SHABBAT CHOL HAMOED PESACH 5771
Shlomo Carlebach on Eliyahu
Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the prophet is a prominent participant on Pesach. He even has his own cup of wine at the Seder. He is even more prominent than Moses who led the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Moses is not even mentioned in the text of the Haggadah, except in one of the proof verses that magnify the power of the plagues. Moses is certainly not a prominent figure at the Seder. But Elijah is because, according to tradition, Elijah is supposed to descend from heaven and announce the coming of the messiah right before he comes. In that sense he is the harbinger of hope and redemption. In the meantime, folklore has it, Eliyahu fulfills another special function. There are countless stories of how someone shows up at exactly the right time to help another in distress and/or danger and then suddenly disappears. That someone, according to legend, is Eliyahu.
In an article in Connections Magazine (Vol. 1 No. 2), Shlomo Carlebach, before his death, writes about 2 stories describing the power of Eliyahu at 2 very contrasting Seders. Let me read them to you:
A few years ago, on the day after Pesach, I had the privilege of playing for Hadassah of New England. The concert was very beautiful, but the women were more interested in going to beauty parlors than they were in spiritual things. Sometimes, you say something and you don’t even know why you said it. I said to them: “My dearest, beautiful ladies. I don’t know if you saw Elijah the Prophet. To tell you the sad truth, I didn’t see him either. But, I swear to you, the children saw him. What a privilege to be mothers of children who saw Eiljah the Prophet.”
A very beautiful lady came up to me. The way she looked, you wouldn’t think she had any depth inside. But, you never know. She came to me and said:
Do you know what you said? I can testify to it. My husband is a psychiatrist. Seder night, we have a little Seder. This year my husband calls me up on the phone to tell me, “All this hocus-pocus is getting on my nerves.” Now we have a little girl, Maxine. He said, “Maxine will ask me 4 stupid questions and I’ll have to answer. It’s stupid, the whole thing makes no sense. Let’s just eat dinner and that’s it.” So, I said, “You’re right. I don’t care so much either.”
About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, my little girl Maxine comes home. Her eyes are glowing with joy. She says, “I can’t wait for my friend Elijah the Prophet to come visit me. Do you know Elijah the Prophet is coming tonight to see me.” I realize that I cannot do this to her. I call my husband in his office and say, “Listen, we have to have a little Seder because Maxine is so excited about it.” He says, “Okay, we’ll have a little Sederle, she can ask the 4 questions, I’ll mumble a few words. But, that’s all.”
My husband came home annoyed, and said, “Maxine, let’s go. Ask the 4 questions.” She asked them, he mumbled a few words and then we ate dinner. Then, my husband said to Maxine, “Now go to sleep, so you’ll get to school tomorrow on time.” She said, “Daddy, Elijah the Prophet is coming to see me.” This was too much for my husband. He said, “We are not old fashioned Jews who believe in fairy tales. We are modern Jews. We don’t believe in fairy tales. Go to sleep right now.”
My little Maxine ran to the window. In her whole life, she never cried so much.
I just hope that wherever this little Maxine is now, that she still waits for Eliyahu HaNavi. You know, friends, so many of our children are so holy. They are all “matza children,” [pure]. Sadly enough, we put chametz into them. Our excuse is, we want them to rise. We want them to be higher—more civilized. That is not what we need. We need to be “matza Yidden,” someone who knows the way it really is.
Here’s the other story: A few years ago, the Humanity Foundation had a big conference in Toronto to save the planet. Obviously, it was organized by a lot of Jews. It was during Easter and they had special Easter prayers. Nothing for Pesach. The leader of the group was named Yossi Cohn. Gevalt! As it so happens, Yossi is a good friend of mine. I said, “Yossi, you respect every religion except your own. We have 2 Seder nights, there will be thousands of people, many Jews. Can’t you do something for them?” He said, “Okay, you do something.”
I played there the night of bedikat chametz [the night before Pesach]. There were hundreds of kids. I told them about bedikat chametz [searching for the chametz], how holy it is. I invited them all to a Seder. Since I didn’t know who was coming, we put up signs all over, saying that anyone who wants to come to the Seder should buy a box of matzah and should bring hardboiled eggs, enough wine for 4 cups, gefilte fish and one candle. I had to be home. This was in Toronto, and I had to be home to make a Seder 1st with my kids. From there to the Seder at the University of Toronto was about an hour and 20 minutes walk. I told them I’ll begin the Seder at 11:30. I got there a few minutes before 12 and there was not one sound in the whole building. I walked up the steps and thought, obviously not even one person came. I want you to know, to my most unbelievable surprise, 1500 people were sitting at the tables in complete silence. 1500 people! People of every race, every religion were there. As far as I was concerned, that was the highest Seder on the planet. The fire and the holiness, their readiness were unbelievable.
I explained the Haggadah as much as I could. Then we ate matzah, the egg, a little fish. We benched. About 3:30am, we went out to greet Eliyahu HaNavi. I want you to know that there were 1500 candles standing by the door until a quarter to five. I was telling Eliyahu HaNavi stories and all kinds of other things. Until this very day, I travel all over the world, I meet people who tell me they were at that unforgettable Seder.
Eliyahu HaNavi does not knock on doors. A lot of us are waiting to hear a knock at the door. Sometimes, one should wait to hear a knock on the door. But, at great moments, you have to open the door 1st.
Little Maxine had parents who refused to open the door for Eliyahu, for Jewish tradition or for the Torah. One could only hope that somehow she will hear Eliyahu calling and find her way. At that Seder in Toronto in the middle of the night with 1500 participants from every religion and walk of life, they not only opened the door, they went out to greet him for over an hour. 20 years later the power of that Seder still resonates in the souls of all who participated as it does in us who merely hear the story.
The Kotzker Rebbe once asked a group of rabbis with whom he was meeting, “Where is Gd to be found?” His answer, after entertaining some of the responses, is as profound as it is instructive: “Gd can be found where ever you let him in.” Judaism insists that every human being can find a path to Gd—Jew or non-Jew, religious or not religious. We were all created in the image of Gd. We were each given a neshama, an eternal soul, by Gd that yearns to cleave to Him. We just have to open the door and our hearts and let Him in. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis