The Nature of Revolutions
Revolution, Evolution and the Dynamics of Sustainable Change
BY RABBI DORON PEREZ
At the core of Judaism is a revolutionary spirit: the inability to accept things as they are and the desire to continuously change ourselves and the world for the better. In many ways, Judaism is a protest against how things are in favor of what they ought to be.
Mordechai and Moshe, the main protagonists of the Purim and Pesach miracles, were revolutionary leaders who shaped the course Jewish history. Moshe was hand-picked by Hashem, leading millions of slaves to a miraculous redemption, unparalleled in the annals of human history. Mordechai refused to bow to Haman and, together with Esther, astonishingly reversed the imminent edict of total annihilation.
But revolution is a double-edged sword. A revolution effects change extraordinarily quickly, but that haste requires skipping stages of development that are essential for lasting change. It’s no surprise that many revolutions are short-lived, often leaving a wake of destruction in their path.
The Purim paradigm
For this reason, the Sages insist that the natural redemption of Purim serves as the model for our future redemption. Reflecting on the morning sun, Rabbi Chiya the Great said to Rabbi Shimon the son of Chalafta: “Such is the redemption of Israel. It begins slowly, progressing stage by stage; the more it progresses, the more [its light] increases” (Yerushalmi, Berachot 1:1).
The Talmud then cites five chronological verses from Megillat Esther which highlight the gradual ascendancy of Mordechai and the salvation and redemption he brings to the Jews. As the morning sun rises slowly but surely, stage after stage, bringing light to a dark world until it shines in full glory, the redemption of Purim occurred naturally, with a step by step progression. This is how the Sages envisioned the future redemption of Israel.
This teaching explains a critical halacha relating to the Jewish calendar. Whenever there is a leap year and we add a second month of Adar, Purim is always celebrated during the second month of Adar. This seems to violate halachic principles such as אֵין מַעֲבִירִין עַל הַמִּצְווֹת, “do not pass over a mitzvah at hand” (Megillah 6b), זְרִיזִין מַקְדִּימִין לְמִצְווֹת, “one with alacrity performs mitzvot right away” (Pesachim 4a), and מִצְוָה הַבָּאָה לְיָדְךָ אַל תַּחְמִיצֶנָּה, “if a mitzvah comes before you do not let it grow old” (Mechilta, Shemot 12:17). Why do we push off the mitzvot of Purim by an entire month?
The Sages explain (Megillah 6b) that Purim must be in the second month of Adar in order לִסְמֹךְ גְּאוּלָּה לִגְאוּלָּה, “to connect the two redemptions” and ensure that the celebration of our redemption from Haman in Adar is juxtaposed to the celebration of our redemption from Egypt in Nissan, never more than a month apart.
Although a thousand years separated these two redemptions, the Sages insisted that they must be celebrated in close proximity to one another, for the redemption of Purim informs the way we experience Pesach and is the blueprint for the future redemption.
The original Pesach vs. the Pesach Seder
The stage by stage, natural redemption of Purim is similar to the way we celebrate Pesach today, and entirely different from the fast-paced, original redemption from Egypt.
פֶּסַח מִצְרַיִם, the original Pesach celebrated in Egypt, is not the paradigm for פֶּסַח דּוֹרוֹת, the Pesach celebrated through all the generations of Jewish history, and it is certainly not the paradigm for the future redemption. In fact, the way we celebrate Pesach is the antithesis of how the redemption actually occurred.
The redemption from Egypt occurred בְּחִפָּזוֹן, in a hurry. This word describes the rushed way the Pesach sacrifice was eaten in Egypt and it is also why we ate unleavened bread, matzah, for there was no time for the dough to rise as we rushed to leave Egypt (Shemot 12:11, 39; Devarim 16:3). The name Pesach, “to skip over”, implies that Hashem Himself was in a rush, skipping over the homes of the children of Israel (Rashi, Shemot 12:11).
By contrast, our annual Pesach Seder is the antithesis of חִפָּזוֹן (Mishnah, Pesachim 9:5). There is nothing fast about the Seder; the name itself means order and structure. Broken into 15 orderly stages, each step builds upon the ones before it. Like nobles, we eat slowly while reclining. We eat the afikoman at the end of the meal, the way the korban Pesach was eaten in Temple times – while full and satiated, not like fleeing slaves. It is forbidden to drink the four cups of wine consecutively, one after the other (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 472:8), highlighting the importance of the process of redemption. They must be drunk in their allotted time as part of the order of the Seder. Each cup fulfills a different part of the process of redemption. The process is paramount.
Sustainable change and the future redemption
The same is true of the future redemption, as the prophet Yishayahu states: כִּי לֹא בְחִפָּזוֹן תֵּצֵאוּ וּבִמְנוּסָה לֹא תֵלֵכוּן, “for you will not leave in haste and will not go in a rush” (52:12). The future redemption cannot be rushed, but must be a slow, incremental process.
Why is there such a sharp discrepancy between the original redemption from Egypt and its annual celebration? And why must the final redemption occur slowly?
Rabbi Ya’akov Moshe Charlap, the great student of Rav Kook, explains that because the original redemption happened quickly, it was not internally transformative. The people of Israel were physically redeemed but remained psychologically unchanged, and so it is no surprise that many Israelites longed to return to Egypt. The redemption from Egypt was not permanent; sadly, many exiles would follow in the generations ahead. The final redemption, however, will be everlasting, and so it must occur slowly and thoroughly, without skipping any steps.
The message is clear: sustainable change may begin with revolution, but is made lasting through evolution. As both the redemption of Purim as well as the annual Pesach Seder make clear, sustainable change can only occur through a systematic process of incremental change.
The impact of the revolutionary redemption from Egypt was short-lived. A mere three months after the Exodus, the people descended into idolatry and worshiped the golden calf, followed soon afterwards by the tragic sin of the spies, resulting in the tragic death of the entire generation in the wilderness.
Given the consequences, why did Hashem choose to redeem us from Egypt in haste? Our Sages explain that during the years of slavery our people had sunk to the 49th level of spiritual impurity. We were at the precipice of oblivion; had Hashem not redeemed us immediately, it may have spelled the end (Or HaChayim, Shemot 3:8). In extreme circumstances, where there is no other choice, revolution may be necessary as a last resort. But the consequences of revolution can be severe, as we have seen many times throughout history, from the guillotines of the French Revolution to the October Revolution of 1917, which led to the evils of the Soviet Union and the deaths of millions. Long lasting change must happen incrementally.
At the same time, change through evolution alone can take far too long. In many cases, stagnancy and rote adherence to social norms can prevent necessary change from taking place. And so the evolutionary process desperately needs the revolutionary spirit. It is only by combining the two that successful and sustainable change can occur. We must have it both ways.
At World Mizrachi, we believe in revolution through evolution. Our Torah is both inherently timeless and relevant to every generation. Through the genius of the Oral Torah, our Sages demonstrate that Torah speaks to all epochs and aspects of life, balancing the need for revolutionary change with a deep respect for the process, mesorah and integrity of halacha. Jewish living must simultaneously be both forward-thinking and conservative, pushing boundaries but never beyond the pale.
The same principles form the basis of our views on women’s leadership, Torah scholarship and empowerment. There is so much room within halacha, as guided by our great rabbinic authorities, to explore every possible vista of expression and progress in these areas. At the same time, revolutionary changes must take place in an evolutionary way that uplifts the whole system in a constructive, sustainable and transformative way.
The redemptions of Purim and Pesach occurred, in large part, thanks to the innovative and courageous leadership roles of Jewish women like Esther, Yocheved, Miriam, Shifrah and Puah. Although these festivals are time-bound, women are fully obligated in the mitzvot on both festivals, for, as Rashi and Rashbam explain, women played an indispensable leadership role in bringing about the redemption.
In this spirit, Mizrachi is proud to regularly feature the extraordinary impact that Religious Zionist women are making on our national and spiritual life. May we continue to be agents of positive change in all areas of life with the spirit of revolution through evolution, so that all we accomplish is constructive and long-lasting.
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi.