Where is Elijah?
TorahPesach V

Where is Elijah?

Exodus 33:12–34:26

I hope you had meaningful and engaging seders this week and are finding lots of creative ways to eat matzo.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Elijah did not come to your seder this year. If you have ever wondered, as I have, where Elijah is when he’s not at our doors — despite how many times we have invited him in — there are some ancient and modern teachings about Elijah and his

We are taught that Elijah will be the one to herald the coming of the messianic age. During the seder, in which we recall our transformation from “bondage into freedom, from sorrow into joy, from mourning into festivity, from darkness into light, and from slavery into redemption,” we invite Elijah with the prayer that all will soon know this kind of liberation. Interesting, then, to learn that this was not the original intention of inviting Elijah to the seder

table. In the second century, the rabbis establishing the rituals of the seder had a disagreement. They connected the promises God made to the Israelites regarding their redemption from slavery to cups of wine at the seder. The problem was that they didn’t all count the same way.

Exodus 6:6 – 7 contains four promises, “I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm… and I will take you to be My people.” A fifth promise appears in verse 8: “I will bring you into the land …” Some sages said that the fifth promise is separate from the other four and therefore we should drink four cups. Others argued that all the promises are connected and we should drink five.

The discussion ended with four, but, just in case it should be five, we set out an additional, and symbolic, cup. And eventually, through some brilliant Talmudic logic, it was decided that all matters of disagreement among Jews, including this one, would be decided by Elijah. Hence, Elijah’s cup!

In folk tradition, Elijah goes where he is most needed, but always in disguise. A Hasidic story tells of a pious and wealthy Jew who asked their rabbi, “For about 40 years I have opened the door for Elijah every seder night waiting for him to come, but he never does. What is the reason?”

The rabbi answered, “In your neighborhood there lives a very poor family with many children. Invite that family to celebrate with you and your family, in their home, and for this purpose provide them with everything they will need for the entire eight days of Pesach. Then on the seder night Elijah will certainly come.” The Jew did as the rabbi instructed, but after Pesach went to the rabbi and claimed that again they had waited in vain to see Elijah. The rabbi answered, “I know very well that Elijah came on the seder night to the house of your poor neighbor. But of course you could not see him.” And the rabbi held a mirror before the face of the Jew and said, “Look, this was Elijah’s face that night.”

Elijah goes where he is most needed.

The poet and liturgist Alden Solovy knows where Elijah is this year:

Elijah is with the Hostages
Elijah,The prophet who will announce salvation and peace,
Will not visit your Pesach Seder this year.
Don’t fill the cup. Don’t waste the wine.
The prophet is exhausted,
Pleading with the heavens for the hostages
Pleading with the heavens for the displaced,
The grieving and lost.
Find hope in your own hands,
In deeds of repairing the world
And acts of lovingkindness.
Elijah is not coming to your Seder.
The work of healing the world,
And bringing redemption,
He has left to us.
(© 2024 Alden Solovy) PJC

Rabbi Sharyn Henry is rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.

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