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What does the Cup of Elijah signify?

by Rabbi Yossi Marcus

  

Library » Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Wine | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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During the Passover Seder we drink four cups of wine (or grape juice). There is a custom to pour a fifth cup, and this cup is known as the "Cup of Elijah." This cup is poured in honor of Elijah the Prophet who comes to visit every seder.

The first mention of this (as far as I know) is in the Chok Yaakov.1

There are several reasons given for this:

(1) Elijah comes to every circumcision. Concerning the Paschal Offering (which today the Afikoman is in lieu of this sacrifice), the Torah says (Exodus 12:48), "no uncircumcised male may eat of it." So we are "inviting" Elijah to be the witness that all present are circumcised.

(2) On the first night of Passover, right before the Jews left Egypt, they all circumcised themselves (see Midrash Rabbah, Shmot 19:5). To commemorate this event, we invite to the seder Elijah, the angel of circumcision.

On the night when we celebrate our redemption from Egypt, we also express our absolute belief in the coming of the Messiah...that we actually pour a cup for Elijah, the prophet who will come to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
(3) On the night when we celebrate our redemption from Egypt, we also express our absolute belief in the coming of the Messiah, the one who will lead us out of this exile and take us all back to our land. We are so confident of our imminent redemption, that we actually pour a cup for Elijah, the prophet who will come to announce the arrival of the Messiah.

The four cups of wine correspond to the four expressions of redemption that G-d uses in describing the Exodus (Ex. 6:6-7):

1. “I will take you out…”

2. “I will save you…”

3. “I will redeem you…”

4. “I will take you as a nation….” —Shmot Rabbah chapter 6

But actually there’s a fifth expression that follows immediately afterward: “And I shall bring you into the land…” This expression is commemorated by the Cup of Elijah, since it is he who will herald the Messianic era when we will truly enter the Land in peace.

The five expressions of freedom are various stages in our redemption process. But while the first four are stages that we work on and achieve—the fifth, the final redemption is something that we need G-d to fulfill. We can do everything that leads up to it—and indeed we must. But that final step has to be taken by G-d. That’s why we don’t drink the Cup of Elijah—it is not within our ken.

Footnotes

  • 1. See http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/reischer.htm chapter 106. This idea is also mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch Harav 480:5.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Passover » Seder » Laws and Rituals

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Midrash
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
Elijah
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Afikoman
The larger portion of the broken middle matzah on the seder plate. The afikoman is eaten towards the end of the seder. In many families, it is traditionally "stolen" by the children and "ransomed" by the parents with the promise of a gift.