Posted by: Subway Conductor | March 20, 2010

Passover 2010

From Rabbi Arsers:

As you sit down at your Passover Seder this year, I want you to think about these two questions. Why is Moses not mentioned in the Haggadah? And, why Elijah the prophet is?

It is a common misconception to think of Passover as a holiday whose main purpose is to mark a great event in Jewish history? The Exodus from Egypt.  We often talk of the Seder as a device for remembering what happened to us in the past.  But, if we think of the Seder only in this way then we are missing an important point.

Remembering the Exodus from Egyptian bondage is a basic part of Passover.  However, it is certainly not the only, nor, perhaps, even the most important reason why we observe Passover.

The key to understanding the deeper meaning of Passover is found in our two questions.  If the goal of Passover were primarily to remember a historical event, since we know that Moses played a central role in that event, why wouldn’t he play a central role in our remembrance of that event on Passover? But he is not mentioned in the Haggadah (except once in passing) and that should be a clue that something deeper is going on here.

What is it? The redemption that is yet to come.  The Exodus from Egypt is seen in Jewish tradition as a forerunner of the great redemption, which awaits us.  And who is the main symbol of this future redemption? It is Elijah the prophet.  Therefore, it makes sense that Elijah should have a prominent place in the observance of Passover, and he does.

Two different elements of the Seder evoke Elijah.  One is the fifth cup of wine, which we call the “cup of Elijah.”  The second is when we open the door to let Elijah in.

As a matter of fact, Elijah enters the Seder almost right in the middle, right after the meal.  This indicates how central he is to the Seder.  By invoking the name of Elijah, we are expressing our hope for the coming of the Messiah which Elijah will precede.

The absence of Moses from the Seder and the prominence of Elijah should lead us to understand that when we observe Passover, we

are reaffirming our faith that the Exodus from Egypt was just the beginning of a process that will ultimately lead us to a far greater and more permanent redemption. The Seder should prompt us to rededicate ourselves to the fulfillment of that process.

In Jewish stories, the prophet Elijah is often pictured as a poor, homeless person.  In many folk tales, he appears dressed in rags and waits to be invited into someone’s house.  When he is, he performs miracles for them to reward their hospitality.  This folk tradition teaches a powerful lesson.  If we want Elijah to usher in the messianic time, then we must open our doors to the poor and the hungry.  We begin our Seder with an invitation to  ‘all who are hungry to come and eat.”  This act, which comes at the beginning of the Seder, is the essential starting point for what we express in hopeful anticipation at the end of the Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

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