Who Knows One? What The Popular Passover Song Teaches Us About the Holocaust

By | Mar 20, 2013

At the end of the Seder we sing the song “Who knows One?” As we recite verses that increase the count with each next verse, it becomes more difficult to remember all the elements to be included. Then we culminate with Had Gadyah where next to the last verse we introduce “and then came the angel of death…” I am afraid that in the same manner, we count the generations relevant to The Shoah, and in doing so, are on course for creating an angel of death to the experiential memory of perhaps the most tragic event of our nation. We are on a path to a loss of awareness, sensitivity, concern and connection to the future generations’ attachment to the Shoah and it is coming from our design. But there’s something we can do about it.

In the ceremonies that will soon take place, speaker after speaker will address the crowds as the “second or third generation.” In just a couple of decades, we will be calling our children the fifth, sixth, tenth and thirteenth generation. There are all kinds of negative implications directly related to that. By labeling a higher number, the risks are perceived as diminished and as the number gets higher, the perceived attachment decreases. By the way, this all flies in the face of what the Haggadah is directly telling us this time of year, to recreate an environment and a perception as if we are there.

This appears to have been top of mind in the formulation and evolution of the Haggadah and Seder rituals. Having Passover so close to Yom Hashoah, one could easily recognize the importance of instilling the same disciplines to have the coming generations sense a closeness, to reason as if they were next. The next generation.

As a second generation son of a survivor who has heard his father wake in the middle of the night with screams of fear, anger and deep loss, I am extremely sensitive to this. I feel it physically, mindfully, spiritually and emotionally. I sense it. To a degree I live it. And to a degree I want my children and theirs to feel the same way. I want them to see what I see, feel what I feel, fear what I fear, cherish what I cherish and be on guard as I am on guard. To be sure, My father, may his memory be for a blessing, wanted the same thing, because I am confident he felt I was next. When I tell my children you are third generation, I am second, what am I saying….you are further away.

Were I instead to say “you are the next generation,” a new reality would emerge. When they understand they are the next generation and really understand, it is more likely they will take on a necessary response. Of course I am not suggesting the next generation create an unhealthy anxiety, but instead, a healthy vision.

Rabbi David Silber in his Haggadah Go Forth and Learn offers an enlightening insight in one of his essays, how the authors of the text chose dialogue that we sight such as “ we suffered…we cried….we were redeemed,” to contribute to the mission of internally experiencing the telling as if we were there.

So, a simple but critical proposition: End the numbering of generations, for it is destined for something worse than failure. It is as if it were a design to purposefully remove attachment. The purpose of course is to keep this memory alive. It is as if the Haggadah is telling us to speak in extreme close terms to the event in order to feel it, to be close to the notion of “in every generation they have tried to destroy us.” How relevant is this notion regarding the Holocaust? How inappropriate to use language that creates a distance. As the Israelites cried out to Hashem for a better way, this idea must cry out to us.

With the coming of Yom Hashoah and all the ceremony and communications promoting awareness, create a new paradigm. Change the dialogue, let your constituents know there is a new mandate and a new halacha.  Let all know we are not the second generation, or the third or fourth, but indeed the “next” generation.

For someone to utter “I am the next generation” demands an attachment with all the appropriate consequences to that attachment.

This time of year, we engage, pray, practice, remember, relate, cry, live, and say “next year in Yerushalayim.” It is time to realize in all we do, all we are to experience that indeed we are next. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “The substance of our very being is memory, the substance of our way of living is retaining the reminders of articulating memory.”

Harold Klein is the co-founder of TeleTime Productions and lives in New York. 

3 thoughts on “Who Knows One? What The Popular Passover Song Teaches Us About the Holocaust

  1. Rabbi Dr. Zvi H. Szubin says:

    Here it is, succinctly stated:

    Question: Why does the physical punishment directed at the Rasha focus on his teeth?
    Why not for instance “Punch him in the nose” or the like, “Why the teeth, specifically?”

    Answer: Based on the novel interpretation, which was published in Friday’s newspaper, were I have demonstrated that the Rasha is in fact not a wicked or evil person, but rather a Cynic –therefore, our sages have wisely focused on the Cynic’s teeth.

    Because, the etymology, the origins of the word, Cynic is rooted in the Greek word KYON or KYNOS which means a Dog. Furthermore, the ancient Greek School of Cynics was originally named, KINIKOI or later in Latin CYNICI derived from the word CANINE dog-like. Indeed, one of the most famous disciples who belonged to that first group of Greek Cynics was called, “Diogenes the Dog”
    Moreover, one of the constellations was also named, “Canis Major” – “The big Dog” just as we are familiar with “The big Dipper” and the like.

    Also, you as doctors are familiar with a number of medical conditions that utilize that very same root, including the word cancer – since, prior to the meanings of cancer related to crab, the original association was connected to the biting teeth of a dog.
    Indeed, what is the most worrisome thing that people are afraid of when confronted by a vicious attacking dog — his biting fangs. Accordingly, in order to blunt the biting sarcastic remarks of the Cynical “Rasha,” our sages have judiciously recommended a very apt penalty, “haqhe et shinav” – Blunt his teeth.

    p.s., since Jennifer and Gary and their kids will be at your Seder, please rehearse with Jonathan his very interesting and thought-provoking Dvar Torah focused on the etymology of the word Cynic and how it is derived from CANINE – namely, dog like… thus, in the Haggada the cynical Rasha’s punishment is directed at the Cynic’s teeth, “haqhe et shinav” – Blunt his teeth, in order to blunt his sarcastic biting remarks…
    also, you might show them article, and the kids, like Jonathan, will find the unusual picture of the Four Sons fascinating…

  2. charles hoffman says:

    trivializing the Shoah by trying to explain it through a song that is supposed to be the fun part of a seder does a disservice to the haggadah and is a true desecration of our understanding of the Shoah

    Not everything that works for free-association is rational.

    1. harold says:

      I believe you don’t get it, with all due respect.

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