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The Seder Plate
We place a Seder Plate at our table as a reminder to discuss certain aspects of the Passover story. Each item has its own significance.
Maror – The bitter herb. This symbolizes the harshness of lives of the Jews in Egypt.
Charoset – A delicious mix of sweet wine, apples, cinnamon and nuts that resembles the mortar used as bricks of the many buildings the Jewish slaves built in Egypt
Karpas – A green vegetable, usually parsley, is a reminder of the green sprouting up all around us during spring and is used to dip into the saltwater
Zeroah – A roasted lamb or shank bone symbolizing the sacrifice made at the great temple on Passover (The Paschal Lamb)
Beitzah – The egg symbolizes a different holiday offering that was brought to the temple. Since eggs are the first item offered to a mourner after a funeral, some say it also evokes a sense of mourning for the destruction of the temple.
Orange - The orange on the seder plate has come to symbolize full inclusion in modern day Judaism: not only for women, but also for people with disabilities, intermarried couples, and the LGBT Community.
Matzah is the unleavened bread we eat to remember that when the jews fled Egypt, they didn’t even have time to let the dough rise on their bread. We commemorate this by removing all bread and bread products from our home during Passover.
The fifth ceremonial cup of wine poured during the Seder. It is left untouched in honor of Elijah, who, according to tradition, will arrive one day as an unknown guest to herald the advent of the Messiah. During the Seder dinner, biblical verses are read while the door is briefly opened to welcome Elijah. In this way the Seder dinner not only commemorates the historical redemption from Egyptian bondage of the Jewish people but also calls to mind their future redemption when Elijah and the Messiah shall appear.
Another relatively new Passover tradition is that of Miriam’s cup. The cup is filled with water and placed next to Elijah’s cup. Miriam was the sister of Moses and a prophetess in her own right. After the exodus when the Israelites are wandering through the desert, just as Hashem gave them Manna to eat, legend says that a well of water followed Miriam and it was called ‘Miriam’s Well’. The tradition of Miriam’s cup is meant to honor Miriam’s role in the story of the Jewish people and the spirit of all women, who nurture their families just as Miriam helped sustain the Israelites.
Redemption: In the Exodus story, the Jews were redeemed physically from slavery. While Pesach is "z'man heyruteinu," the season of our freedom, it is also a festival that speaks of spiritual redemption. Jews were freed from mental as well as physical slavery. It was as a physically and spiritually free people that the Jewish nation prepared to receive the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The seder also includes many allusions to a future messianic redemption. One of the clearest symbols is the Cup of Elijah placed on every seder table. Contained within the salvation from Egypt are the seeds of future redemption, as the Torah states, "This same night is a night of watching unto the Lord for all the children of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:42).
Creation: Passover is known by several names in Hebrew, including Chag HaAviv, holiday of the spring. Pesach celebrates spring, rebirth, and renewal, symbolized by the green “ karpas ” and the egg on the seder plate. It is also a time of “beginning,” as exemplified by the first grain harvest and the birth of Israel as a nation. Also, Nissan, this Hebrew month, was traditionally seen as the first month of the Jewish year.
Education: Four different times in the Torah, the Jews are commanded to repeat the story of the Passover (Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 14; Deuteronomy 6:20). The seder is centered around teaching the story of the exodus from Egypt. In fact, Haggadah means “the telling.” Two of the most important readings address education head on: the four questions and the four sons. The first encourages even the youngest children to begin asking questions, while the latter instructs us how to respond to different learning styles. Even at a seder without children present, the night takes on an educational feel. Thought provoking questions and supportive debate are encouraged.
Patterns of Four: Throughout the seder, you may notice the number four being repeated in many guises. This is based on the verse in Exodus that states, "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments, and I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God…" (Exodus 6:6-7). Among many other patterns of four at the seder, we drink four cups of wine, ask four questions, and speak about four types of children.
We will drink the first of four cups of wine
And give up control
To the wine, to the story, to God.
We are in Mitzrayim, the narrow place, And God says to us:
I Shall Take You Out,
I Shall Rescue You,
I Shall Redeem You,
I Shall Take You to Me.
Sanctify the day with the First Cup.
I Shall Take You Out, sez God,
From the burdens of Egypt.
That's nice. But what about
The burdens of now?
War, sex slavery, exploitation, inequality,
Not much changes.
We better get out from under,
Resist the oppressor
And make our own places free.
So drink from the Cup of Sanctification.The fruit of our hopes and prayers.
Tell the Story of a People's Creation with the Second Cup.
I Shall Rescue You, sez God,
From someone else's definition
Of you are, of what you can be.
Inspired by God, we free ourselves.
Moses or Abraham Lincoln or Betty Friedan
Freedom is not something we can be given
Freedom is something we must create.
So drink from the Cup of Deliverance
The fruit of our arduous journey.
Thank the chain of work that created the Seder meal with the Third Cup.
I Shall Redeem You, sez God
With an outstretched arm
Scattering the seeds
To the earth to the vineyard to the farmworker to the winemaker to the bottle to the grocer,
All for this glass of wine.
Redemption is hard work,
Forgivenss requires self awareness,
Teshuvah ain't for babies.
So drink from the Cup of Redemption
The fruit of our many labors.
Praise God's Awesome Glory with the Fourth Cup.
I Shall Take You to Me, sez God
For a people
And be your GodIn eternal covenant.
Gosh, can I get a job description first?
Commitment to obligation
Requires freedom to choose
And freedom to disobey.
So drink from the Cup of Restoration
The fruit of our Holy Connection
God says to us:
I Shall Take You Out.
I Shall Rescue You.
I Shall Redeem You.
I Shall Take You to Me.Drink.
What a blessing to live in a world in which fruit on the vine can turn into wine.
What a blessing to come from a culture that tells stories and celebrates the seasons.
What a blessing to exist in a universe that, after billions of years, has arrived at this moment, here and now, with us gathered around this table.
A small piece of onion, parsley, or boiled potato is dipped into saltwater and eaten (after reciting the blessing over vegetables). Dipping the karpas is a sign of luxury and freedom. The saltwater represents the tears of our ancestors in Mitzrayim. This year may it also represent tears of Black parents and families mourning the loss of their Black youth at the hands of police brutality.
What a blessing to live on an earth that reawakens each spring to put forth fruits and vegetables.
The top Matzoh
And bottom Matzoh are,
it is said,
For the two loaves of challah on Shabbat,
Supposedly a reminder
Of the two portions of manna
They received in the dessert
Every Friday before Shabbat.
But the middle matza?!
That's for the seder.
We break it in half
And call it the bread of affliction,
Just like the unleavened bread
We ate as we fled slavery
Matza Number Two,
The afflicted matza,
We break it in half
And separate ourselves from joy
So we don't forget the pain
That has been ours.
We break it in half
And separate ourselves from the joy
So we can remember the pain
All this pain
Lives in this first half of the afflicted matzoh
And we eat this half now,
So that we do not forget that we were slaves
So that we do not enslave others.
We separate the second half of the afflicted matza
From all that hurt
So that we don't forget the joy that can follow the sorrow.
So that we don't forget the times that we changed things for the better.
And after the meal we will search for that happiness
And we will find it.
And then we eat the Afikomen together
So we don't forget that it is good to be alive
And we are obligated to share that joy.
Blessed One-ness, we are so grateful for the obligations to remember pain and share joy.
Discuss as a group or in pairs at the Seder table:
1. Egypt, “mitzrayim” in Hebrew, comes from the word “tzar”: the “narrow place,” the constricted place. In what way are you personally still constricted? Are you able to see yourself as part of the unity of all being, a manifestation of God’s love on earth? Are you able to overcome the ego issues that separate us from each other? Can you see the big picture, or do you get so caught in the narrow places and limited struggles of your own life that it’s hard to see the big picture? What concrete steps could you take to change that?
2. Do you believe that we can eventually eradicate wars, poverty, and starvation? Or do you believe that no one really cares about anyone but themselves, and that we will always be stuck in some version of the current mess? Or do you think that such a belief is, itself, part of what keeps us in this mess? If so, how would you suggest we spread a more hopeful message and deal with the cynicism and self-doubt that always accompanies us when we start talking about changing the world?
3. What experiences have you had that give you hope? Tell about some struggle to change something — a struggle that you personally were involved in — that worked. What did you learn from that?
4. When the Israelites approached the Sea of Reeds, the waters did not split. It took a few brave souls to jump into the water. Even then, the waters rose up to their very noses, and only then, when these brave souls showed that they really believed in the Force of Healing and Transformation (YHVH), did the waters split and the Israelites walk through them. Would you be willing to jump into those waters today — for example by becoming an advocate for nonviolence or for the strategy of generosity? Would you go to speak about this to your elected representatives? To your neighbors? To your coworkers? To your family?
The part of the seder where we tell the story
Of leaving Egypt.
We spend more time talking about talking about the story
Then telling the actual story.
Very meta is our haggadah,
With many numbers,
Lots of fours:
Four cups of wine
Four ways of asking,
Why is this night different from all other nights?
The first child,
The wise child
Knows all the rules.
No messin' around,
This is what you do on Pesach:
Tell the story
Dip the herbs
Drink four cups
Don't eat leavened bread
Ask the questions
Know the answers.
The second child,
A smart ass,
Smart and an ass.
Doesn't care about the rules
Unless she knows what they're for,
She wants meaning
And is kind of obnoxious about it
Because sometimes it's hard to ask the next logical question
Without annoying someone.
What does this story mean to you? she asks.
And it comes off as a challenge, but it's not.
She really wants to know:
What does it mean?
So you tell her,
Freedom to be who you are,
To make choices, to seek God whether you find God or not,
To become a person and then a people,
To ask questions.
The third child,
Doesn't know what to do
Doesn't know why we're doing it
Doen't know that he doesn't know.
So you say to him,
We tell a really good story
With a beginning middle and end
And a hero
And a villian
And miracles and dancing and bugs and dead cows and blood,
You'll love it!
And this is why we tell the story:
So we don't forget we were slaves,
So we don't forget what God did for us,
So we don't forget Torah,
And the seder is what we do to remember.
And because we remember
We don't enslave others.
We bask in God's presence.
We study Torah
And we tell stories.
And then there's the child who doesn't even know that she can ask a question.
Is it because she doesn't care?
Doesn't have a context?
Too assimilated to know how interesting it all is?
Or perhaps no one will let her talk
So she doesn't even try?
Sitting in the back of the bus,
Not allowed to study Torah,
Married at 17,
Popping out babies at 18.
So let's not wait for either of them to say something.
Let's hold out our hands and say,
We were slaves
And now we're not.
And there is so much to know and do
And you can know and do it
And we will help you.
You are inspired,
You just don't know it yet.
Contrast these four children
With the Five Rabbis sitting around talking
In Bnai Brak.
Each of the knows the direct meaning.
All of them plumb the depths of the hidden and symbolic.
Any one of them can tell a tale that bridges a gap.
Five out of five are insipired by God's revelations.
They know the rules and the meaning and the stories
And oh my God, are they empowered to talk.
They stay up all night
And talk and talk and talk!
Each one smarter than the other
But in the morning when their students come in,
They still haven't prayed.
Because they can't stop talking.
Hey you guys, say the students,
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
What a blessing to have friends at our table with whom to share this meal.
What a blessing to live in a world in which grass in the field can turn into bread.
What a blessing to come from a culture that has such a rich story to tell, so full of symbols, like these matzot.
When we eat the maror, it makes our eyes water. Its bitterness turns our faces red. We lose control for a moment, and laugh because it's freeing. We cannot keep up appearances while eating maror, and so we don't try to.
Our sinuses open up. We cry. We laugh. We cry, and we laugh at our crying.
What a blessing to come from a culture that has such a rich story to tell, so full of symbols, like bitter herbs and charoset.
In Talmud Pesachim, Rava teaches, "A person who swallows matzah without chewing fills the mitzvah, the commandment, to eat matzah. However, a person who swallows maror without chewing doesn't fulfill the mitzvah to eat maror."
Matzah is Biblical fast food. Matzah is flat because the Hebrews were in such a hurry to get out of Egypt, they didn't wait for their bread to rise. They rushed out, eating crackers, because they had to eat something. Matzah is optimistic, portable, light and undemanding.
Rashbam says that the mitzvah of eating matzah isn't connected to taste. It's connected to story. The Seder ends with a literal countdown, numbering the days until Shavuot, the holiday when the Hebrews get the Torah. Matzah is the food of the future. We eat matzah on Passover to remind us that we're on our way.
Charoset and Maror are the tastes of the past. Charoset is a sweet memory. Maror is a bitter encounter made fresh. Charoset is the sweetness of family, Maror the bitterness of Holocaust. These are our roots as individual people and as a People. Maror wants attention, and loves to get a reaction. Charoset is sweet, and also thick and heavy. Charoset is said to be the material the Hebrews used to make bricks. Sweetness between people and bricks are made of the same material. The presence of both forms a foundation.
The Hillel sandwich is the three of these together. Matzah, Maror and Charoset. Together, they are the present.
All who sit around these tables,
Friends and strangers,
In peaceful conversation
And pleasant disagreement,
Those who remember and those who are remembered,
On this Pesakh,
We have shared this fine meal
And such a fine story,
We take this moment to acknowledge
That we are blessed
And, in our turn,
בָּרוּךְ הוּא וּבָרוּך שְׁמוֹ
Blessed be the Creator and the created,
Blessed be the sustainers and the sustained.
Blessed be the eaters and the eaten,
Blessed be the feeders and the fed.
Blessed be the cooks and the meal,
Blessed be the drinkers and the water.
Blessed be the farmers and the produce,
Blessed be the baker and the bread.
Blessed be them all.
Blessed be the questioners and the questioned,
Blessed be the musicians and the songs.
Blessed the comics and the jokes,
Blessed be the artists and the illustrations.
Blessed be the maggid and the stories,
Blessed be the rabbis and the learning.
Blessed be them all.
Blessed be the doers and the done upon,
Blessed be the freers and the freed.
Blessed be the leaders and the led,
Blessed be the tellers and the told.
Blessed be the prayers and the prayed for,
Blessed be the servers and the served.
Blessed be them alll.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי הַזָּן אֶת הַכּל
נוֹדֶהלְּךָ יי אֱלהֵינוּ
We do not lack the biggest and the smallest of blessings:
Blessing us, One-ness,
With a history, ancient and current, that is never boring.
We give thanks
וְעַלהַכּל יי אֱלהֵינוּ אֲנַחְנוּ מוֹדִים לָךְ וּמְבָרְכִים אוֹתָךְ
Blessing us, One-ness,
With boundless Mercy
For all people,
All made in your image.
Those who remember and those who are remembered.
רַחֶםנָא יי אֱלהֵינוּ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּךָ
For each other
And all the world
On this Pesakh
We give thanks.
Words and music by Sheldon Harnick
When Messiah comes he will say to us, “I apologize that I took so long.” “But I had a little trouble finding you, over here a few, over there a few….. You were hard to re-unite But, everything is going to be alright.”
Up in heaven there how I wrung my hands when they exiled you from the Promised Land. Into Babylon you went like cast aways, On the first of many, many moving days What a day…. and what a blow! How terrible I felt you’ll never know.
Since that day Many men said to us, “get thee out,” Kings they were, gone they are, We’re still here…….
When Messiah comes he will say to us, “Don’t you think I know what a time you had? Now I’m here, you’ll see how quickly things improve. And you won’t have to move unless you want to move. You shall never more take flight, Yes! Everything is going to be alright!”
When Messiah comes, he will say to us, “I was worried sick if you’d last or not, And I spoke to God and said, 'Would that be fair, If Messiah came and there was no one there?' And the Lord replied to me, 'Wait! Everything will be alright you’ll see!'"
Many times, many men, took our homes, Took our lives, Kings they were, gone they are. We’re still here!
When Messiah comes and his reign begins Truth and justice then shall appear on Earth. But if this reward we would be worthy of We must keep our covenant with God above. So be patient and devout…. and Gather up your things and get thee out!
Watch a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfWay4hh5HY
What was the seder table when we only had Elijah’s cup?
We open the door for Elijah,
Angry prophet of the world to come.
And we ask God to pay attention
To the fire from the sky that was Elijah’s gift.
Elijah announces the Moshiach
Who then saves the Jews!
Elijah, the bringer of justice.
When you open the door don’t just say the prayer
Read the translation,
It’s a little scary
So invite that in.
Bring the anger,bring the plagues
Sometimes we need them,
It’s part of the story.
We were slaves in Egypt and it was horrible.
If there is a child at the table
Let her open the door for Uncle Elijah
And hope that there’s some wind tonight
And when it blows
Tell her that’s Elijah as he comes inside
Visiting each Jewish home on Pesach
To have his cup of wine.
And when the child sits back down
Jiggle the table just a little
And tell her to watch the wine shake in the cup
So the kid thinks Elijah is there, taking a sip.
The anger will wait.
We lift Miriam’s cup,
Dancing prophet celebrating the world that is now.
And we tell God we are grateful
For the water from the earth that was Miriam’s gift,
On God’s behalf.
Miriam announces joy!
And teaches us to save ourselves.
Miriam, the bringer of mercy,
There’s no prayer for her in the haggadah-
So make one up!
It’s a little scary
But what the heck.
Bring up the water, start the party
Sometimes we need it
And it’s part of the story:
We were slaves in Egypt and now we are free.
If there is a child at the table
Let him take a sip from Miriam’s cup,
If all the talking makes him thirsty,
And while he drinks
Tell him about Miriam the artist
Singing MiChamochah on the Red Sea Shore
Making sure we have fun at the table.
And when the child is finished
Remember that Miriam was a truth teller
And for that the prophet paid a heavy price
Make sure the kid respects Miriam, and values her water.
The fun will wait.
So together on the seder table
Fire and Water,
Justice and Mercy,
Tzedejk v’ Rachameem.
The cup of wine to stir the flame
The cup of water to quench it.
Only with both cups are we complete.
So for all this,
Baruch Atah Adonai,
Brucha At Shechinah
Elijah and Miriam
We are blessed this Pesach night.
As we come to the end of the Seder, we drink one more glass of wine. With this final cup, we give thanks for the experience of celebrating Passover together, for the traditions that help inform our daily lives and guide our actions and aspirations.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen.
We praise you, God, Ruler of Everything, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The Cup of Elijah
We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet Elijah to join our Seder. In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of God to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was whisked away to heaven. Tradition holds that he will return in advance of messianic days to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah at many joyous, hopeful Jewish occasions.
Of more recent origin is the custom of placing a second cup on the Seder table for a second unseen but deserving guest - the prophetess, Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron.
It was Miriam, the Prophetess, symbol of all the courageous and worthy women who kept the home fires burning, even when the men became discouraged and despaired of redemption. Who then is more deserving to be "toasted" with wine and saluted for service "above and beyond" than she?
If the Cup of Elijah is one symbolizing hope for future redemption, Miriam's Cup symbolizes redemption realized through the tireless efforts of women. Let us honor her for her heroism, and through her, all the brave, capable, devoted, faithful and loyal women of who have been, and continue to be, the ongoing source of strength.
For the sake of our righteous women were our ancestors redeemed from Egypt. L'Chaim!
DRINK THE FOURTH GLASS OF WINE
Our seder is over and done as best we could. May healing come to all the nations of the world. And may we find ourselves next year exactly where we ought to be!
This set of readings was formulated in order to highlight and celebrate Miriam’s role in the deliverance from slavery and her leadership throughout the wandering in the wilderness. When the seder table is set, we place an empty cup alongside Elijah’s cup. Each attendee at the seder then pours a bit of his or her water into the cup. This contribution symbolizes that, at every stage of her life, Miriam was integral in the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. We pour water, specifically, because it plays a recurring role in the Exodus – the rescue of Moshe, the first plague in Egypt when the water was turned to blood, the parting of the Red Sea, and so on.
Today, we continue the fight to protect women, to raise them up, and to honor their equality and agency. We take this moment to remember Miriam for the role model that she is, to honor the girls and women who are at the seder table, and to remember those who have touched our lives.
Reading: Exodus 2:1-10
1 A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. 4 And his sister stationed herself at a distance to learn what would befall him. 5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. 6 When she opened it, she saw that it was a child; a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?” 8 And Pharaoh’s daughter answered, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this
child and nurse it for me, and I will pay your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, who made him her son. She named him Moses, explaining, “I drew him out of the water.”
Take a moment to honor the young girls who are participating in your seder. Share your hopes and dreams for them, and, if appropriate, have them share their aspirations with the seder guests.
Reading: Exodus: 15:20-21
20 Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her in dance, with timbrels. 21 And Miriam chanted for them, “Sing to God, for God has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.”
Discuss: Take a moment to honor the women at your seder. Ask them what achievements in their lives give them the greatest sense of pride, and celebrate their contributions within the family and in the public realm.
Reading: Numbers 20:1-2 1
The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. 2 The community was without water... [Rashi’s Commentary: “From here we derive that all forty years they had the well in Miriam’s merit.”]
Take a moment to share a memory of a female role model in your life who is no longer with you, and reflect on what that loss has meant to your life.
Some find it surprising that at the Passover Seder, we discuss weighty themes of slavery and freedom and redemption, but the culmination, the grand finale of the entire seder, is Had Gadya - basically the Jewish version of “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly.”
In fact, there has been a lot of confusion in Jewish tradition about how this folk song for children managed to work its way into the Haggadah, such that it is now sung in virtually every Jewish community around the world: “My father bought a little goat for two gold coins. Then came a cat that ate the goat - that my father bought for two gold coins. Then came a dog and bit the cat - that ate the goat - that my father bought for two gold coins. Then came a stick and beat the dog - that bit the cat......” etc. etc. And the song concludes, ten verses later: “And then came God, the Holy Blessed One, and slaughtered the Angel of Death - who slaughtered the butcher who slaughtered the ox that drank the water that put out the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that my father bought for two gold coins.”
A wide array of commentaries in our tradition endeavor to explain exactly what this passage is doing in the Passover Seder at all.
Some people choose to understand Had Gadya theologically. They say that the point of the song is that at the end, God slaughters the Angel of Death. If God is truly all-powerful, then God can triumph even over death and bring the world into the era of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead.
Others interpret Had Gadya as an extensive allegory for the history of the Jewish people. The Jewish people, of course, are the goat. Over and over, the Jewish people are oppressed and persecuted and burned and extinguished and slaughtered, just as happens in the song. But ultimately God rescues us and saves us from our oppressors.
Another explanation was presented by the eminent Israeli Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. He remembers in his childhood trying to make sense of this song, concluding that this is really a song about vengeance. The cat eats the goat - but then the dog bites the cat. But then the stick comes and beats the dog. And the stick is angry at the dog for biting the cat. But then there’s another reprisal: next we have the fire, burning the stick and so on and so on… until things get so out of hand that God has to step in.
The song, then, is a classic demonstration of how a cycle of violence can so easily and quickly spiral out of control. What was once a small, local conflict between the cat and the goat has now involved, and destroyed, two other animals, three objects, one person, and one angel, and God has to step in and keep the peace. But all these efforts don’t bring the goat back to life, nor do they necessarily function to deter the cat, or anyone else, from eating other goats in the future. The song reminds us that revenge is, plain and simple, a failed strategy most of the time.
Had Gadya reminds us that no matter who is more at fault, the cycle of revenge is likely to continue until someone breaks the cycle. And the longer it takes to realize this, the more people die.
May the values presented in the Passover Seder, and in Had Gadya, help us and others to move our world in the direction of peace.