For the week ending 16 April 2005 / 7 Nisan 5765

Up to the Brim

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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If I try very hard I can still conjure up that childhood feeling of awe as my father began the lengthy job of filling up Elijahs Cup at our Seder table. Nearly a whole bottle of wine was used to fill up the oversized silver goblet and, in my childish eyes, it was by far the most impressive moment of the night. Imagine, almost a whole bottle who was going to drink all that wine?

As a child I eagerly drank up my fathers explanation that on Pesach night Elijah the Prophet goes from house to house and drinks up all the cups of wine from all the houses where a Seder is taking place. When I was younger I never really stopped to wonder what Elijah had to do with the Seder and why he had to drink all that wine. In fact, it never occurred to me that perhaps the wine wasnt drunk by Elijah at all. As I got older and I stayed up until the end of Seder I had a somewhat rude awakening (pun intended) when I saw the wine being poured back into the bottle it transpired that Elijah didnt drink the wine after all.

And that got me thinking. What is the point of Elijahs Cup, what exactly is its function?

Pesach is the time of Redemption and the Rabbis describe Elijah as being the Angel of Redemption. We believe that in the same way that we were redeemed from Egypt, so too will we be redeemed from our present lengthy exile. Tradition teaches that it is Elijah who will announce the coming of the Mashiach, and the cup is prepared as a sign of our desire that he should come as speedily as he can to do so. Our Sages tell of a certain Rabbi in Talmudic times who met Elijah and asked him when the Mashiach would come. Elijah told him that he would come immediately. When he didnt materialize the Rabbi was very upset and the next time he met Elijah he berated him for not having been accurate in his assessment. Elijah, after hearing him out, explained to him that he had meant every word. But, ultimately, it was entirely up to us whether the Mashiach comes or not. If we truly want him to come he will come without delay. And if we are not too enthusiastic about the idea, well, Elijah will have to wait until we change our minds.

So what can we do to change the state of affairs? There is an anecdote that might help us attain a better perspective. Once the famed Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, sent one of his followers to open the door after filling Elijahs Cup on Seder night. However the man was frozen to the spot and couldnt do it. When he was asked why, he said that he was scared stiff as he was absolutely certain that Elijah the Prophet must be waiting outside the door of such a pious and august person as the Rebbe, just waiting to be invited in. Answered Rabbi Menachem Mendel Youre wrong! Elijah the Prophet enters through the heart, not the door!

And it is in exactly the same way that we can allow Elijah to appear and proclaim to everyone that the Mashiach is on his way. This Seder night, as we all fill up our cups for Elijah the Prophet lets fill them right up to the very top. Lets turn Elijahs Cup into the symbol of all our hopes and aspirations for the future brimming over with optimism that this year we can make all the difference. Like the Rebbe from Kotzk let us open our hearts to allow Elijah to enter into our lives.

And, who knows? Perhaps if we do so there wont be any need to pour the wine back into the bottle this Pesach after the Seder.

And Next Year in Jerusalem will become a reality rather than just a song.

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