Excerpted from Dr. Erica Brown’s ‘Seder Talk: A Conversational Haggada,’ co-published by OU Press and Maggid Books
One little goat
Had Gadya is a fanciful whimsy of a song, likely of medieval German origin. This type of folksong that introduces characters who each have a destructive relationship with the previous character creates an image of a creature who ultimately swallows all. While it is a song performed with a lot of enthusiasm, props, and sound effects, it hides a certain dark message. Are we – on this night of the Paschal lamb (which could be a goat, according to Exodus 12:5 – “you may take it from sheep or from goats”) – suggesting that so many of our enemies have come to swallow us and obliterate us? We get the last laugh. We still survive to sing about our vulnerability. We are the one little goat who outdid the typical domestic enemies: the cat, the dog, the stick, the fire. And we even beat the larger, more threatening, harder, but looming enemies: the ox, the butcher, the Angel of Death, before finally God appears. Some name each animal as representing a different nation bound on our destruction, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians to the Crusaders and then more modern-day enemies. What starts the entire song moving is the two zuzim used to purchase the goat, referring to the two tablets given to us at Sinai. Because we were claimed and “purchased” for this covenant, God ultimately intervenes to make sure that we are protected and redeemed, and that is the message of Passover generally as we close the Seder. The song asks us not to fear the repetition of our hardest hours in history because God breaks the cycle of violence, and we endure. It also communicates a more personal message when we see ourselves as a vulnerable little goat facing difficult demons and walls ahead. It is the little goat or lamb – the small, innocent symbol of all that is precious and fragile in this world – that will live on, that will become the Paschal lamb and symbolize our freedom for eternity. We never ask to turn into the ox or the butcher to combat our enemies. We ask to stay small and humble and for our humility to be the hallmark of our identity, along with the two zuzim, the laws, that keep us holy.