Passover and the Permanent Revolution:
A tantalizing possibility


The secular interpretation of Passover involves the call to freedom and social justice. However, there may be a deeper, hidden message.

The Haggadah relates

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining (at the Seder) in Bnei Brak. They discussed the Exodus all that night until their students came and said to them: "Our teachers, it is [daybreak] time for the morning Shema." The Vayaged Moshe Haggadah, Rabbi Yosaif Asher Weiss, Metsorah Publications, Ltd.

I had always imagined the five rabbis studying around a camp fire in a state of defeat. They had fled to Bnei Brak after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem.

Why did their students have to tell them that the sun had risen?"

One explanation is that the Rabbis did not see the sun rise because they were hiding in a cave or a bunker. What were they really doing? They were plotting resistance against Rome. "It is time for the morning Shema" might be a code meaning that the Romans were approaching.

Later in the Seder, the Haggadah plays a numbers game, saying that the 10 plagues were actually 50 (Rabbi Yose the Gallilean), or 200 (Rabbi Eliezer) or 250 (Rabbi Akiva). What is going on?

The numbers may be a code. The words are preserved in the text, but the meaning is long lost in history.

The Seder is more than a recounting of the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt. It recalls the defiance to Roman oppression.

Passover is more than a celebration of liberation. It is a call to resistance.

Is it a coincidence that the Warsaw Ghetto revolt broke out on the eve of Passover in 1943?

The Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist, Leon Trotsky (his gravestone has a hammer and sickle rather than a star of David) argued for a "Permanent Revolution." The term is appealing. It suggests a continuing process, a never ending struggle. From that perspective, Passover goes beyond a social conscience. Passover's hidden meaning is active resistance to oppression, from Roman times through our present day.

Rather than a "sweet" Passover, I wish you a revolutionary Passover.