After drinking the third cup of wine at the seder, we open the door for Elijah and speak harsh words, asking God to pour out wrath on those who have devastated Jacob and laid waste to his dwellings.
Some are uncomfortable with these verses. Yet they are important for at least two distinct reasons.
First, we owe a legacy of anger to the past. The Jews who suffered for generations deserve our indignation for everything they endured. Our own good fortune does not cancel their anguish, and their right to anger that we express on their behalf. Out of all the centuries of persecution, these are a few verses taken from the Bible, traces of pain added to the Haggadah in the Middle Ages at a time of great suffering and sorrow. That is a remarkable act of restraint; we should honor it instead of pretending it is not there.
Second, Judaism has always recognized that evil in the world must not only be reasoned with, but fought. The reality principle applies: Sometimes wrath and rifles are more potent tools for peace than optimism and prayer.
I’ll make a deal with you — if Elijah walks in when you open the door, you can skip them. Otherwise, speak the words for those who can no longer speak for themselves.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).