Draydel

Deep thoughts, random insights, and musings by Susan Jacobs

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Waiting for Elijah

It's way overdue, but this was my pre-Pesach column.

When I was a child, one of my favorite moments during the seder was when we would open the door to symbolically welcome in Elijah the prophet. I nearly always volunteered to stand with an adult at the open door. I loved peering out from the warm, well-lit house into the quiet, dark enigmatic night.

Just as all the other events of the seder night are designed to inspire the asking of questions, opening the front door at night, and leaving it open for a few moments, piqued my curiosity. I peeked out onto the quiet street while my grandfather read the appropriate passage from the Haggadah.

Just at the moment when Elijah was supposed to sweep into our house for a sip of the wine, there always seemed to be a light spring breeze, adding an air of mystery to the experience, as though Elijah were rustling through the tree branches on his way to our house and then silently slipping away.

After we closed the door, my sister and I would look closely at Elijah’s cup to see if any of the wine had mysteriously disappeared. Since there was never a noticeable difference, an adult once assured us that Elijah could only drink the tiniest of sips from each cup since he had so many seder tables to visit all over the world on one night.

I am still charmed by these childhood memories, but I later learned a different way of thinking about the cup of Elijah.

In traditional Jewish thought, the cup of Elijah is connected to the other four cups of wine at the seder.

Among the many meanings assigned to the four cups is the idea that each is connected to a different term used in the Torah to describe the redemption from Egypt. In the book of Exodus, God’s redemption is described in the following ways: “Vehotzati” – I took you out; “Vehitzalti” – I saved you; “Vega’alti” – I redeemed you; and “Velekachti” – I took you to be my people.
But there is a fifth term in the Exodus narrative – “Vehavati” – I will bring you … to the land of Israel. The rabbis of the Mishna debated about including a fifth cup of wine at the seder to remind us of this promise from God for a final redemption.

The rabbis ultimately decided to have just four cups of wine, but in recognition of the minority opinion of Rabbi Tarfon, they included a fifth cup that was to be filled, but not drunk.

This unresolved dispute is one of many that tradition teaches will be resolved when Elijah comes and resolves all doubts.

Furthermore, since this fifth cup was thematically connected to the idea of the coming of the Messiah -- which tradition teaches will be announced by Elijah -- the cup is appropriately named for the great prophet.

So, in the end, it is not that Elijah is clandestinely visiting our homes on Pesach to sample our wine. Instead, we are waiting expectantly for him to settle our disputes and announce the beginning of Messianic times.

While the time and method of Elijah’s arrival remains an unresolved mystery, certainly we can all hope that we will notice when he comes.


1 Comments:

  • At February 1, 2011 at 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Susan, I had to read this one since Elijah is one of my heroes. Very nicely done and informative too. Diane

     

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