The adults at the seder are mingling, having passed through the first part of the seder and enjoyed a delicious meal. Everyone is engaged in lively conversation, when pounding on the front door startles us. We move quickly toward the door, opening it with caution. In front of us stands “Elijah,” the prophet who one day will announce the Messianic era and the redemption of humankind. At every Passover seder, we open the door, hoping Elijah has come that year heralding good news.
It has been our family seder tradition for the children to slyly steal away from the meal, exiting at just the moment when the adults alternate between lively repartee and focus on their piled high dinner plates. We adults catch each other’s eyes; we can almost hear the pounding in the kids’ hearts. We appear disinterested as the children race by outside the sliding glass doors in pursuit of their dramatic role. Rounding the back and side yards, they suddenly downshift, almost crashing into one another. They creep silently forward so that “Elijah” could make his grand entrance.
Elijah Makes His Grand Entrance
Our “Elijah” is one child sitting on the shoulders of another, a blanket draped over the length of both of them. Alternating between giggles and solemn intent, “Elijah”—the mysterious, blanket-covered children—enters our home, trying to be silent. The plotting older siblings and cousins—the keepers of Elijah’s secret identity—flank him in loyal protection. Their faces glisten revealing pride and the thrill of entertaining. We welcome him warmly.
From the Haggadah, we pray the words that Elijah’s arrival heralds the coming of a messianic age and the end of war, violence, poverty, hunger and anti-Semitism. Elijah takes a sip from the cup of hope, then turns and departs, as silently as he came in.
Our children are fully immersed in the Passover story. Simultaneously, they are having such fun. Like the wise child, they are seeing themselves as part of the Exodus and understand the seriousness of our hope. They know that even as we invite Elijah to our seder, redemption will come only when we each step up to help repair the world. Together, we all reaffirmed the purpose of the Passover seder: to create an experience of the Passover story so that each of us, no matter what age and stage, will see ourselves in this freedom story.
Elijah Inspires Action at Passover
The memory of our exodus experience embedded in the Jewish people an imperative for action. Having once been vulnerable, powerless strangers, we cannot sit quietly until freedom is accessible to all. This is why Jews have been at the forefront of major movements for change in history, including women’s suffrage, civil rights, anti-apartheid, LGBTQ rights, and the fight to end genocide.
Let the visit by the prophet Elijah transform your seder into an opportunity to act for social justice. For the seder, teach your guests about oppressed people who still suffer today. Then ask your guests to commit in a specific way to take action to move them closer toward freedom.
- A YouTube video can be used to illustrate and educate.
- An engaged activist family member—a great role for a college student—can update seder participants about current human rights violations.
- Letters to Congress can be written and petitions can be signed and sent.
- Online donations can be made before the afikomen (dessert) to organizations that act to tackle these issues.
Use your seder to demonstrate for your children that we take seriously the imperative to free the enslaved.
To be a Jew or part of a Jewish family is to be empathetic because we identify in each person—those we know and those we do not—the intrinsic worthiness embedded in tzelem Elohim (God’s image). Having known through historic memory what it feels like to be vulnerable, we seek to free every child of God (meaning, everyone).
Once We Were Slaves, Now We are Free
The seder storyline is clear:
Once we felt oppressed, now we feel hope and possibility.
Once we felt we could not change our own lives, then we found leaders—Moses, Miriam, and Aaron—to guide us beyond the obstacles.
We can be those agents of change for others the same today.