Elijah is the prophet who will announce the coming of the Messiah in Jewish teaching.
In the Bible, Elijah does not die – he is carried off to heaven in a chariot – and so the tradition expected his return. We anticipate Elijah’s arrival most eagerly at certain times: at the end of Shabbat, the end of Yom Kippur, at a brit milah and at the Passover Seder.
Although there are specific reasons for each of the four times, there is also a general reason.
All four times are also times when families traditionally gather together.
We often hear that the time of the Messiah will be epochal, even cataclysmic. Some prophets speak of the order of nature being overturned. The prophet Malachi, whom we read on Passover, has a more humble and poignant image: Malachi 4:6: “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and awesome day of the LORD. God will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents.”
If you are gathered with family around the table on Passover, in a spirit of love and peace, you have a foretaste of the Messianic days.
(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)