• Gabbai

Tzav – Where is Elijah?

As the pre-Passover frenzy accelerates we should take pause to marvel at the sight of a nation galvanizing to prepare for the coming festival. In the furthest corners of the earth Jews are coming in droves to benefit from the sparse supplies imported for the festival. Boxes of matzo, jars of gefilte fish, and most importantly, chocolate without the offending soy lecithin, are snatched from the shelves. The matzo ball mix sold out in the first hour of the Passover sale, although bottles of liquid gold (oil made from a non-legume source) still fill the shelves, their prohibitive price driving customers to find alternatives. Sales of cleaning supplies at local supermarkets have spiked, and questions related to products and Passover cleaning have been steadily coming in. More than three millennia ago our ancestors witnessed great miracles during and after their exit from Egypt. Now we are witnessing miracles that parallel those of yore. How did Passover come to command the attention and cultural observance of Jews over and above other Jewish events? How do we explain this impressive phenomenon?

As kids, we would always watch closely for any signs that the wine in Elijah’s cup was diminishing. It is customary to pour a fifth glass of wine – which we don’t drink – toward the end of the Passover Seder. We refer to this cup as the “Cup of Elijah. The reason for this fifth cup is that we don’t know whether a fifth cup is necessary on Seder night. The four cups we drink correspond to the four terms of redemption noted in the Torah. “I shall take you out from Egypt,” “I shall save you from their servitude,” “I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm,” and, “I shall take you to Me as a people.” A fifth phrase follows: “I shall bring you to the land…” The sages disputed whether this fifth term is included in the terms of redemption and therefore merits a corresponding cup of wine during the Seder. The dispute remains unresolved and it is left for Elijah to clarify at the time the Messiah comes. Since Elijah is the one we who will clarify this, the fifth cup has his name attached to it.

Many of us retain the perception that cup is being poured on behalf of Elijah, however. For this reason Jewish children, the world over, strain their tired eyes, hoping to notice the wine in the cup diminishing as Elijah drinks. There is no basis to think that Elijah dr