Our Own Elijah
A Haiku for Jews:
On Passover we
opened the door for Elijah.
Now our cat is gone.
One of the most beautiful and poignant moments at every Passover Seder is the section in which we welcome Elijah the Prophet, Eliyahu haNavi, to our homes. Although he made a belated entry into the Haggadah in the Middle Ages, his ritual has now become a favorite part for children and adults. The beautiful cup that sits waiting throughout the Seder for his delayed arrival is a promise-in-anticipation, a clue that something more is coming after the meal, and thereafter, too. And Elijah’s full Kiddush Cup must be the only Jewish food or drink item in all of our history that is guaranteed to remain un-ingested...
Elijah symbolizes hope, the promise of a Messianic future of peace, tranquility, and blessing. And what could be a better message at a festival of freedom like the Pesach Seder?
For the youngest children, the magic of opening the door, turning down the lights, and watching the wine in Elijah’s Cup lower just a bit (“He has to visit so many Seders! How could he drink a full cup at each?”) is a lovely and lively tradition. For the rest of us, too mature to be swept away by such a ritual, this beautiful custom reminds us of the mystical element in Judaism, and encourages in us the belief that things can indeed get better and there is always hope for the future.
Following a tradition that my father, Rabbi Baruch J. Cohon developed, during the Elijah observance at our Temple seder we remember the Jewish rebels of the Warsaw ghetto “who fought the heroes’ fight and died the heroes’ death,” and whose revolt began on Seder night 1943. His poem invites the martyrs to come in and join in the Pesach observance, and concludes, “Elijah, celebrate a seder for us both.”
Others have taken a more lighthearted approach to the Elijah section. One of my favorite stories about Passover comes from Sandy Hackett, writing about his father, comedian Buddy Hackett (“the guy with the marbles in his mouth”):
“Ever since I was a little kid I remember Dad having an open house for Passover. Actors, fellow comics, singers, they were all there for the Seders. One thing vividly stands out in my mind. I went to open the door to let Elijah the Prophet in—and standing there was Gregory Peck. He asked me if it was too late for the service, and I said ‘No, go right in; Dad’s expecting you.’”
Hey, if Charlton Heston can play Moses and Mel Gibson(!) can direct Jesus, why not Gregory Peck as Elijah?
The truth is that the entire experience of the Passover Seder is designed to teach us how to enjoy and appreciate freedom, to learn to see that the future can be brighter than the present. This promise is at the heart of our religion, and the center of our identity as a people.
However you choose to celebrate Eliyahu HaNavi, may he help you and your family to a joyous, beautiful, and meaningful Pesach of hope.
Chag Samei’ach v’Kasher, a ziessen Pesach, and a happy holiday of Passover,
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon