Ma Nidaber Ma Nisaper

March 26, 2021

With Pesach finally upon us, we have time for one more slightly off-the-beaten-track Seder tune for everyone to enjoy. Honorable mention goes to long-time subscriber Daniel G. who correctly predicted today’s song choice. With so many Pesach classics to choose from, I wanted to pick a song that not only could bring us into Shabbos but also can help bring us into Yom Tov, tomorrow night.

One of the major themes of the Seder night being that the children (and our inner children) should ask questions. The night of the Seder is certainly filled with questions, but it is also the one night that contains the true answer to all of them. Allow me to explain.

Found at the heart of the Pesach Seder is one of the most primary precepts in Yiddishkeit, that is, the requirement to pursue the truth. The Ma Nishtanah is one of the first things that we are taught and are encouraged to recite as young children. This practice establishes our ability and our obligation to ask questions when something doesn’t make sense to us. And it is this fundamental trait that helps define us as Jews. Avraham Avinu, the first Ivri, was called so because he did not conform to the accepted societal norms. Rather he questioned conventional wisdom in order to seek out Who’s behind it all, and in doing so, gave us the answer to all of our questions both big and small.

Which brings us to the end of the Haggadah – Echod Mi Yodea. Here we find thirteen innocent, rhetorical questions that, for kids, might just be the next most popular part of the seder (if they can manage to stay awake that long). In this cumulative song, the Haggadah reveals to us the one true answer to everything – the answer that we knew all along. Hashem is One and there is none other. Hashem is everything and everything is Him. What about our health? Hashem. Our families? Hashem. Our parnassah? Hashem. When it all comes down to it, there is only one thing we need to know. That is because ultimately, the answer to all our questions comes down to one singular answer: The One Above.

But there is still one question left to be answered: Who knows where Who Knows One came from? The answer is nobody really knows for sure. The source of Echod Mi Yodea has been the topic of much scholarly debate and it seems that while there is much speculation, there is little certainty as to its origins. That said, there are many different versions, written in many different languages, all the while keeping to the same essential poetic structure.

This specific Yiddish rendition is called Ma Nidaber, Ma Nisaper and can be traced back to the late 1800’s. (The song goes by other names as well, such as Mu Asapru, Mu Adabru or Gott iz Einer, etc.) As you will hear, it is basically a Yiddish translation of Echod Mi Yodea, albeit with different phrasing in the chorus that asks, “Ma nidaber, ma nisaper – What can we say? What can we tell?” before continuing with the rest of the song.

But the particular version that I wanted to highlight here today comes with an incredible story that takes us back to 1970. Reb Shlomo Carlebach had travelled to the Soviet Union where he performed for tens of thousands of Jews in Moscow’s Red Square. {Fun Fact – It was on this trip that Carlebach composed his forever-famous tune, Am Yisrael Chai.} After completing a song on stage, Reb Shlomo felt a tug on his pant leg. He looked down and saw a boy, maybe around 7 years old, looking up at him. Reb Shlomo immediately stopped the concert and bent to hear what the boy had to say. The small boy wanted Reb Shlomo to sing, “Zibin Iz Der Heiligeh Shabbos” but Reb Shlomo, who knew hundreds and hundreds of niggunim from all over the world, didn’t recognize the song that he was being asked to sing.

Of course, Reb Shlomo was very curious as to what Shabbos song the boy was referring to, so he lovingly asked the boy to sing it for him. After taking a moment to collect himself, the boy closed his eyes and began to sing, in Yiddish, the famous Seder song Echod Mi Yodea. The boy only knew it starting from seven and so he slowly began, “Zibin iz der heiligeh Shabbos, Zeks zenen Mishnayes, Finf zenen deh Chumashim, Feer zenen deh Mames, Drai zenen deh Tates, Tzvei zenen deh Luchos, Un Eins iz doch Ah Gott, Un Gott iz Einer, Un veiter keiner.” Reb Shlomo joined him and together with the entire crowd, they sang over and over again, “un Eins iz doch Ah Gott, un Gott iz Einer, un veiter keiner, un Eins iz Doch Ah Gott, un Gott iz Einer, un veiter keiner….” This turned out to be the highlight of the night.

In 1988, five years after the revolutionary Diaspora Yeshiva Band disbanded, Avraham Rosenblum released a solo album called V’hoshienu. The album is one of my favorites, and it was from this cassette that I initially learned today’s song. It is my hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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1 Comment

  1. elisha

    I grew up with a old Russian Jew who sang this song!
    Ver ken tzaylin ver ken raydn
    Vus eins badayt vus eins badayt
    Tzvei di luchos
    Un einer is Gott un Gott is einer
    Un mer nit keinem


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