Some of our students and alumni know that Mendel’s father, Rabbi Israel Rubin wrote a whole scholarly book delving into the famous Seder in Bnei Brak where the 5 Rabbis stayed up all night, as famously recounted in the Passover Haggadah. Rabbi Rubin dissects the story, deeply explores each of the rabbis mentioned and their interplay and creatively (based on lots of Talmudic background) recreates what was discussed and argued all that night!

But this year Rabbi Rubin (5784/2024) has some new questions on this classic story:

Why was Rabbi Akiva (the student) hosting his teachers (R’ Eliezer & R’ Yehoshua) for the Seder? Wouldn’t the reverse be expected?

Why weren’t they home with family? Indeed, we find in the Talmud that R’ Eliezer chastised a student for not being home with his family for the holiday?

Perhaps there was something Rabbi Akiva had to offer that his colleagues and teachers felt compelled and eager to spend Passover with him, where he was host and set the tone!

At the Siyum closing of Talmud tractate Makkot, we learn two stories of Rabbi Akiva and the Sages regarding distressing stories of destruction. In both, the rabbis cried and Rabbi Akiva laughed. At the stories conclusion, after his optimistic laughter, the rabbis turned to him and said, “Akiva, you have comforted us. Akiva, you have comforted us.”

The Rebbe has a long, beautiful and richly insightful analysis of these stories and their message – which Rabbi Rubin heard first-hand as a yeshiva student in 1964 and it was a game-changer for his studies everafter!

Rabbi Rubin thinks this may be why Rabbi Akiva was the host, why they were especially eager to spend Passover with him. Passover is the festival of liberation and freedom, but this may have been a time of challenge, difficulty and uncertainty. Indeed, a question discussed at that Seder was whether one should mention the Exodus at night, in a time of darkness & concealment.

The Sages of Israel knew Rabbi Akiva was the one who could see light amidst the darkness, who celebrated redemption even in times of exile. He was the one who laughed when everyone else cried.

So that’s where they went off to Passover! That’s the uplift they were seeking! Rabbi Ruhin thinks this is why Rabbi Akiva was the host that Pesach Seder.

And Rabbi Akiva continues to center and set the tone for our Seders to this day…