Rabbi Shaya's Thoughts

Elijah’s Cup

At the Seder table we follow many traditions, several of which are steeped in biblical sources. Others are designed to pique the children’s interest so that they ask questions, which gives us, the adults, opportunities to teach them, as the Mitzvah of the evening is “to teach our children.” One such custom is to drink four cups of wine, representing the four expressions that are mentioned in the Torah, referring to the exodus from Egypt.  However, looking closely at the verses, we actually see five expressions! Why then don’t we drink five cups of wine? 

I can see the scholar within you scratching your head, thinking this must be a debate in the Talmud. You are correct! It is. The compromise of the Rabbis is to fill the fifth cup of wine and sing praises to G-d over the cup of wine, just as we do with the other cups. However, we are not to drink the wine, since the particular verse refers to the ultimate redemption in the future, (entering the Land of Israel), not to the immediate redemption that the Jews were experiencing at the time (leaving Egypt). 
That still leaves us with the question, where does the name “Elijah’s Cup” come from? 
There is a “traditional answer” and an “inspirational answer.”
We have a tradition that whenever there is a question in the Talmud for which we don’t know the answer, the question stands, and we just say “let’s wait until Elijah the Prophet comes with Moshiach, and he will answer all of our questions!” Hence the nickname, “Elijah’s Cup.”
However, this is a bit of a depressing take on the issue. A more inspirational way of looking at this is, let us fill a cup of wine for Elijah to come to our home to usher in the era of Moshiach. This is more exciting, and keeps the kids awake looking at the cup wondering, “can we see Elijah take a sip of wine?” Will this year be the final year that we have to say “Next year in Jerusalem!?” 
Elijah’s Cup changed over time from a question mark to an exclamation point. 
May you have a meaningful Passover. 
Shabbat Shalom 


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