I was considering not inviting Eliyahu to the Seder this year. Not because of social distancing but simply because it seemed that there was no purpose for him to show up. I know this is harsh. But let me explain.
Eliyahu is invited each year to our Sedarim as the harbinger of redemption. He arrives after Tzafun to drink the fifth cup-the cup of V’Heveiti-the cup of Geula (redemption). His appearance in our homes serves as the transition from remembrance of past redemption to the anticipation of salvation yet to come.
The source of Eliyahu as precursor to Mashiach appears in the last words of recorded prophecy. Malachi signs off on the prophetic era by affording the Jewish people a glimpse into the distant (or not so distant) future. “One day,” he promises, Eliyahu HaNavi, will show up to set the stage for the arrival of Mashiach—“For, here I send to you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day.” (Malachi 3:23)
So we usher in Eliyahu, year after year, Seder after Seder, in the hope that this time, this year, Eliyahu will not come alone.
However, in general, my invitation to Eliyahu is a bit more personal. It is grounded in the job description contained in the next verse of Malachi. To me, the Pesach Seder is all about the V’Higadta L’bincha and Bitecha—the opportunity through storytelling to build bridges between generations. And it is Eliyahu who is the tradition whisperer. He takes his seat at my table to facilitate conversation. “And he returns the hearts of his parents to their children, and children to their fathers.” (Malachi 3:24). His presence is why my children can echo the story of their grandpa’s Shebshilenu melody and why even those for whom the flames of tradition burn slightly less bright find their place comfortably around the Seder table.
But this year along with my parents, children, nieces, nephews and siblings and maybe even you, I have traded the cacophony of Sedarim past for a table set for two. So that is why I have been considering telling Eliyahu not to come. It seems I just don’t need him this year.
But slowly I have begun to reconsider. I have thought to myself maybe this year is simply a test. For years, Eliyahu has helped me listen to the stories of my past. It is this year that these stories must become my own. I must channel the memory of grandparents who kept Pesach in Auschwitz and built Matzah ovens in the ashes of pogroms. I must think of my grandfather, a survivor who dreamt of visiting Israel, smiling down as my children alone but feeling together make their Seders in Givat Shmuel, in Renana, in Nof Ayalon and Teaneck.
I may also invite Eliyahu because as a wanderer through two thousand years of Jewish history, he is able to see the panoramic view. Maybe if he comes to my Seder he will help me understand why this Seder is like no other and why this Seder, this year, is simply the way that it is supposed to be.
But I think that I will be including Eliyahu in my Seder because Eliyahu was trained by G-d to be the teacher par excellance. It this year more than any other that I must learn to be his student.
There is an oft told tale of a rich Chassid who asks his Rebbe to facilitate a meeting with Eliyahu. In response, his Rebbe tells him to go gather the supplies for a sumptuous Seder meal and then go spend the holiday with the local woodcutter and his family. Bemused, the Chassid does just that, showing up at the rickety home of the poor woodcutter and his eight children; replacing their meager holiday meal with a sumptuous holiday feast.
The Chassid returns to his Rebbe disappointed at having followed his advice but without the reward of having seen the elusive prophet. “No worries” said his Rebbe, “go to where the woodcutter is eating lunch and secretly listen to his conversation.” The Chassid immediately heeds his Rebbe and arrives just in time to over hear the wood cutter tell his friend—“what a blessing G-d gave my family this year, we had barely a matzah but he sent Eliyahu as my guest to provide us with a holiday fit for a king.”
So this is why I am most definitely inviting Eliyahu this year. For it is imperative that we each take the time to become his students. In these challenging times, we must become the Eliyahu’s to our friends and families just showing up (albeit virtually) when the pain is most acute and the kind gesture most needed. And, most importantly, when we turn to Hashem beseeching him for the needs of all those that we love, may our prayers like Eliyahu’s immediately be heard… and answered.
בשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה עם כל המשפחה!