VA’ERA (Exodus, 6:2-9:35) — “I Opened the Door…Where’s Eliyahu??”

He comes to visit every year.  We pour a cup of wine in his honor, and then welcome his arrival through our open door. 

I refer, of course, to Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, our annual Seder guest.  According to tradition, Elijah often joins us on special occasions.  For example, we set a special seat for him at every Bris.  Elijah, who never died, (see 2Kings, 2:11) is the prophet who will announce the arrival of the Messiah.   Since he will proclaim the final redemption of our People, it is quite fitting that he joins us in celebrating our first redemption, the Exodus from Egypt.

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Actually, at the risk of bursting a very popular balloon, it seems from most commentaries that Elijah does NOT join us at each Seder.  This misconception, I believe, is based upon the fact that he does join us at every BRIS.  If you couple that fact with the Cup of Eliyahu and the open door at the Seder, we have the impression that he’s on the way. 

What, then, is the purpose of Elijah’s Cup, if he’s not coming to drink it? 

To answer this question, we need to first examine the source of the other cups of wine at the Seder.  The Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim, 10:1) analyzes the Mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine.  Rabbi Yochanan bases this practice on the “Four Expressions of Redemption” in this week’s Torah Reading: 

“…Say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am G-d, and I WILL TAKE YOU OUT from under the burdens of Egypt; and I WILL RESCUE YOU from their service; I WILL REDEEM YOU with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.  I WILL TAKE YOU TO ME as a nation, and you will know that I am your G-d who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.’” (Exodus 6:6-7)

Rabbeinu Bachya explains that each of these four expressions indicates a subsequent stage of redemption: 

1) “I WILL TAKE YOU OUT from under the burdens of Egypt”– during their last six months in Egypt, the Israelites were no longer slaves, although they still couldn’t leave. 

2) “I WILL RESCUE YOU from their service” — the actual Exodus from Egypt. 

3) “I WILL REDEEM YOU with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” — G-d rescued the Israelites by splitting, and then closing, the Red Sea. 

4) “I WILL TAKE YOU TO ME as a nation” — by giving them the Torah at Mt. Sinai. 

We commemorate G-d’s four promises to save us by drinking four “L’Chayims” at the Seder.  Each cup of wine celebrates a different aspect of G-d’s love and divine protection.

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Why not a Fifth Cup? 

Many commentaries point out that there are actually five, not four, expressions of redemption.  G-d’s message continues: … “‘I WILL BRING YOU to the Land…’” The purpose of the Exodus was so that we should receive the Torah, enter the Land of Israel, and build the Temple.  It would seem that the promise of the Land should be seen as the climax of G-d’s promise to redeem us. 

There are commentaries that suggest that we should drink five, not four cups of wine at the Seder.  However, that is not our practice.  We are required by Jewish Law to drink four cups of wine.  What should we do about “I WILL BRING YOU?” 

There are many places in the Talmud where questions are left unresolved.  The Talmud concludes that when Elijah the prophet will come to announce the Final Redemption, we will present him with a list of unanswered questions. 

One of those questions will be “should we drink four cups, or five?” Meanwhile, as a “compromise,” we POUR a fifth cup at the Seder, but we don’t drink it (yet).  That cup, whose status won’t be settled until we get the answer from the prophet, is called, quite appropriately, “Elijah’s Cup.”

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But what about the open door? 

The reason we open the door at the Seder is because the Seder night is called “Leil Shimurim — a Night of Protection.” (Ibid, 12:32) On the Seder night we leave our doors unlocked and demonstrate our faith that our protection comes from Above. We open our doors and ask G-d to protect us from those who seek to harm us. 

During the next few weeks, we will be reading about the miracles that G-d has done in our behalf.  He has sheltered us before, and He will do it again. He will send Elijah to tell the world that it’s time to live in peace.  Let it be soon. 

Was Eliyahu HaNavi at our last Seder?  I don’t know.  Will he be at our next Seder? 

I sure hope so.  

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz 

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 

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 From the Archives  

“Abracadabra = MC2” (2010) 

“Show me a sign!” challenged the Pharaoh … Moses was prepared. He took his staff and threw it to the floor. The staff miraculously turned into a snake. Surely, this man was for real. 

The Pharaoh laughed in his face. “Do you think you can impress me with simple magic? Anything you can do, my magicians can do better!” 

Sure enough, the Egyptian sorcerers made their own sticks into snakes. “Are you trying to sell straw in Ofarayim?!” (The Egyptian equivalent of bringing coal to Newcastle or rabbis to Monsey. 🙂 ) This was Egypt, the magic capital of the world! … 

Do we believe in magic?!… 

Read more

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THIS is your Life!” (2009) 

Slaves aren’t real people.  They are chattel; they are property.  They can be bought and sold and bartered like animals…

Pharaoh felt the same way about his Israelites.  They were his possessions, to be utilized in the efficient production of bricks for his ambitious building projects.  He was free to do with them as he wanted. He could even kill their children and use their blood for medicinal purposes.  No one was going to take away his Jews… 

Well, almost no one.  Two Levites by the names of Moses and Aaron were making trouble.  The G-d of Israel, they explained, wanted Pharaoh to release the slaves.  Pharaoh had no interest in complying. 

 “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice to release Israel?  I don’t know G-d, nor will I let Israel go!”  (Exodus, 5:1-2) 

How could chattel have a G-d??  These sub-human life forms known as Hebrews couldn’t have a G-d!  Why should the great Pharaoh follow the dictates of someone who represents the fictional G-d of a primitive cult? 

Pharaoh obviously needed some convincing… 

Read more

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“Let the Pharaoh GO!” (2008) 

…Pharaoh took this god thing pretty seriously.  He even went to great efforts to convince his subjects that he was super-human.  Yes, they fed him the finest foods.  He had the most comfortable royal furniture.  This man who would be a god was a very material fellow.  Every creature comfort known to man was, no doubt, available in the palace.  With one exception… 

Can you picture the scene? 

“Good morning, Your Majesty!”

“Oh, Moses!  Is that you again?  What are you doing here?” 

“I need to speak with you, your Majesty.  Right away.” 

“Not now, Moses.  Come see me at the palace later.” 

“No, Your Majesty.  I really need to speak with you now…” 

“Uhm, not right now, Moses.  I’m kinda busy at the moment…” 

“Oh I’ll be quick, Your Majesty.  I just have to speak with you for a couple of minutes…” 

“FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES??!! I DON’T HAVE A COUPLE OF MINUTES!!!  PLEASE MOSES, GO AWAY!  NOW!  PLEASE!  … 

Read more

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 “Answering the Call of Puti” (2007) 

In listing the family lines of Moses and Aaron, the Torah tells us: 

Elazar, the son of Aaron, took one of the daughters of Putiel as a wife, and she bore to him Pinchas…  (Exodus, 6:25) 

Who was this Putiel?  It’s not at all clear.  Some commentaries say he was a well-known person in his day.  It seems from other commentaries that he didn’t exist at all; that he was a “composite.” 

The Talmud (Sotah 43a) indicates that the name “Putiel” is a reference to Joseph…As well, it is a reference to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro… 

What’s with the nicknames?  Why doesn’t the Torah simply tell us the man’s name?!!… 

Read more

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“Frog Beaters” (2006) 

Sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart. 

…  Our Sages tell us that the Plague of Frogs was a compound miracle.  The swarms of frogs started out with one big frog.  The Egyptians tried to kill it.  Every time they hit a frog, it produced more frogs.  Soon the entire country was inundated with frogs. 

Now let me ask you a simple question.  If a big frog walked into your house, you might try to kill it.  That I understand.  But tell me, if every time you hit it, it produced more frogs, what would you immediately stop doing? 

If the Egyptians saw that their efforts to get rid of the frogs were backfiring, why did they keep hitting the frogs?!… 

Yes, sometimes smart people do things that aren’t so smart… 

Read more.  

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“Sorry, PETA, Pig’s Feet Aren’t Kosher!” (2005) 

… Moses knew where Pharaoh was coming from.  He was an Egyptian king with Egyptian values.   He despised everything Moses stood for.  The very thought of an Israelite slaughtering a lamb in service of G-d was an anathema to everything he stood for.  But he was willing to compromise.  For now.  If keeping his slaves from leaving Egypt meant tolerating Jews eating lamb chops, he was willing to make the tradeoff.  For now. 

Sounds a little like PETA… 

Read more

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“Life Begins … Today!” (2004) 

… In the middle of a discussion of Moses’ “marching orders,” the Torah makes a statement that seems a bit incongruous: 

Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron was eighty-three years old, when they spoke with the Pharaoh.  (Exodus, 7:7) 

…  These men were in their eighties.  They were old!  What were they doing running around back and forth to the palace?  Couldn’t G-d find some younger men to take on this demanding task? … 

Read more.  

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“I Opened the Door…Where’s Eliyahu??” (2002) 

He comes to visit every year.  We pour a cup of wine in his honor, and then welcome his arrival through our open door. 

I refer, of course, to Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, our annual Seder guest… Actually, at the risk of bursting a very popular balloon … Elijah does NOT join us at each Seder… 

Read more.  

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“Not So Loud, the Bread Can Hear You!” (2001) 

…Imagine the scene.  The Shabbos table is set.  Everyone is hungry, and waiting to say Kiddush and begin the meal.  Dad lifts the cup to say Kiddush… then he sees it…the Challah cover is missing. Dad gets annoyed: “Of all the…what’s the matter with you?!!” he bellows.  “Can’t you remember a simple thing like a Challah cover?!!!!!”… 

Read more.  

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on January 10, 2002 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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