“Wouldn’t you want to be fly on the wall when that conversation took place?”
It can be fun listing situations when this sentiment is felt.
One situation that stimulates my curiosity occurs in the Passover Haggadah. It involves a short midrash passage that seems insignificant. However, there is probably significance to the insignificance.
“Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarphon were holding a Seder in Bnei Brak and spoke about the Exodus from Egypt all night long, until their students came in from outside and said, “Masters! The time has come for the recitation of the Morning Shema!”
These rabbis all lived in the same generation, but resided in different locations. A few things do not make sense. Why are these rabbis together on Seder night? Why are they not at home with their families celebrating Passover? And, why are the students not taking advantage of an incredible opportunity?
If five great teachers gathered around one table, would their students not want to sit in the same room and soak in the wisdom? What are they doing outside when they could be learning so much inside the room?
History may answer these questions. In the year 70 and again in 132 CE, Jews in Israel rebelled against the Romans. Roman occupation grew too oppressive and our ancestors felt the need to fight for freedom. On both occasions, they lost the war with disastrous results.
When Rabbis chose to include this paragraph in the Haggadah, they were secretly making reference to a rebellion that was taking place or had recently occurred.
The five rabbis in the midrash lived during the latter Jewish war (around 132 CE). We know from other Talmudic references Rabbi Akiva was active in the rebellion. The other rabbis may have been involved as well.
A Pesach Seder, therefore, was not taking place. The rabbis gathered to plot the rebellion. When their students came into their room, they were indicating it is not time for morning prayers, but to stop their activity, Romans soldiers may be around the corner.
We will never know if this interpretation is correct. But, is it not interesting to imagine what would have been said if it were? ✿
Elliot Fein is married to Eve Melman Fein and is the father of two sons Arey and Perry. He is the Education Director at Temple Beth David in Westmister, Calif.