The Rabbi Bel Shem Tov joyfully celebrated Passover every year with his disciples. They faithfully observed the Seder tradition of leaving a cup for the prophet Elijah at the table and opening the door for him towards the end of the meal. One year, when it came close to time for the Passover celebrations, one of the Rabbi’s disciples came to him and lamented:
“Every year, we celebrate Pesach together and every year we leave a cup for Elijah and every year we open the door for him towards the end of the meal. Yet, year after year, he fails to show. Why does the ancient prophet spurn us so?”
Rabbi gave this question some thought before responding.
“Let me tell you what you must do,” he said, “On the first night of Passover, pack up a cart with food, wine, matzos, and gifts for children. Go to the next village over. There is a small house in the poorest part of town with a green painted bench outside. Go into this home and celebrate Passover with the family inside. Elijah is sure to show up there.”
When the time came, the disciple did as the Rabbi had instructed. He showed up to the house with his cart. He was greeted warmly and invited inside. The kids loved their gifts and they all celebrated together. The disciple had a marvelous time that night but the prophet Elijah never showed up, even when they opened the door for him. His cup remained at its place untouched. The disciple came home dejected.
“I thought for sure Elijah would show up,” the Rabbi said, “He must have been delayed or you must have been late and missed him. I’m sure if you go even earlier next year, you will see him.”
The disciple awaited with anticipation all year until the holiday finally came back around. Then he did as he was instructed the year before. He loaded a cart with food, wine, matzos, and gifts for the kids, and he went to the instructed house, even earlier than the previous year. As he was wheeling his cart past the green painted bench to the door of the small house, he over heard a conversation.
“What are we going to do?” the wife was asking her husband, “We don’t have anything to celebrate with this year. No food. No gifts. Nothing.”
“Do not worry,” he reassured her, “Don’t you remember how last year we had nothing to celebrate with and the prophet Elijah himself showed up with everything we needed for the meal? God provided for us last year and He will provide again this year.”
The disciple wiped several tears from his eyes, smiled, and walked through the door to take his place at the table and drink from his cup.
It is traditionally believed that Elijah will show up to mark the beginning of the Messianic age, bringing redemption to the people of Israel. For this reason, the Elijah Cup is always present at a Passover Seder as a symbol of hope and expectation. “Be the change you want to see.” is the central message of this beautiful Hasidic parable. Each of us can bring a little redemption to this Earth by showing kindness to those in need. May we who walk in the way of Jesus show warmth and hospitality to our brothers and sisters who celebrate Passover this week. Our traditions this week are very different but we are similarly brought to a table in the name of love. We similarly wait for a promise to be fulfilled. Let us not forget that in the meantime we can be instruments of redemption by showing kindness to our neighbors.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…