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Opening the Door for Elijah

Opening the Door for Elijah

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The following events occurred not long after the end of World War II, when I was still a child. At that time, it became apparent that, with three children, our parents needed a bigger home than the two-bedroom one that they owned. The large old house that we bought as aThe vine never gave us any grapes replacement was late Victorian in style, and it even had servants’ quarters. However, it was bomb damaged, which is why my father could afford it. Being a civil engineer, he understood that there was no danger, just a wall that was slightly curved, bearing a few superficial cracks. The garden was large and had many fruit trees, which were a blessing, as well as an ancient looking vine that grew in an old-fashioned, wood-framed glass house. However, this vine never gave us any grapes, and my father was always trying do something to improve this situation.

Another reason for deciding to live in such a large house was that my mother could then take in students as lodgers, something her mother also used to do. She enjoyed having lodgers, and it was her way of contributing to our family income. So for many years we supplied this service, which met a community need for kosher accommodations. In that time of austerity, it was not easy for Jewish students coming from other towns throughout England (and even from abroad) to find suitable places to stay close to the center of the city, near the London colleges or universities where they studied. At Passover time, they mostly returned to their parents’ homes, although they were welcome to remain with us during the festivals.

One fine Passover eve, we were celebrating this spring festival as usual, with guests who were family members or students, partly fulfilling our declaration from the Haggadah, “All who are hungry, let them come and eat. All who are needy, let them celebrate the Passover.” Being somewhat older children, we were allowed to stay up late to enjoy the songs and hymns in the later part of the Seder, which come after the main meal. Wearing our best clothes, we all sat round a large oval table in the dining room of that grand old house, and my father read the Seder service, partly in English so that we could better understand it.

For me at least, the most dramatic part of the Seder occurs at the moment when the front door is opened. The tradition is that, at this time, we expect the Prophet Elijah to arrive, and the person who opens the door is supposed to welcome him with the Hebrew words “baruch haba.” This is a dramatic moment in the Seder as we pour Elijah’s cup of wine and say the prayer, “Pour out Your wrath against the nations that do not acknowledge You, etc.” At this point, the air is virtually sizzling with tension.

On that memorable Seder night, just as my father indicated that it was time to open the front door, the doorbell actually rang! But when the door was opened, there was no one at all outside, no prophet, no angry lynch-mob, nothing. A moment later the doorbell rang again, and after a pause, for a third time. Could Elijah be playing some kind of a joke on us? Gradually, we came to realize that the sound must be coming from the other entrance, which was at the side of the house in an alley that also led to the garden. Somebody went to open the back door, and sure enough it was Elijah, dressed as a stable boy and holding a large sack that was dripping some kind of foul-smelling yellow liquid. “I brought the moock!” was all he said, the “u” in the word replaced with the long “o” sound of a strong Liverpudlian accent.

What had actually happened was that my father had decided to improve the condition of the ancient vine that was in our yard. He had visited the local riding stables, and had arranged to have a supply of some of this useful gardening material delivered, without specifying the time for its delivery. Anyway, one of us showed the youth where to leave the horse manure, and after some delay order was restored, and we continued the Seder service to its end.

But whenever I reflect on this unusual event, it seems to me that it was unreasonable and unfair for Elijah to disguise himself to such an exaggerated degree. Couldn’t he at least have shown us a small“I brought the moock!” was all he said amount of respect or consideration? For on that occasion, nobody felt like inviting him in to share our Passover feast, nor was there any attempt to supply him with a drink, not even plain water from an ordinary glass. So I am sorry to have to report that Elijah must have decided that it was still too soon to inform the Messiah about it being time to get ready, and that the Jews would have to wait around for a considerably longer period of time. Indeed, but for this unfortunate incident, the righteous among us might right now be enjoying their Leviathan steaks from plates of gold. And incidentally, we never even got any grapes.

With best wishes for a happy Passover!

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