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Elijah Always Rings Twice

04/07/2017 01:47:23 AM


The Shabbat before Passover is traditionally known as "Shabbat Hagadol," which could be translated as "the Sabbath of greatness." There are many explanations given for this name. One is that in the Haftorah, or prophetic portion, the prophet Malachi speaks of "the great and awesome day of God."   The day's greatness is signified by the return of the prophet Elijah, who will "restore the hearts of parents to children, and children to parents," creating reconciliation amongst the generations.

This passage is perhaps the reason that at each seder we open the door for Elijah and imagine him coming to have a sip of wine. However, Malachi's mention of Elijah as a peacemaker is rather ironic because in the book of Kings, Elijah was not known for his conciliatory approach. He slew hundreds of prophets of Ba'al. He condemned the king many times, and caused a deadly drought. In fact, Elijah's appearance in the traditional Haggadah, is in keeping with his zealous personality. We open the door for Elijah just in time to recite a prayer called "Shefoch Hamatcha" which calls for vengeance on those who would seek to destroy the Jewish people. That is a sentiment that the Biblical Elijah would have been likely to endorse.
In later legend, though, Elijah takes on a very different role. He is the emissary who brings messages between heaven and earth. Disguised as a mysterious stranger, even a beggar, he brings anonymous blessing and hope to the downtrodden. He would test the hospitality of simple folk, and reward those who lived up to the Jewish ideals of generosity and honesty. I still recall, as a youth, that when a stranger wandered into services and happened to be the tenth for minyan, the old men in the back would proclaim their certainty that it was Elijah in disguise. We even believe that he will appear to announce the coming of the Messiah.
I wonder which Elijah will appear at our seder this year. Will it be a wrathful, unforgiving Elijah who seeks righteous vengeance for the injustices of the world, or will it be a heavenly Elijah, bringing messages of holiness and reconciliation to families and communities? Will we leave seder more angry about the oppression and suffering in the world, or more hopeful that we can change things for the better? I suppose it extends, to a great extent, which Elijah we invite.

With best wishes for a sweet,  joyous, and kosher Passover

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784