Dressing as Elijah & Pouring Out Love

Three customs regarding the seder verses "Pour Out Thy Wrath"

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In the traditional Passover Haggadah, a verse from Jeremiah (10:25) appears following the Grace After Meals, when the door is opened for Elijah the Prophet: "Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not on Thy name; for they have devoured Jacob, yea, they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation." In Hebrew, the verse begins, "Shefokh hamatkha…" Many Jews, especially in modern times, have had problems with the violent nature of this verse. The following article describes three customs, the last of which offers a creative alternative to reciting this verse. Reprinted with permission from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Quite a few scholars have already detailed the history of these verses, which are recited after Birkat Hamazon [the Grace After Meals] and before Hallel. We shall describe here three customs related to these verses:

Dressing Up As Elijah 

The apostate Antonius Margaritha (born ca. 1490) relates in his book Der Gantz Judisch Glaub, published in Augsberg in 1530, that when Jews open the door for shefokh, someone in costume enters the room quickly, as if he is Elijah himself coming to announce the coming of the Messiah.

R. Yosef Yuzpah Hahn (1570-1637) says, "how good is the custom that they do something in memory of the Messiah. One falls into the entranceway at the beginning of shefokh to show during the night of our first redemption our strong belief in our final redemption."

Apparently, someone would pretend to be Elijah coming through the door, and Rabbi Hahn thought that this was a wonderful custom. But R. Yair Hayyim Bachrach (1638-1701) was opposed to this custom: "But what the servants and maids are accustomed to make the figure of a man and the like, something frightening when the door is opened--this is only licentiousness and derision."

This custom clearly fits in with the Cup of Elijah and other Elijah customs at the seder. It may have been another tactic to keep the children awake. On the other hand, this may be a misunderstanding of the "wandering Jew" skit which took place, at many different points in the seder. 

Praying for Salvation

In the Haggadah Shel Pesach with the commentary attributed to the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), first published in Warsaw in 1905, we find another custom related to Elijah. In the instructions, the author says that after drinking the third cup of wine, we fill the fourth cup, and we fill another cup in honor of Elijah the Prophet.

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Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.