These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PCJE Dvar Torah] ‘Can’t Elijah Let Himself In?’ by Hannah Grossman

Posted on March 29, 2013 by Hannah Grossman

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Throughout Pesach my mind has been overflowing with questions, thoughts and new insights. As I ponder what to share with you, I recall one tradition which gets my mind thinking every year.

After the birkat hamazon (grace after meals) a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah is poured and we open the door for him.


When I was younger I vividly recall simultaneously believing that Elijah would be in a physical form standing at the door and I remember staring at Elijah’s cup, imagining an immaterial being drinking from it. The forms of his existence as well as these traditions were an enigma to me at the time and continue to draw my attention.

This tradition is fraught with possible meanings, some of which are as follows:

  1. Historically, Jews were victims of blood libels, accusations that they used the blood of Christian babies to make matzah. Opening the door was a sign to Christian neighbors that there was nothing of this sort occurring in the households.
  2. Opening the door shows our trust in God’s protection. The Torah describes the night of Pesach as leil shimurim (a guarded night). During the night of the plague which killed Egyptian firstborns, God illustrated his protection over Bene Yisrael (children of Israel). And it was we who expressed our trust in Him through painting the doorposts with blood. This mutual trust and protection is expressed through opening the door during the seder. (Perhaps there is a connection with the doorposts on which Bene Israel painted blood and our involving the door, the entrance to the home, in the seder).
  3. Lastly and most germane, we open the door to invite in the prophet Elijah, harbinger of the Messiah. It is said that Elijah visits every brit mila ceremony; as males were only permitted to partake in the Pesach offering if they were circumcised, Elijah’s arrival at our seder may symbolize the “testifying” that all males present are circumcised.

While these reasons are all thought provoking, there is a heartwarming story told by R. Shlomo Riskin which has helped me understand and internalize this tradition.

There once was a child who asked, “If Elijah is so powerful and can be at all of the Jewish people’s homes at the same time on the seder night, why does he need us to do the simple task of opening the door? Surely he can take this last step and open the door.”

Rabbi Riskin (or it may have been his wife) replied that the answer lies in the very act of our opening the door and being prepared to greet him.

This answer illustrates that we have a significant role to bring Elijah and the Messiah into our lives. Elijah may journey to our doorsteps but will not enter our homes and lives unless we rise to welcome him in. With tremendous excitement and eagerness, children run to the door and stare endlessly into Elijah’s cup. As a child this was the one night of the year when I felt this excitement and interest.

I have wondered why this tradition takes place toward the end of the seder, rather than the beginning. (In fact, being in the beginning would legitimize the previously noted reasons for me).

Perhaps this placement shows that we should strive to enter the rest of Pesach and the rest of the year with excitement and eagerness for the Moshiach, whatever that means for each of us. While we may be physically tired at this hour and point of the seder, this tradition awakens our minds and prepares us mentally and spiritually for the task of creating a world that would welcome the Moshiach.

Chag sameach!