We now refill our wine glasses one last time and open the front door to invite the prophet, Elijah to join our Seder. In the Bible, Elijah was a fierce defender of God to a disbelieving people. At the end of his life, rather than dying, he was whisked away to heaven. Tradition holds that he will return in advance of messianic days to herald a new era of peace, so we set a place for Elijah at many joyous, hopeful Jewish occasions.
Eliyahu hanavi Eliyahu hatishbi Eliyahu, Eliyahu,
Eliyahu hagiladi Bimheirah b’yameinu,
Yavo eileinu Im mashiach ben-David
Im mashiach ben-David
Elijah the prophet,
the returning, the man of Gilad:
return to us speedily, in our days with the messiah, son of David.
We place a cup of wine for the prophet, Elijah at the center of the Seder table. At this dramatic moment in the Seder, the door is opened to welcome this unseen guest into our home in the hope that the final, messianic, redemption of all people is at hand. Our ancient traditions tell us that final redemption will come at the season of Israel’s redemption from Egyptian bondage – on some Passover to come.
We sing Elijah’s song, and watch expectantly for the wine in the cup to diminish, a sure sign that Elijah has visited. Kids love this part because, well… basically, we are sitting there waiting for some ghost to come in and drink some wine! How cool is that?
Of more recent origin is the custom of placing a second cup, but this one has water instead of wine, on the Seder table for a second unseen but deserving guest – the prophetess, Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron. If you recall the story, Miriam was a hero. She disregarded her own safety and had the nerve to approach the Pharaoh’s daughter, Princess of Egypt, and offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby. Miriam was also a great motivator because after the Israelites crossed the sea, Miriam was the one who grabbed her timbrel (tambourine) and led everyone in dancing and singing. Who wouldn’t want to have her at a party? Although, as far as we know, there is no tradition that she is going to visit and drink some of the water. Maybe if it were wine…
It was Miriam, the Prophetess, symbol of all the courageous and worthy women who kept the home fires burning, even when the men became discouraged and despaired of redemption. If the Cup of Elijah is one symbolizing hope for future redemption, Miriam’s Cup symbolizes redemption realized through the tireless efforts of Israel’s women. Let us honor her for her heroism, and through her, all the brave, capable, devoted, faithful and loyal women of Israel who have been, and continue to be, the ongoing source of Israel’s strength. For the sake of our righteous women were our ancestors redeemed from Egypt. Amen.
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