In Echad Mi Yodea song both #11 and #12 refer to the tribes - without Yosef and with him. This is especially pronounced in the families that go through the full list on every line, like "the 3 forefathers - Avrohom, Itzchok and Yaakov".

Why they both refer to [almost] the same thing?

(This answer tries to explain eleven, but my question is why those are the same thing)

  • I’d think that answer does this justice. According to Rav Pinkus, eleven represents Sitra Achra, epitomized in the brothers’ attempt to destroy Yosef after his dreams; this is distinct from twelve, which is the brothers themselves (and whatever that epitomizes according to Rav Pinkus; he seems to have a different philosophy behind many of the numbers than the Maharal, so I’m not sure that he agrees that twelve represents Hashem’s presence in the natural order).
    – DonielF
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 11:51
  • Just a thought, 11 may refer to the actual people (minus Yosef who was in mitzrayim) while 12 refers to the sh’vatim that came from them (the ones known nowadays as shevet Yehuda, for example)
    – Lo ani
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 19:31
  • Or even the other way around: 11 refers to the sh’vatim minus shevet leivi, who is often excluded, and 12 refers to the 12 sons of ya’acov
    – Lo ani
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 19:34
  • @Loani There are always 12 tribes, if Levi's not counted Yossef is counted twice - Efraim and Menashe.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 19:39

3 Answers 3


The eleven refer to the stars of Yosef's dream rather than all of the tribes.

אַחַד עָשָׂר מִי יוֹדֵעַ? אַחַד עָשָׂר אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: אַחַד עַָשָׂר כּוֹכְבַיָּא

Twelve on the other hand refers to the actual tribes.

שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר מִי יודע? שנים עָשָׂר אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: שְׁנֵים עֶָשָׂר שִׁבְטַיָא,

While the interpretation of the dream says that the eleven stars referred to the brothers, the actual reference is to the stars that were visible in the dream. Thus, it is not the same as the twelve.

  • Wait, what were those stars if not the tribes? Did they have names or signs?
    – Al Berko
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 8:29
  • 1
    The point is that the explicit reference in the pasuk was the stars. The meaning (of the brothers) is not relevant to the song. @AlBerko Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 11:20

As per the Oz V’hadar extended Mesivta Haggadah, page 826:

The Sefer Leil Shimmurim (by Rabbi Yechiel Epstein, author of the Aruch HaShulchan) writes that the eleven stars correspond to the seven “planets” (sun, moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn) plus the four elements (earth, fire, water, and air). Similarly the Bnei Yissaschar writes that they correspond to the eleven “planets” (it’s unclear to what he refers, though this is discussed by Ibn Ezra to Tehillim 8:5 as well).


I have not tried to research this excellent question, but my initial thought is that it follows the dual ritual of the Seder- remembering the slavery AND remembering the freedom. For example: Matzoh is BOTH poor man's bread (representing the slavery) AND freedom bread (not enough time to bake). Many of the other rituals refer to one or the other (or both).

In essence the Seder is recalling both slavery and freedom. 11 stars represents slavery by alluding to the 11 brothers coming down to Egypt (Joseph was already there). 12 represents the freedom, were we became a nation of 12 tribes after we were redeemed.

  • This answer just sounds true i'm sure there is a source for it, the next number is 13 which is Gematria Echad which is the final stage of redemption when it will be known G-d is 1 and his name is one
    – user15464
    Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 16:21

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