Passover 2020: With stay-at-home seders, Elijah will be making many more wine stops
by Bob Schwartz
The tradition of Elijah at the seder is common in many Jewish communities. The practice of pouring a fifth cup of wine and opening the door for Elijah has a complex history. The theme is the prophet as a harbinger of redemption. The scholarship on this is voluminous, and it is generally concluded that the practice is not ancient, only coming into use after the Crusades.
Setting aside the fascinating history of the cup of Elijah, this much is clear: at Passover 2020, Elijah will be visiting a lot more seders. Instead of big groups, single family seders—many of them virtually connected—will be pouring that extra cup for Elijah to drink. Not to mention all the other extra cups that will be poured and drunk on this Passover, different than all other Passovers.
According to the Bible story, Elijah, like Moses before him, fled to the wilderness. Pursued by Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah wanted to give up. Instead, he found water and food to sustain him, ending up at the very same mountain where Moses stood:
And He said, “Go and stand on the mountain before the LORD, and, look, the LORD is about to pass over, with a great and strong wind tearing apart mountains and smashing rocks before the LORD. Not in the wind is the LORD. And after the wind an earthquake. Not in the earthquake is the LORD. And after the earthquake—fire. Not in the fire is the LORD. And after the fire, a sound of minute stillness.” (1 Kings 19:10-12, Robert Alter translation)
Wilderness, food, wine, a sound of minute stillness. Happy Passover.