Looking for Elijah

Every seder table has an extra place set for the prophet Elijah. A specially designated wine cup, Elijah’s cup, is filled to the brim for him.

Malachi 4:5 says Elijah will be the forerunner to the Messiah: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lᴏʀᴅ.” Elijah’s cup also serves as a reminder of God’s promise in Exodus 6:8: “I will bring you into the land.”

The possibility that Elijah will come to announce the Messiah, along with the hope that all Jewish people will return to their homeland of Israel in peace, are joyful anticipations at Passover. Perhaps that is why every seder concludes with the wistful words, Next year in Jerusalem!

As the youngest boy in my family, I had the important and somewhat frightening job of seeing if Elijah had actually come. I’d run downstairs from my grandparents’ second-floor apartment, open the door, and look for the prophet to invite him to join us.

I held this job for several years. Each time, I first ascertained the exact level of the wine in relation to the top of the cup. My reasoning was that, in Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up, spring is usually windy. Often I’d open the door, and a huge gust of wind would rush up the staircase, creating such a howling I thought for sure Elijah had entered the building.

My heart raced as I thought this was the moment for which we have waited more than 3,000 years. I could not get my legs to run up the stairs fast enough to see how much wine Elijah drank.

At several different seders, I knew in my heart the time had come! The Messiah was coming! Then, sadly, I’d see no change in Elijah’s cup (with the exception of the year my cousin drank from it to fool me).

Yet my great disappointment soon would be replaced by a renewed hope that maybe, just maybe, he would come next year—in Jerusalem.

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