gas On Faith
It was Elijah who had given up on the
Jewish people. At least according to Rab-
bi Shimon Apisdorf, the Baltimore-based
author of the Passover Survival Kit, a
down-to-earth, basic manual cf the hows
and whys of the holiday.
"The ancient Jews were falling away
from God in favor of idol worship," said
Rabbi Apisdorf. "God got the Jewish peo-
ple to turn themselves around. God in-
structed Elijah not to give up on the
"Elijah is asked to testify on behalf of
the Jewish people at a bris and at the
seder. And these are at least two prac-
tices that Jews, all kinds of Jews, ob-
serve. The seder is observed by more
Jews than any other Jewish ritual. Both
practices say to the Jewish people that
they should know forever to rededicate
themselves to God and not give up on
themselves as Jews."
Rabbi Daniel Syme said that during
the Middle Ages, Jews were forever be-
ing accused of blood libels. The myth
that the blood of Christian children was
used for matzah or wine was practical-
ly universally accepted by society. Jews,
according to Rabbi Syme, left the door
open during the seder to show gentiles
that these kinds of things did not hap-
"The belief of the open door grew to
the extent that Jews left their doors open
for the poor," continued Rabbi Syme, a
senior vice president of the Union of
American Hebrew Congregations and
the incoming rabbi of Detroit's Temple
Beth El. "There was also a notion that
one never knew what form Elijah would
take. He could very well appear as a poor
For contemporary Jews, the open door
has its own meanings. It is, said Rabbi
Syme, an opportunity to welcome those
in need, but also to show the world the
potential Jews have for creating a sa-
cred environment through "kindness
and caring and goodness."
The custom of opening a door for Eli-
jah is apparently more ancient than
pouring Elijah's cup of wine. It is not-
ed in the Talmud that a Rabbi Huna
would open the door to his house be- it's more important for Jews to reach
fore the meal so that guests could out through the open door than to await
enter. There is also the story of a a savior of any sort. "What's important
ninth-century rabbi named .is not the rescue fantasy," said Rabbi
Matiyahu Gaon who said that Jews Wine. "We have to open the door if
would make it a point of not clos- we're going to obtain freedom and jus-
ing their doors as an enticement for tice. It's not that someone will walk
any poor Jewish neighbors to come through the door, but we have to make
the effort ourselves. The most danger-
in and eat.
Harlene Appelman indicates an ous part of the traditional segment of
even more practical tradition. She the seder is the rescue fantasy that
said that when Jewish families got someone will come through the door
together for a seder, there was no and make it all right. That responsi- -
way a single family unit could finish bility is ours."
Rabbi David Wolpe tells a story of how
eating an entire goat. Other families
and neighbors would be brought in his older brother would enjoy tricking
his younger brother into expecting some-
to help consume the meal.
Ms. Appelman, the director of field one to walk through the open door. At
services for the Whizin Institute of one seder, the older brother walked in.
Jewish Family Life, University of At another seder, a dog walked in. Soon,
Judaism, added that the concept of the younger brother grew up, and the
the open door started with the mark- "tricks" stopped. With the tricks, the ex-
ing of door posts in Egypt so that the pectation of someone walking through
the door also stopped.
firstborn would not be slain.
"The fact that children still expect
In more modern terms, she sees
the door as representative of the Elijah is very powerful," said Rabbi
Wolpe, author of Why Be Jewish? and
comings and going of Jews.
"This could mean the coming and the visiting instructor of Jewish phi-
going of Jews in and out of Yid- losophy and special assistant to the
dishkeit," she said. "An open door chancellor at the Jewish Theological
represents freedom, and what does Seminary.
"The custom of the open door is kind
freedom mean to us now?"
otherworldly," said Rabbi Wolpe. "It's
Freedom, she added, could mean
the freedom to assimilate just as well not like anything else at the seder. The
as the freedom to learn more about idea that the Messiah will walk into
your house is very powerful and very
Then, there's the issue of families, personal. It's not just that the Messi-
said Ms. Appelman. "The fact that ah is coming, but personally coming to
families are incredibly mobile today you."
"Redemption flows in and out of an
means that we might not be to-
gether during the year or we might open door," continued Rabbi Wolpe.
not come through the same door to "And that's a powerful message for Jews.
be at the same seder next year," she The message of redemption is there for
Jewish people to learn. But the impor-
"I read somewhere that Elijah tant part of the message is that re- f,
comes to mind not through a phys- demption starts in the Jewish home. a
ical door, but by causing all of us to Opening the door offers a pouring out of 0.;
think. What is a doorway to a per- your feelings of redemption. But the "=
son anyway? Is it your mind; is it trick is, you've got tacreate that feeling
to begin with.
your soul; is it your heart?"
"There's got to be something to flow
Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder
of the International Institute for out of the open door so that the spirit of 47
Secular Humanistic Judaism, says Elijah flows in." ❑