What Is One Little Goat Doing in My Haggadah?

What looks like a silly nursery rhyme is a prophetic parable about Messiah and redemption.


PassoverMar 27, 2017

PassoverMar 27, 2017


    Chad Gadya — One Little Goat (Image: Bigstock).

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The Passover Seder may be fun and interesting, but sometimes it seems as if it goes on forever. If you’ve ever used a typical Passover Haggadah, you may have noticed that at the end, everything is wrapped up nicely with a poetic prayer and the rousing cheer, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

And then there are more songs.

At this point, most of my guests stand up, stretch, and say, “Welp, this has been wonderful, thank you. It’s about time for us to get going.” After escorting them out, I sit down, open the Haggadah once more, and sing the final songs, pounding the table with whoever is left.

These songs are not required at a seder. They just serve to extend the praises of God into the night.

Some of the songs are a bit mysterious, however. The strangest song of them all is a classic entitled, Chad Gadya, which means “one little goat” in Aramaic. Its lyrics describe a chain of events involving animals, not unlike the famous “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Chad Gadya is a song we chose to include in our new beginner-friendly Messianic Haggadah.

It starts like this:

One little goat, one little goat.
That father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

Then came a cat and ate the goat,
that father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

Then came a dog and bit the cat, that ate the goat
that father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

Then came a stick and beat the dog, that bit the cat
that ate the goat, that father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

Then came the fire and burned the stick, that beat the dog
that bit the cat, that ate the goat, that father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

And so on. You get the idea. It is always fun to incorporate sound effects into the song. (A zuz, by the way, is a silver coin interchangeable with a denarius. Four zuzim make one ancient shekel.)

But what is the point of this song? Especially for a middle-aged man in the wee hours of the night when all the children have already fallen asleep?

Spend a little time with the song and you will realize that it is deeper than it first sounds. The plot continues: Water quenched the fire. An ox drank the water. A butcher slaughtered the ox.

Then the song takes a dark and surprising turn.

Then came the angel of death and slew the butcher, that slew the ox…

What kind of nursery rhyme is this anyway?

And then, the final verse brings a powerful conclusion:

Then came the Holy One, blessed is he, and slew the angel of death,
that slew the butcher, that slew the ox, that drank the water,
that quenched the fire, that burned the stick, that beat the dog,
that bit the cat, that ate the goat, that father bought for two zuzim,
one little goat, one little goat.

Now it becomes obvious that there is something truly deep and spiritual about this poem. It is not just a children’s song. Every character in this story—the goat, the cat, the dog, etc.—is symbolic. But of what?

If you are familiar with Jewish culture, you will not be surprised to hear that there are countless answers to that question.

According to one interpretation, the goat alludes to the betrayal of Joseph. When he was sold for twenty pieces of silver (hinted at by the two zuzim), it set off the chain of events that led to the slavery in Egypt. This oblique allusion would bring the seder full circle, as many opinions consider the karpas (parsley) at the beginning of the seder to allude to the sale of Joseph.

The Haggadah commentary Ma’aseh Nissim has a fascinating interpretation. The author, Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum, identifies the goat as the Temple, whose land King David purchased from the Jebusites for two gold pieces. Each step thus describes stages in Israel’s history.

The cat represents the Babylonians, who destroyed the Temple. The dog, a more benevolent symbol, is King Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon. The stick represents Greece, and the fire represents the Hasmoneans (corresponding to the Hanukkah flames). The water represents Rome, and the ox represents Ishmael (which refers to the Islamic Ottoman Empire that ruled over the land of Israel when the commentary was written).

The Ma’aseh Nissim commentary concludes:

Then came the butcher. This is the Messiah son of Joseph, who will put an end to them all. For Messiah son of Joseph will ultimately seize the power from Ishmael.

Then came the angel of death. For Messiah son of Joseph will be killed by the angel of death.

Then came the Holy One, blessed is he. For the Holy One, blessed is he, will himself come and redeem us, and death will be swallowed up forever.

May it happen quickly and soon!


First Fruits of Zion is pleased to announce our new Passover Haggadah, geared for beginners. The Master’s Table: A Passover Encounter for Christians provides a complete and yet streamlined edition of the Passover Seder in English, with attractive graphics. It’s great for families or for large outreach functions.

If you would like a more traditional Hebrew Haggadah from a Messianic perspective, look at the Vine of David Passover Haggadah.

Looking for melodies for Chad Gadya to use at your seder? Here are a few options.

Here is the song in English to the customary perky tune by Messianic musician Troy Mitchell:


Here is a similar melody in the original Aramaic:


One of my favorites is this rendition by Chava Alberstein released in 1989. She appended her own creative lyrics to the end which relate to the tragedy of ongoing violence in the world.

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About the Author: Aaron Eby is the Vine of David Director and an author and translator for FFOZ. He was the chief translator of The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels and works to develop liturgical resources that will strengthen Messianic Judaism. More articles by Aaron Eby

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A New Passover Haggadah

New for Passover this year, we are pleased to announce the release of a short, streamlined, and beginner-friendly version of the Passover Haggadah titled The Master’s Table: A Passover Encounter for Christians.

Order Now






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