At every Passover Seder, no matter how full or limited the space available, there sits an empty cup. Yet, not just an empty cup, but according to some traditions, a chair, or even a full place setting. The cup is poured just before the reading of the Hallel, focusing on praise and the future redemption. When the cup is poured, the door is opened, a paragraph is read, and the Seder continues. This cup remains undisturbed, full, to the end of the Seder. It is then cleaned, and stored for another year.
This the Cup of Elijah, כּוֹסוֹ שֶׁל אֵלִיָּהוּ. Unlike Moses, who makes no appearance in the Seder, Elijah has a place of prominence. Why? He is the herald of Messiah. As the prophet writes, “He will turn the hearts of fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:5-6).
It is often said that when the door is opened, we are opening the door for Elijah. It is, however, slightly different. We are opening the door so we can go out to greet him. We fill a cup, at a yet empty seat. We then leave the feast, the set table, go to the door in order to exit and meet the hoped for forerunner of the Messiah.
Have you ever looked over at someone’s seat, wishing they were there, that they were coming, or that they would return? Elijah never died. He will return at the set time before the return of the Messiah. Still, we hope for the promise of Elijah to go before him: the joy of reconciliation. That the empty cup, filled in anticipation, would be drank, and the seat occupied. That the one or ones we are yet missing, due to strained circumstances, would enter, and share in the cup of hope and joy.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father does not wait for the son to arrive at his feet in order to receive him. No, the father gets up, opens the door, exits and runs to the son, and embraces the one who had cut him so deeply. This is the turning of hearts that goes before Elijah.
This is why an empty cup is set, a seat prepared, and a door opened: we are rehearsing our own prodigal moment. We then drink in the joy and peace of that hopeful cup.
There is no better time then the present to usher in the promise of the messianic herald, and turn our renewed hearts in faith to those we love and miss. Then our cups will be full, even running over, as we await the final redemption Elijah’s coming announces.
Be well. Shalom.