חַד גדיָא — אַ ציגעלע

In honor of Peysekh, we’re celebrating one of the holiday’s most famous traditions: Khad Gadyo, the Aramaic-language cumulative song about the purchase of one little goat and all the trouble that ensues. Below, we present an illustrated Khad Gadyo, taken from Lithuanian-born artist Ben Shahn’s 1965 Haggadah.

While you scroll through Shahn’s illustrations, listen to a Yiddish version of the song, or the legendary Moshe Oysher’s take on the traditional Aramaic.

The text of Khad Gadyo bears a strong resemblance to other European cumulative folksongs, including the medieval German song “Der Herr der Schickt den Jokel aus” (The Lord Sent Little Jack Down). At right you can listen to Michael Alpert sing a close Yiddish variant of this song, which has no goat but rather a stubborn boy named Yekele who God sends down to pick pears. Despite the lack of goat, many families sing some version of this Yiddish song at their seders.

The motif of a goat – specifically a “vays klor tsigele” (a bright white goat), which was said to represent a Jew – is common in Yiddish literature and foklore, as heard in the classic song “Rozhinkes mit mandlen” as well as stories like the ones below.

Under Yidele’s cradle, there stands a snow-white kid
that has been to market.
It will be your calling, too —
Trading in raisins and almonds,
And now sleep, Yidele, sleep.

“Then at last the suffering on earth below becomes unbearable, and the secret owner of the hidden horns takes action. When it is midnight in the town , and voices in the study house are heard lamenting over the exile of Israel and the exile of the Divine Glory, the billy goat rears up on his hind legs, straightens out his horns, and directs them toward the Milky Way. There he pulls out a precious stone and flings it all the way down into the marketplace. The stone shatters into a thousand fragments, and Jews going home after the midnight lamentations see them sparkling on the ground — and so there is something to live on for a while. That is why the billy goat cannot abandon the community —”

—I.L. Peretz, “Revelation; or, The Story of the Billy Goat”
translated by Maurice Samuel

“Yes, Zlateh’s language consisted of only one word, but it meant many things. Now she was saying, “We must accept all that God gives us — heat, cold, hunger, satisfaction, light, and darkness….”
Aaron had always loved Zlateh, but in these three days he loved her more and more. She fed him with her milk and helped him keep warm. She comforted him with her patience. He told her many stories, and she always cocked her ears and listened. When he patted her, she licked his hand and his face. Then she said, “Maaaa,” and he knew it meant, I love you too.”

—Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Zlateh the Goat,” translated with Elizabeth Shub

Eliezar “El” Lissitzky, Khad Gadyo, lithographs, Kiev: Kultur-lige, 1919.