At its surface, Chad Gadya is a funny song about a string of unfortunate events that befall a young goat and progress until G-d intervenes and smotes the Angel of Death, stopping the chain of escalation in its tracks.

However, on closer look, it contains a number of themes worth exploring: Why did the cat eat the goat in the first place? Are each of the events in the song directly related to one another, or do they happen by coincidence? Why didn't G-d do something sooner?

What stands out to me is the presence of the Angel of Death throughout the entire song, even though we don't become aware of its existence until the second-to-last verse. Whether or not we want to acknowledge it, the Angel of Death remains very present in our world today. It lives in the injustices that plague our society, thriving in modern-day slavery, inequity, and indifference.

Let's say that each event in the song is a direct response to the one that comes before it. It might appear that each successive actor acts out of malice, in an attempt to complicate the situation. But all of them are simply performing normal functions: a cat eats its prey, a dog bites a cat, an ox drinks some water, and so on. While I don't condone beating dogs with sticks, taken individually (and in the context of the song's time), each of action seems relatively benign.

Of course a stick would burn if it caught fire; that's what sticks do! Of course a butcher slaughtered the ox; that's what butchers do!

Taken collectively, however, we recognize that each portion of the song builds on the one that came before it, creating an increasingly difficult situation that escalates until G-d steps in. In this, we see how we might be complicit in the systems that perpetuate harm and injustice, even though we might not be aware. Even though we might be doing what the world says we're supposed to do.

What if one part of the song hadn't gone the way it was "supposed" to? What if the butcher let the ox drink its water in peace? What if, despite the laws of nature, the fire hadn't ignited the stick? What if the cat resisted its urge to snack on the goat?

Chad Gadya is more than an enteraining way to end the Seder. It calls us to be aware of our actions and the impact they have in the world. It reminds us that the pursuit of justice sometimes requires stepping out of our comfort zones, breaking rules, and disrupting perpetual cycles. It is on us to recognize the Angel of Death in our world and choose life. 

haggadah Section: Songs