Why Do We Open the Door for Elijah?

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

Why do we open the door for Elijah at the Pesach Seder? Is it because we really believe that the announcement of the messiah’s arrival will occur? Is it to give the kids something to do as the evening wanes? Perhaps it is just for a bit of fresh air. No, rather there is a practical reason.

We open the door for Elijah just before we recite what may be one of the most difficult passages of the entire Haggadah. Before we say “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not … Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heaves of the Lord” we check that no one is standing outside our door ready to start a pogrom against us. Yes, we have our cathartic prayerful entreaties that note our suffering but we are also smart enough to know when to speak our minds.

I have great difficulty with this passage every year and yet it remains in our Seder. It is also nearly an annual topic of conversation in order to take everyone’s “Jewish civility temperature”. How are we feeling about fellow Jews both those with whom we agree and those with whom we differ? How are we feeling about the public image of our people in our American politics? What are we doing about supporting the ongoing creation of a more inclusive, democratic, pluralistic Israel?

For Mr. Adler of Atlanta his recent rant may have been cathartic. It is likely he also violated the law by threatening the life of our President. And for what? Did he manage to frame the issues about Iran more cogently than the current American political debate? Did he bring honor to our people? Did he assist Israel in its efforts to combat the ongoing worldwide well organized efforts to call her very legitimacy into question?

What Mr. Adler exposed was the underbelly of irrational fear and false information that is the cancer of the American politics today and, alas, increasingly the internal Jewish conversation about Israel. The Atlanta Jewish community writ large has proved itself admirable in its reaction. Most of our American Jewish leadership has condemned Mr. Adler and his words. But what of amcha, the Jew in the pew, and what is the reaction of the average American to hearing a threat against our President from a member of the Jewish establishment?

It is time to say loudly and clearly that the paragraph from the Seder does not apply to America. America does know about sanctity. We do respect each other’s religious views even when we strongly disagree with them. America has not devoured Jacob but rather provided to us the most incredible opportunities in our four thousand year history. And most importantly – America has not “laid waste to our land”, our precious State of Israel. No country in the history of humankind has supported another country to the extent that America has supported Israel over the past decades. Policy differences come and go. Perspectives change. People in leadership may have personal chemistry or not. But it must be said that America, regardless of who sits in the White House and who leads Congress, is Israel’s good friend.

This year I am not so sure we will recite the paragraph “ Pour out thy wrath” at our Seder. I do know that we will open the door so that all who wish to join us in our support of Israel will be welcome at our table.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund.