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Why Is Elijah the Prophet Invited to the Seder?

Why Is Elijah the Prophet Invited to the Seder?

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After the conclusion of the Seder’s Grace After Meals, there is a universally accepted custom to pour a cup of wine (the “Cup of Elijah”), open the front door of the home, and recite several verses (mostly from Psalms) wherein we beseech G‑d to pour His wrath upon our persecutors and oppressors.

According to tradition, at this moment our homes are graced by the presence of Elijah the prophet. There are multiple reasons and meanings behind this age-old tradition. Here are some of them:

Opening the Door for Elijah

1) The Torah describes the night of Passover as leil shimurim,1 a “guarded night.” It is the night when long ago G‑d protected the Jews from the plague which slew all the Egyptian firstborn, and the night when G‑d’s protection over His chosen nation is most apparent. Opening the door expresses our trust in G‑d’s protection.

2) When opening the door, we take the opportunity to invite in the prophet Elijah. Elijah is the one who visits the circumcision ceremony of every Jewish child, and testifies that the Jewish people are scrupulous regarding the mitzvah of circumcision.2 Males were permitted to partake of the paschal offering only if they were circumcised. Thus, Elijah comes to the Seder to “testify” that all present are indeed circumcised.

Additionally, according to the Midrash, on the night prior to the Exodus, the Seder night, the entire Jewish male population circumcised themselves—in order to be eligible to eat from the paschal lamb. Thus the clear connection between circumcision, and Elijah, and Passover eve.

Cup of Elijah

1) There is an open question in the Talmud whether we are obligated to have four or five cups on the night of Passover. Since the issue was never resolved, we pour a fifth cup, but do not drink it.

After heralding the coming of the Messiah, one of Elijah’s tasks will be to resolve all hitherto unanswered halachic questions. Thus, this fifth cup whose status is in doubt is dubbed “Elijah’s Cup,” in anticipation of the insight he will shed on the matter.

2) The four cups correspond to the four “expressions of redemption” promised by G‑d: “I will take you out from the suffering of 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 . . .”3 The fifth cup corresponds to the fifth expression of redemption, which comes in the following verse: “I will bring you to the Land . . .” This expression, however, is an allusion to the future messianic redemption, which will be announced by Elijah. This is also why we do not drink, “enjoy,” the fifth cup—as we have not yet experienced this redemption.

The timing of the pouring of the “Cup of Elijah” is also apropos, right before we start reading the Hallel, whose focus is on the future redemption (see Why do we divide the Hallel into two at the Passover Seder?). After commemorating the very first redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt we express our hope and firm belief in the coming of Moshiach, who will usher in the new and final redemption very very soon.

Refer to the following links for more information on these topics:

Elijah
Opening the Door for Elijah
Elijah’s Cup
Four Cups

A kosher and happy Passover to you and yours!

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg,
Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

Exodus 12:42.

2.

This task was delegated to Elijah after he informed G‑d: “The children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant” (I Kings 19:10,14). G‑d’s response? “How dare you cast aspersions on My children! You will be in attendance when every Jewish child is entered into the covenant!”

3.

Exodus 6:6–7.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Chaya Mushka and their three children.
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Discussion (14)
March 31, 2014
Maybe Elijah brings hope that we will one day live in a peaceful world; maybe the hope is in our heart. Whether one believes in opening the door for Elijah or not, it still makes no difference. Usually many go to a Passover table anyway. I like to believe that Elijah is coming. The idea makes me feel good.
suzy hander
woodland hills, ca
March 30, 2014
Elijah and Passover
When my family was all together, we observed Passover, having the Elijah chair and a. Extra service of dish and silverware for our guest, Elijah-- as a child I felt it to be spooky.But when a cup of wines was left for Him, it made me a believer in the unknown. If was more prevalent and important in my faith than the Seder itself, or looking for the ' leven. The cup was stressed because it was part of my families Jewish legacy and ancestry to . Nehemiah and Urijah the son of koz, who were Cupbearers, as the Passover was more than a tradition, but a knot we were told to never forget. It SAS my connection to my ancesters. Truly knowing whence one comes from, knows where we belong , or is going! Susan
susan
new york
March 27, 2014
Thank you for this segment, my wife is converting and this made it much more clearer for her to understand
Daniel Ben Israel
March 26, 2014
David, I looked up the information on Google. On Elijah's cup is written truth. Perhaps you can get a better source. I found the research about the cup very interesting. Elaine, I don't know if Aliens keep kosher. I hope they have better recipes since my cooking is terrible.
suzy hander
woodland hills, ca
March 26, 2014
David, you asked an interesting question: what is written on Elijah's cup? Maybe the written words are not as important as the message of tradition and continunity. I'm going to research this and hope to find out. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Suzy
suzy hander
woodland hills, ca
March 26, 2014
Visit of Elijah
About 50 years ago I remember a Pesover Seder at home, when a visitor called just as we were pouring out the wine for Elijah. He was of the appearence of a stable-boy who was delivering some horse-manuer for the garden! Nobody invited him in to partake of our nice clean seder. Perhaps that is why we are still waiting for the arrival of the Moshiah.
David Chester
Petach Tikva, Israel
March 24, 2014
Midrash
Please, can you give us the Midrash that you claim says that " on the night prior to the Exodus, the Seder night, the entire Jewish male population circumcised themselves—in order to be eligible to eat from the paschal lamb." Which Midrash, can you give us specific location? I would like to read this myself. I am also a Rabbi and have never seen this.
Steve E Abraham
New York
November 7, 2013
Re: Harry
The author's intent is not that Elijah comes to determine who is circumcised, but to attest that he was present at the Bris of all the males present, entitling them to partake in the Pascahl Lamb (in Temple times) and to provide them with additional support to be able to fully absorb the energy of the Passover Seder.
Bernard C
Bed-Stuy
November 1, 2013
Elijah's Cup
We were not a religious family but Passover was important. My parents always cooked up a storm and everyone was invited. Elijah's cup was always placed in the center of the table and the window was opened for him, not the door. He would enter and bless the family. No one ever told me he was checking to see who was circumcised. I fail to see the rationale for having an angel visit your home to find out who was bona fide. I prefer a blessing on the family. This may not be part of scripture or the Talmud but it certainly makes more sense.
Harry Kovsky
Irvington, New York
August 13, 2013
what is written on Elijah's cup
david
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