Echad Mi Yodea?
אחד מי יודע
‘Who Knows One?’
We’re all familiar with this wonderful, cumulative-styled song is sung on Passover, after the conclusion of the Seder. It enumerates common Jewish motifs and teachings.
Recitation varies from family to family. The song first had versions in Yiddish and Hebrew, and then many other languages. Sometimes it is played as a memory game, recited without looking. Sometimes the goal is to recite the entire chorus in one breath!
It is meant to be fun and humorous, and is used to teach and reinforce the lessons of Pesach to children. However, without argument, it contains important lessons for all.
The very first line – and response – carries the truth central to Judaism: Our God is One, in Heaven and on Earth! We know that the ‘Shema’ (‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord, our God, the Lord is One’ – taken from Deut 6:4) is the single most important declaration of faith for Jewish people.
But the first words of the song ask: ‘Who knows one?’ The Hebrew word for ‘one’ is ‘echad’ ( אחד ). This particular word for ‘one’ is not a solitary unit. Rather, it is a composite unity. In other words, God is the ‘sum of all His parts.’ In fact, this same word is used of Adam and Eve when they are described as being ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2:24). Even earlier than that, when we read that God was creating the world, it says, ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day.’ (Gen 1:5 in Hebrew reads: יום אחד – one day – not the ‘first day’, which would be יום ראשון) The ‘oneness’ is the sum of the respective parts: evening and morning.
We also find it in Ezekiel 37:17, where the two sticks are joined together and become ‘one’ in the prophet’s hand.
The Hebrew word for solitary absolute is ‘yachid’ (יחיד). Sadly, when Rabbi Moses ben Maimonides (1135 – 1204) formulated the basic principles of Judaism into 13 affirmations, as an attempt to clarify differences between Judaism and Christianity and Islam, he chose this word ‘yachid’ to describe God in his Second Article of faith; a word that is never used in the Bible, in connection with God.
Furthermore, we see the ‘plurality’ of God in the very opening lines of Genesis: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ The title ‘God’ is plural (אלהים), while the verb ‘created’ (ברא) is singular.
Our Passover song asks: ‘Who knows One?’
The Hebrew, יודע, (know) has a profound meaning and application. It is used of Adam and Eve to describe the most intimate of relationships: Adam ‘knew’ Eve, his wife, and she conceived (Gen 4:1). This kind of ‘knowledge’ (ידע) implies more than intellectual assent; it implies a personal and experiential interaction which produces results or fruit.
The reply to the song’s question is: ‘I know One. One is our God, in the Heavens and on Earth.’
Is it possible to ‘know’ God, in this way, or is this just a figure of speech?
Proverbs 3:4 also poses a question:
‘Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? Who hath gathered the wind in his fists? Who hath bound the waters in a garment? Who hath established all the ends of the earth? What is His Name, and what is His Son’s Name, if thou canst tell.’ (lit, ‘for you shall/should know’ – כי תדע. There’s that word ‘know’ again!)
Wait a minute! God has a SON?!
The Musaf prayer for the Day of Atonement, written by Rabbi Eliezer Kalir, around the 7th Century AD, says:
‘Messiah our righteousness is departed from us; horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression and is wounded because of our transgression. He bears our sin upon his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound at the time the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature. O bring Him up from the circle of the earth. Raise him up from Seir, to assemble us the second time on Mount Lebanon, by the hand of Yinnon.’
Here, the Musaf prayer draws from Isaiah 53 and distinctly applies it to the Messiah, stating that he had departed. This presumes that he previously came, and had already suffered on behalf of the Jewish people, bearing their sins on his shoulders. The prayer hints at Messiah’s resurrection and asks earnestly for Messiah to return a second time!
But what does ‘Yinnon’ mean?
The verb “yinnon” (perhaps meaning “shall continue”) appears in the Bible in reference to the ideal king: “His name shall endure forever, his name shall be continued (ינין) as long as the sun and men shall be blessed in him, all nations shall call him blessed” (Psalm 72: 17). Later on, “Yinnon” became one of the Messiah’s epithets. The School of R. Yannai said: His name is Yinnon, for it is written, His name shall endure for ever: e’er the sun was, his name is Yinnon. Sanhedrin 98b. The verb means to have increase or propagate.
But why is ‘Yinnon’ linked with the description found in Isaiah 53?
The Targum Jonathan of Isaiah 52:13 reads: הָא יַצְלַח עַבְדִי מְשִׁיחָא יְרוּם וְיִסְגֵי וְיִתְקוֹף לַחֲדָא
Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall prosper, be exalted and increase and shall be very strong.
Isaiah 53:11b says, ‘by the knowledge of Him, My Righteous Servant will justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.’
In speaking about the New Covenant that God would cut with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, we read, ‘And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’ Jer 31: 34
Rambam’s 6th Article of Faith states: ‘I believe, with perfect faith, that all the words of the prophets are true.’
Yet Isaiah asks,
‘Who hath believed our report?’ (53:1).
The prophet Zechariah says, ‘And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. (Zech 12:10)
‘And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day the Lord shall be One, and his Name One.’ (Zech 14:9)
Echad Mi Yodea in Yiddish is:
ווער קען זאגן ווער קען רעדן
‘Who can say, who can tell?’
But we can know. The prophets wrote about Yeshua, the Messiah, who was to come and be the final Atonement for sin.
What do you believe?