Good to the Last Verse
The Seder suffers from its familiarity. We do it every year. The Seder is long, and especially after the meal it’s hard to keep focused. As one of our members said to me after Rabbi Ohriner and I taught at the Mishpaha program, “Now I know how to keep the children involved; but what about the ADD adults?”
We keep our attention by digging deeper into the Haggadah’s many layers of meaning. This is certainly true of the final parts of the Haggadah. They are important, because they complete the story, or rather, they point us toward its ultimate fulfillment: the redemption of the world. We open the door for Elijah, herald of the Messianic era. We chant Hasal Siddur Pesah, the concluding poem, ending with a rousing L’shanah ha-ba·ah birushalayim—next year in Jerusalem. And even the lighthearted songs have a message of ultimate hope. This is particularly true of the one that seems most like a children’s song: Had Gadya.
The song depicts a chain of predation, but Jews understood the kid to be the people of Israel, and all the others symbolize the nations that tried to destroy us. But at the end of the day, and at the end of time, the “one kid” remains.
More than that, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “At the end of days God will vanquish the angel of death and inaugurate a world of life and peace, the two great Jewish loves.” This is a message of hope. It’s remarkable how we Jews sustained hope through our long centuries of exile, wandering, oppression, pogroms and genocide. Hatikvah is not just the national anthem of Israel; it is the theme song of our march through history. As Rabbi Sacks writes, “I find it almost unbearably moving that a people who knew so much suffering could summon the moral courage to end this evening of Jewish history on the supreme note of hope, and write it into the hearts of their children in the form of a nursery rhyme, a song. For what we give our children on this night of nights is something more and greater than the bread of affliction and the taste of Jewish tears. It is a faith that in this world, with all its violence and cruelty, we can create moments of redemption, signals of transcendence, acts of transfiguring grace. No people has risked and suffered more for a more slender hope, but no hope has lifted a people higher and led it, time and again, to greatness. So we end the night with a prayer and a conviction. The prayer: ‘God of life, help us win the victory over the forces of death.’ And the conviction? That by refusing to accept the world that is, together we can start to make the world that ought to be.”
So be sure to finish your Seder properly: with hope, vision, and song.
Here’s another resource for your Seder’s end: a wonderful poem by the great Israeli poet Nathan Alterman:
The Kid of the Haggadah
There in the market place, bleating among the billy goats and nannies,
Wagging his thin little tail—as thin as my finger—
Stood the Kid—downcast, outcast, the leavings of a poor man’s house,
Put up for sale without a bell, without even a ribbon, for just a couple of cents.
Not a single soul in the market paid him any attention,
For no one knew—not even the goldsmith, the sheep-shearer—
That this lonesome little Kid would enter the Haggadah
And his tale of woe become a mighty song.
But Daddy’s face lit up,
He walked over to pat the Kid’s forehead—and bought him.
And so began one of those songs
That people will sing for all history.
The Kid licked Daddy’s hand,
Nuzzled him with his wet little nose;
And this, my brother, will make the first verse of the song:
“One only Kid, one only Kid, that my father bought for two zuzim.”
It was a spring day, and the breezes danced;
Young girls winked and giggled, flashed their eyes;
While Daddy and the Kid walked into the Haggadah
To stand there together—small nose in large hand, large hand on small nose.
To find in the Haggadah—
So full already of miracles and marvels—
A peaceful place on the last page,
Where they can hug each other and cling to the edge of the story.
And this very Haggadah whispers,
“Join us…you’re welcome here … you belong,
Among my pages full of smoke and blood,
Among the great and ancient tales I tell.”
So I know the sea was not split in vain,
Deserts not crossed in vain—
If at the end of the story stand Daddy and the Kid
Looking forward and knowing their turn will come.
A good article about Chad Gadya, which includes a choral version by the Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun: