The Chad Gadya machine

Yehuda Amichai is a good illustration of the fact that nobody hates war more than the people who have to fight it.  Amichai fought in four wars–and wrote one of the great poems of peace of the past century.

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Yehuda Amichai. Photo originally from Hana Amichai.

For the second day of National Poetry Month: Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s beautiful poem An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion.  Amichai is yet another example of something that we’ve seen many times on this blog: being a poet doesn’t mean that you can’t kick ass.  From his Wikipedia entry:

He was a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah, the defense force of the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine. As a young man he volunteered and fought in World War II as a member of the British Army, and in the Negev on the southern front in the Israeli War of Independence.[4]

…In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War.[6]

Amichai is also a good illustration of another thing that I hope you’ve gotten from this blog: nobody hates war more than the people who have to fight it.  Trump is, of course, a big fan of it–for other people, for other people’s children.  (He ditched out on Vietnam himself, and you’ll notice that none of his kids have served, either.)  Amichai fought in four wars–and wrote one of the great poems of peace of the past century.

An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Goat On Mount Zion

Yehuda Amichai

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
and on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
the Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
to get caught in the wheels
of the “Chad Gadya” machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
and our voices came back inside us
laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
the beginning of a new religion in these mountains.


…caught in the wheels of the “Chad Gadya” machine: this is a metaphor for a sort of process of tit-for-tat that snowballs out of control (whoops, another metaphor–sorry).  Chad Gadya is a song that’s sung at the end of the seder, the (loooooong) ritual meal eaten on the first two evenings of Pesach (Passover, or la Pâque des juifs, as it’s called in French–“Jewish Passover.”  This always makes me smile–and, yes, I’m Jewish.)  It’s a highly allusive/metaphorical story, like … well, like every Jewish story I’ve ever heard.  “Chad gadya” is Aramaic for “one kid”–in English, a baby goat is a kid.  The plot line of the song: Father buys a baby goat.  The cat eats the goat.  So, the dog bites the cat.  So, the stick hits the dog.  So, the fire burns the stick, the water puts the fire out, and on, and on, and on.  Hence:

Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
to get caught in the wheels
of the “Chad Gadya” machine.


In case you were wondering: Aramaic is similar to Hebrew–you can recognize Aramaic by the frequent presence of at the end of nouns where you wouldn’t expect them in Hebrew.  It’s the definite article (the), which in Hebrew is ha- at the beginning of the word. For example, here’s a chunk of the lyrics:

le-tora de-shatah le-mayathe ox that drank the water,

de-khavah le-nura de-saraf le-chutrathat put out the fire that burnt the stick,

de-hikkah le-khalba de-nashakh le-shunrathat hit the dog that bit the cat,

de-akhlah le-gadya dizabin abba bitrei zuzei.  that ate the kid that Dad bought for two zuzim.

“What about the at the end of abba,” you’re wondering?  No–that one’s just part of the word abba–Dad or Daddy.

…and with that, I’ll stop language-geeking and go watch an episode of Santa Clarita Diet.  The always-adorable Drew Barrymore as a zombie–brilliant, just brilliant.

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