By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
A special, often decorative wine cup is placed on the Seder table, designated for the Prophet Elijah, who will herald the coming of the Messiah (and therewith the final Redemption of Israel and the rest of humanity).
Elijah is said to make an appearance at every Seder (and, incidentally, every Bris!). Elijah’s cup apparently finds its origin in the Rabbinic debate as to whether four or five cups of wine should be consumed at the Seder (See Pesachim 118A; Rambam, Laws of Chametz and Matzah, Ch. 8). The dispute was left unresolved. The proper answer will be revealed upon Elijah’s arrival to announce the Messianic Era has begun!
It is common practice to fill Elijah’s cup before the Seder begins. Alternatively (as in my own family custom), those in attendance are invited to help fill Elijah’s cup by contributing a few drops of wine from their own cups… when the door is opened for the prophet before “Hallel” is sung. This gives expression to a principled recognition that if humanity is to achieve a true Redemption, we must all be ready to contribute to the process, actively bringing that long-awaited day about.
Without our own proactive involvement in the redemptive effort, even our most extravagant protestations of hope in the future remain an empty vessel.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)