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Why do we sing "chad gadya" at the pesach seder? What is it supposed to be about?

Also, as a side question, is it "d'zabin aba" or "dizvan aba"?

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Many explain the song as an allegory for Jewish history, including Rav Baruch halevi Epstein, who uses the following symbology:

  • Goat = Nation of Israel
  • Father = God
  • 2 coins = 2 luchos
  • Other things = Galus
  • Although he does not go into detail about that last item, he states that the details are evident to the wise. If this is indeed the meaning of the song, it is almost like a miniature version of Shir Hashirim, which is (according to some) another version of the exact same allegory, and is read at the same point in the seder.

    There is a footnote in The Practical Talmud Dictionary (p. 98) stating that the correct vocalization is "diz'van".

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    This is my own interpretation, (based on Jewish sources) but I like it.

    • Goat= Israel (the land)
    • Father = The Jewish People (If Gd, then who is Hakadosh Baruch hu in the song?!?)
    • 2 coins = Luchot (mitzvot)
    • Cat (ate the goat) = Modesty. (The talmud states that we can learn tznius from a cat) Our tzniut before other nations lead us to Idolatry, and to 'follow the ways of Cannan) This might need some extra clarification. The idea here is that we saw ourselves as needing to learn from the nations around us, and to 'be like them'. Requesting a king, worshiping their idols etc.
    • Dog (only bit the cat, didn't eat)= Arrogance. (The talmud states that dogs are brazen, and corrupt. We ignored the prophets, and believed we knew better than god, leading to the destruction of the temple and our exile)
    • Stick (beat the dog, but didn't kill) = The exile of the aristrocrats to Babylonia (Mishlei says that if you don't use the rod on your child they will become spoiled. The stick was the punishment of our loss, so we could learn. .
    • Fire (burned the stick)= Churban beit Hamikdash. (the burning of the temple)
    • Water (put out the fire) = The Talmud Yerushalmi and Talmud Bavli (Torah is compared to water in many aggadot) Which allowed the Jews to survive outside of Israel and without the beis hamikdash. but came at the sacrifice of writing down the oral tradition.
    • Bull (drank up the water) = (litterally Taurus) This is a pun which means few things. 1. Taurus is the astrological sign which comes in Spring, its part of the sacrifices, its also a pun on the word Torah. This represents the success of the Exliarch in Babylon, from where only 40,000 Jews came to rebuild the second temple. Judaism was such a success in Bavel that few came to reclaim Israel and beit Hamikdash, so its also a bad thing.
    • Shochet (slaughtered the bull) = The wars and conqurers who destroyed the Exliarch and the remainder of the communities in Israel ending the Gaonic period. (A shochet uses a knife, aka sword, and the gemorah says that one born under the sign of war, will either become a murdere or a shochet)
    • Angel of Death (slaughtered the slaughter) = The cause of all empires to rise and fall, causing the destruction of the conqureres and empires that killed or exiled the Jews from their land. (Also a reference to the last plague in Egypt)
    • Hakadoesh Baruch hu (slaughtered the angel of death) = Gd, who will ultimately redeem us back to Israel stoping the cycle of rising and falling of empires in the days of Moshiach, as he redeemed us from Egypt.
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    nice (15 chars) – jutky Aug 15 '11 at 12:39
        
    This is very similar to the Vilna Gaon's reading. – Shalom Aug 15 '11 at 14:07
        
    @Shalom Really? Do you have a link or a summary? – avi Aug 15 '11 at 18:13
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    It appears (among other places) in the Artscroll Illustrated Children's Haggadah. IIRC: Brothers' jealousy of Joseph was "catty"; all the tribes were afflicted by the dog of Egypt, which was stricken by the stick of plagues, which ushered in an era of miracles that ended when the flame of desire caused too much sin. The Men of the Great Assembly doused that flame (water), but their legacy was halted by the Roman exile (ox). The messiah (butcher) will end the exile, but will eventually die (angel of death); at some point after that, G-d will eliminate death. – Shalom Aug 15 '11 at 19:10
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    I've also heard Rabbi Benjamin Blech state his feeling that "and then came the Angel of Death" was certainly 1939-1945, so we're waiting for the final act now. Make of it what you will. – Shalom Aug 15 '11 at 19:11

    Regarding d'zabin aba" or "dizvan aba", the former means that he sold while the latter means that he bought.

    As to what it means, while it is possible to invest any text with deep meaning, my assumption would be that it is indeed an adaptation of a German children's song. I've noted the shift in verbs from interesting Aramaic ones in the beginning (in the stanzas paralleling the non-Jewish song) to boring Hebrew ones in the frum-ish conclusion.

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    Josh, that link you posted to on the main line seems to imply that the german children's song came from Chad Gadya.. since it has hebrew terms in the german... – avi Aug 16 '11 at 10:52

    They symbolism in the Vilna Goan's interpretation of Chad Gadya makes us realizes the song is about all of Jewish history. But as to why we sing the song (this insight comes from Aish Rabbi Sholom Denbo) think of the difference between history and memory. History is a bunch of facts from a book you learned in school that you barely remember. Memories are the experiences you yourself went though and have become the lenses you use to currently view the world. Your memories shape almost everything you interpret and almost every action you take.

    On Passover we are supposed to relive the story of the Exodus. Not as a history story, but as a memory that we went through. That shaped us before and currently shapes us today. And then expand that awareness to the context of all of Jewish history to recognize where you are, and where you are going. The scope of Jewish history is encapsulated in Chad Gadya.

    If you want to read a little more in depth about Chad Gadya check out http://bit.ly/1Sxe0fJ

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    One insight that I have about this is that it comes to answer the famous question of why Paroah and the Egyptians were punished when the Galus was foretold 400 years earlier. The point brout out in the Chad Gadya is that if you toggle good-bad from the bad cat eating the goat and the good dog being upset about that and punishing it, you land up with the angel of death being good and why did God kill him?

    The answer in this rhyme is self evident. Just because the cat sinned that has nothing to do with the dog. Here too, although there was a decree of Galus the Egyptians had no business getting involved.

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    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his Haggadah says that the "two coins" that Abba (Hashem) use to "purchase" (redeem from Mitzrayim) the gad (Bnai Yisrael) were Moshe and Aharon. He suggests the analogy of each of the attackers were the various empires who conquered us by attacking the previous rulers.

    Ashur (cat), Bavel (dog), Persia (stick), Greeks (fire), Romans (water), Islam (ox), Christianity (slaughter), Ottoman Empire (Malach Hamaves).

    Others use other connections for the last three. Some even use Worl War II for the Angel of Death. Of course, hashem redeems us all.

    He also suggests that it is based on Rav Yehuda Bar Ilai in Baba Basra 10a giving the list of ten strong things in the world ending with tzedakah tatzil mimaves (Mishlei 10:2)

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