Passover 2017
April 10, 2017
Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO

Somewhere toward the end of this evening’s Passover Seder, we will open the door to invite in Elijah the prophet. This will occur somewhere between the fourth and fifth cup of wine so if it seems as if he is actually there, it may be just the alcohol distorting our senses.

We need Elijah to come answer the long-standing question as to how many glasses of wine we should actually drink. Is it four cups or is it five. To cover all bases we drink four glasses and pour the fifth for Elijah. [1]

We await Elijah to announce the coming of the Messiah so tempting him with a glass of wine and an open door certainly doesn’t hurt. Elijah has a special role in our tradition. All other Biblical actors have died before the book is over. Elijah is the exception, a messenger of the divine who because his death is never stated, is assumed to be still alive in the present. Elijah is someone who can walk in our open door.

According to tradition, Elijah will someday answer all unresolved questions, what are called ‘teku’. It makes me laugh this image that all long -standing arguments amongst the learned must be resolved before the coming of the Messiah. How else might we let go of all those arguments that we hold onto, still thinking we are right and the other side is wrong? Thus Elijah will bring a transcendent experience that moves us beyond the positions we have staked out to tighty in this world.

There is another aspect to Elijah that comes to mind. Elijah, at least in folk tales, is often not recognized; he is mistaken for a beggar or a traveler, and is used to illustrate why we should exhibit kindness to strangers.

These stories all stress the idea that you cannot judge the worth of a person by their external trappings. More often than not Elijah takes on the appearance of someone we would judge with suspicion. The scholar of storytelling Peninah Schram cataloged 575 tales of Elijah traveling the world distributing divine rewards to those who offer hospitality and generosity or other acts of good will.

How much wine we should drink is not really the issue tonight. The question is more basic. Can we open the door wide to Elijah, who by all tradition will look like a homeless beggar, or an undocumented immigrant, or perhaps wear another guise designed to make us hold back and think twice. While it would be easy to turn this into a political dialogue, let’s not.

Instead let us consider that we may have brought up our children to fear strangers and as a result created a generation of detached and lonely adults. [3]

On the other hand these same young adults are the ones who have leapt to adopt ‘sharing technologies’ that rely on people trusting strangers. Think of AirBnB and the like. The pendulum has swung. Perhaps we are about to hear a new generation of Elijah stories that promote our using sharing technology?

Or perhaps we’ll simply know how much wine is required to complete our celebration…..


1. Those first four cups correspond to the four “expressions of redemption”: “I will take you out from Egypt, and I will deliver you from their bondage; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself as a nation . . .” [Exodus 6:6–7]
Now that fifth cup corresponds to the fifth expression of redemption that arrives in the verse: “I will bring you to the Land . . .” This expression, however, is an allusion to a future that will be announced by Elijah. As we are still waiting on this, we pour the wine in hopeful expectation I suppose. We drink a glass of wine for each promise made. But does the fifth promise get another glass of wine? You tell me. And what does this tell us about people who after four glasses of wine still care? There is an Aramaic word, “Teku” used to describe when the Rabbis writing the Talmud couldn’t come to a decision. It’s the same word Modern Hebrew uses to describe a tied score in a soccer match.

2. Peninnah Schram. Tales of Elijah the Prophet. Jason Aronson. Northvale, NJ. 1997.

3. Terrell F, Terrell IS, Von Drashek SR. Loneliness and fear of intimacy among adolescents who were taught not to trust strangers during childhood. Adolescence. 2000 Winter;35(140):611-7.