Dedicated by Ron Kreisel in honor of Aida Rivka bat Chaya.

Essay Pesach
Who Knows One? The Secret of the Jew
When You're Tipsy, You Spill the Beans

Origin of a Song

It’s a very popular song—but no one knows who composed it.

One of the beloved traditional Passover songs sung at the end of the seder is entitled “Echad Mi Yodea?” “Who Knows One?”

It is sung in many a language (Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Russian and several other languages). This song is first found in Ashkenazi Haggadot of the 16th century in a Haggadah printed in Prague in 1509. The song is believed to have originated in Worms, Germany in the early 15th century.

"Echad Mi Yodea" is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses. There are thirteen verses.

אֶחָד אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: אֶחָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַים וּבָאָרֶץ.

שְׁנַיִם מִי יוֹדֵעַ? שְׁנַיִם אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: שְׁנֵי לֻחוֹת הַבְּרִית. אֶחָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַים וּבָאָרֶץ.

שְׁלשָׁה מִי יוֹדֵעַ? שְׁלשָׁה אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: שְׁלשָׁה אָבוֹת, שְׁנֵי לֻחוֹת הַבְּרִית, אֶחָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַים וּבָאָרֶץ...

שְׁלשָׁה עָשָׂר מִי יוֹדֵעַ? שְׁלשָׁה עָשָׂר אֲנִי יוֹדֵעַ: שְׁלשָׁה עָשָׂר מִדַּיָא. שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שִׁבְטַיָא, אַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכְבַיָּא, עֲשָׂרָה דִבְּרַיָא, תִּשְׁעָה יַרְחֵי לֵדָה, שְׁמוֹנָה יְמֵי מִילָה, שִׁבְעָה יְמֵי שַׁבָּתָא, שִׁשָּׁה סִדְרֵי מִשְׁנָה, חֲמִשָׁה חוּמְשֵׁי תוֹרָה, אַרְבַּע אִמָהוֹת, שְׁלשָׁה אָבוֹת, שְׁנֵי לֻחוֹת הַבְּרִית, אֶחָד אֱלֹהֵינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַים וּבָאָרֶץ.

The first verse runs:

Who knows one?

I know one.

One is our G-d, in heaven and on earth.

The second verse:

Who knows two?

I know two.

Two are the tablets of the covenant;

One is our G-d, in heaven and on earth.

The last verse is:

Who knows thirteen?

I know thirteen.

Thirteen are the attributes of G-d;

Twelve are the tribes of Israel;

Eleven are the stars of Joseph's dream;

Ten are the Commandments;

Nine are the months of pregnancy;

Eight are the days of circumcision;

Seven are the days of the week;

Six are the books of the Mishnah;

Five are the books of the Torah;

Four are the Matriarchs;

Three are the Patriarchs;

Two are the tablets of the covenant;

One is our G-d, in heaven and on earth.

Revealing the Riches

Of course, the song is meant to be fun and humorous, created to entertain the children—and the child within each of us. But in Judaism, even fun experiences contain profound meaning. What, then, is the idea behind this song “Who Knows One?” “Who Known Two?” “Who Known Three?” etc.

And why do we sing “Echad, Mi Yodea” on Seder night? Seemingly, the song itself has no connection to the Passover Seder. We can sing it on Yom Kippur too. Nowhere in the song does it say anything about Passover. How did this song land in the Haggadah?

The great Chassidic master, Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Belz, suggested that it is precisely the celebration of the Seder that brings out our very public declaration of these tenets. He compared the singing of the song at the end of the Seder to the wealthy man who is generally circumspect about revealing his riches. But on those rare occasions when he’s had too much wine to drink, the nobleman is more loquacious than usual and, unable to hold back, publicly proclaims the gold, silver, and jewels in his possession. A bit drunk, he feels uninhibited and tells people about the multimillion-dollar deals he has recently signed.

So too, the people of Israel, after consuming the four cups of wine, cannot hold back from revealing the wealth they possess – One G-d, two tablets, three fathers, four mothers, five books of Moses, six sections of Mishnah, the gift of Shabbos, etc.

The Question of Survival

There is perhaps another message to this song.

The Haggadah declares, “In every generation, they stand up against us to exterminate us…”

It is a great question. How is it possible that after 3,300 years of these attempts, the Jewish Nation is still alive and thriving? What is the secret of the survival of the Jewish People? How did they succeed in surviving all the horrors of exile?

As Mark Twain said so eloquently: The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then . . . passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality”?

To answer this question, we have the song, “Echad, Mi Yodea?” Who knows One?” In it, we go through the thirteen main factors that allowed us to survive and thrive, despite all of our setbacks and struggles.

First and foremost, we have survived in the merit of our One G-d. Secondly, in the merit of the Two Tablets. And then, in the merit of the Patriarchs, the Matriarchs, the Torah, the Mishnah, the Shabbos, and circumcision, and the newborns (born after nine months of pregnancy)—our commitment to having children, raise them and bequeath our deepest values to them. We have also survived because of our unwavering loyalty to the Ten Commandments, and the power to dream—like Joseph—about a greater future; we survived because of the Twelve Tribes, and the unity between all the tribes of Israel, and finally, above all, in the merit of the plentiful mercies of G-d.

This is not just a song but a formula of what are the most important factors that will stand the acid test of time, until we experience the final redemption, speedily in our days, now!

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Class Summary:
One of the beloved traditional Passover songs sung at the end of the seder is entitled “Echad Mi Yodea?” “Who Knows One?” It’s a very popular song—but no one knows who composed it. This song is first found in Ashkenazi Haggadot of the 16th century in a Haggdah printed in Prague in 1509. The song is believed to have originated in Worms, Germany in the early 15th century. 

The melody contains a deep and inspiring truth—one that would be articulated in the literature of psychology only five hundred years later by Carl Jung. 

The Haggadah declares, “In every generation they stand up against us to cut us down…” Sadly and tragically, we observed this once again just two days before Passover 5774, as three innocents were murdered in two shootings in two Jewish centers in Kansas. A suspect has been arrested and was heard yelling "heil Hitler" as he was taken into custody. How indeed did we survive?