I recently came across an article on Tablet that was written in 2012 by then 20-year-old Avital Chizhuk entitled, “Passover’s Perennial No-Show.” She discussed how her anticipation of Elijah’s entry during the appointed time during the seder turned to resignation as he appeared to miss his cue year after year. This touched me, as in my childhood I experienced the same hope that Elijah might actually walk through that door and sit down and eat his dinner at the place we set for him, and drink the awful, syrupy Manischewitz wine we carefully poured into his kiddush cup.
But for me, this no-show wasn’t a source of angst or even contemplation. It was more like a kid who realizes Santa isn’t real, but that dawning revelation is not a source of theological questioning or personal despair. Her family left the plate and filled cup on the table overnight – just in case – while I believe we cleared ours following the meal. This must have been like leaving out milk and cookies for Santa, except the author’s dad did not dump the wine in the sink and return the empty glass to the table surreptitiously while the children were sleeping as evidence of the prophet’s secretive visit.
The author was young, and so I don’t fault her for absorbing the mindset of her colleagues. I suspect she was quite enamored with the cynical rationalistic philosophy of her generation and engaged in the black and white thinking common among college students. It was not only Elijah the missing guest, but frequent false messianic dreams of her hopeful relatives that disappointed. She learned to say, “Jerusalem,” with the same faraway look in her eyes as her ancestors had, yet failed to recognize that Jerusalem is now in our hands, and we may choose to live within her gates if we desire; something our ancestors held onto by faith, but would never realize within their lifetime. The author was amused at her naive, youthful faith, which has now taken a beating in light of a perusal of the historical and present suffering of our people and other peoples. One day the question, “How can there be a loving God when there is so much darkness in the world,” may be replaced by, “Why is there still any light and hope within us in the midst of the darkness?” If the author dug a bit deeper, she would see the great depth of faith and future hope that emerged from even the greatest times of degradation, persecution and pain. Too bad that her elders are no longer talking of Elijah or spiritual truth, but only can offer tidbits of anecdotes and political discourse for her to join into. Perhaps that is one of the curses of a time of relative freedom and prosperity, along with the delusion that such times will continue.
I noticed one commenter mentioned a family tradition, of when the door was opened for Elijah, the family would all go outside and invite in any passing strangers to join them in their meal, which led to some interesting times, and the understanding that this was a day to say, “Come and eat.” We live in a suburban sort of cul-de-sac, and I doubt there are many passing strangers. But you never know, some dog walker minding their own business could get invited to enjoy my exquisite cooking, our rivaling siblings and mentally challenged three-legged cocker spaniel, and as well we shun Manischewitz for higher end and more drinkable kosher Israeli vine offerings. I offered my own comment. “Perhaps Elijah has come and you failed to see him, hear him or recognize him. The prophet Malachi promised to send us Elijah the prophet before (in anticipation of) the great and awesome day of The Holy One, and he would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, so that the land would not be cursed with destruction.” I believe we are seeing the hearts of the fathers turned to us; their hope, faith, wisdom is no longer a dusty tome that we cannot decipher, but our eyes are being opened and their hearts are turned to us as their voice becomes accessible to us. As the hearts of the fathers, those living and deceased turn to the children, we, the children turn to the fathers. This must happen lest the land be destroyed with a curse; this must precede the day of deliverance and reckoning.
This is what the Holy One is saying to us: “Stop at the crossroads where you find yourself now and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel that path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ Jer. 6:16