthood. Only the waters of Torah can extinguish those wildfires. But the bullheadedness of arrogance injures the protection Torah study has provided. But the humble man who recognizes his place in the world will slay the arrogance within him. Nevertheless, death comes to all, and when the resurrection comes, all evil of the body will dissipate, and the body and soul will be united in perfect coexistence. That time will come when Hakodosh Boruch Hu will destroy death with the final redemption.

Metaphorically, in Kos shel Eliyahu Rabbi Saffran also imagines the goat as the soul of man sent down to zaz/move through this earthly existence an existence filled with trials and tribulations. But he must remember that he is one of a kind, he is unique, and meant to accomplish a mission on this earth. He must not procrastinate in spite of challenges, for eventually the time is up and he must answer to the higher Source.

On Pesach there is an additional energy present that helps the gedi leap up, to leap over/pesach some steps and reach levels of spiritual growth unattainable going one step at a time at other times, writes Rabbi Tatz.

No matter what time or place we find ourselves, in. Bnei Yisroel has the mission to be God’s emissaries on earth. The challenge is great, the obstacles many, but in the end, Hakodosh Boruch Hu will redeem us and help us see the completion of our mission.