Who is Elijah the Prophet or The Prophet Elijah and what is his role in the Passover Seder or Pesach Seder ?
Eliyahu Ha-Navi ("Elijah The Prophet" in Hebrew) or the Prophet Elijah, was a biblical prophet who lived in the 9th century B.C.E. in the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who ruled either between 869 B.C.E. and 850 B.C.E. or between 874 B.C.E. and 853 B.C.E., depending on which scholarly historical analysis one follows.
Elijah the Prophet's prophetic fervor and fierce defense of G-d in the face of pagan influences in comparison with all other Hebrew biblical prophets earned him the honor of being the "guardian angel" of the Hebrews and subsequently, the Jewish people. Because he was considered the strongest defender of G-d, he was said to be the forerunner of the Messiah. In the Book of Malachi, Malachi, who was the last of the Hebrew prophets, states that Elijah would reappear just before the coming of the Messianic Age (Malachi 3:1).
The Hebrew name "Eliyahu" means "My G-d (Eli) is called Yahu." The Hebrew ending -yahu is the original Hebrew ending of many Hebrew names. The Hebrew ending -yahu is also a short term used as the name of G-d, as it is spelled with the first three letters of the Holy Name. The name "Eliyahu" sounds like a declaration of dedication to G-d, and as we will see on this web page, Elijah the Prophet will demonstrate why he is named Eliyahu or Elijah: he does indeed personify a character of powerful dedication to the G-d of the Hebrews.
According to Jewish tradition, the Prophet Elijah lived in a cave on Mount Carmel (where the present-day city of Haifa, Israel is located) in the 9th century B.C.E. during the reign of King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel.
An example of Elijah the Prophet's strong defense of the one true G-d was demonstrated during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, which is described in the first biblical Book of Kings (I Kings 18:1-39). King Ahab was the 7th king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Queen Jezebel was the beautiful daughter of Ethbaal, the priest-king of Tyre (Tyre is a coastal city in present-day Lebanon). The Tyrian culture in which she came from worshipped idols, or multiple G-ds depicted by physical images. Ironically, the name "Jezebel" means "chaste" in Hebrew, meaning morally pure, yet she was just the opposite of this! At the urging of Queen Jezebel, the Hebrews began to worship the idol Baal (or Ba'al), which was a nature G-d. Elijah the Prophet saw what was happening and vigorously stressed monotheism to all in the kingdom and stated that there was no other reality except the one true G-d of the Israelites or Hebrews. As punishment for the transgressions of the Hebrews in worshipping Baal, Elijah the Prophet prophesied that a great drought would occur in the kingdom of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, which soon struck the kingdom and lasted for three and a half years until G-d told Elijah the Prophet to appear before King Ahab whereupon G-d would then send rain down onto the earth. According to this story, a contest of strength was held to determine the true deity. At that time and in that kingdom, the sacred animal that represented the idol Baal was the bull, which symbolized Baal's power and fertility. In this contest, each of the contestants would attempt to offer a young bull to his deity. The prophets of Baal comprised the contestants for Baal, and Elijah the Prophet was the contestant for the G-d of the Hebrews. The contestant whose sacrifice was miraculously accepted had unquestioning proof of the legitimacy of their deity. This acceptance was to be demonstrated as a fire consuming the burnt offering, as stated by Elijah the Prophet. Two similar bulls were to be offered, however, it is initially unclear from the first Book of Kings as to who provided the bulls to both Elijah the Prophet and the prophets of Baal, because the individual who provided the bulls is spoken of in the third person. However, a midrashic (scholarly) analysis of later verses in the first Book of Kings determine that it is Elijah the Prophet himself who provides both bulls for all the contestants.
Elijah the Prophet told King Ahab about this contest, and asked him to bring all the Hebrews and the prophets of Baal and prophets of Ashirah (or Asherah) in his kingdom to come witness this event. King Ahab agreed and summoned all the Hebrews in his kingdom to Mount Carmel. He also summoned the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, who numbered four hundred and fifty men. Elijah said to the prophets of Baal: "Choose for yourselves one of the bulls and prepare it first," (1 Kings 18:25) at that moment 450 prophets of Baal gathered along with 400 prophets of Asherah (Asherah was a pagan goddess, with the cult symbol being tree trunks with all of their branches removed and images carved into them.). Elijah the Prophet offered to let the prophets of Baal go first with their offering, since he told them that they were the majority. The 450 prophets of Baal then prepared their bull on the wood of the altar according to their practice and called out to Baal to consume the offering in fire, but nothing happened. They tried calling Baal from morning to evening when the meal offering was performed, but no fire consumed the offering.
When it was Elijah's turn to offer the bull on the altar, he told the people in attendance to come closer to him, and they did. He first repaired the damaged altar by using 12 stones that represented the 12 tribes (or sons) of Israel (or Jacob), and then consecrated the altar to the G-d of the Hebrews by declaring "Israel shall be your name." He then used the 12 stones to build an altar in the name of G-d, complete with a trench that was large enough for two seahs of seed (A "seah" is a unit of measure that is equivalent to approximately 6 liters.). Elijah the Prophet then laid out the wood, and cut up the bull and laid it on the wood. Elijah then told those in attendance to "Fill four jars with water and pour it over the burnt offering and the wood." Then he said: "Do it a second time"; and they did it a second time. "Do it a third time," he said; and they did it a third time. The water ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water.
When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said, "O L-rd, G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known today that You are G-d in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding. Answer me, O L-rd, answer me, that this people may know that You, O L-rd, are G-d; for You have turned their hearts backward."
Then fire from the L-rd descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When they saw this, all the people in attendance flung themselves on their faces and cried out: "The L-rd alone is G-d, The L-rd alone is G-d!"
Elijah the Prophet was known by many names that were used as descriptions of him. He was also known as Elijah The Tishbite because he belonged to a class of people called "toshavim" ("dwellers" in Hebrew) since he once dwelt in Transjordanic Gilead, but he was not a citizen of that area, and so the descriptive name "Tishbi" or "Tishbite" ("settler" or "dweller" in Hebrew) was applied to him and appended to his name. Because Elijah dwelt or lived in Transjordanic Gilead, a geographically-oriented descriptive name was applied and appended to his name and as a result, he was also known as Elijah the Gileadite. However, some have concluded that the word Tishbite refers to persons who were born in an area known as Tishbe that is located in the mountains of Gilead in what is now northern Jordan.
Jewish legends recall the mystical appearance of Elijah the Prophet in times of trouble, to promise relief and redemption, to lift downcast spirits, and to plant hope in the hearts of the downtrodden. There is also a legend that when Elijah the Prophet arrives, he will resolve differences in Talmudic opinions between the Talmudic Sages and between contemporary rabbis and scholars.
Elijah the Prophet is one of the very few individuals mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that didn't really die, but instead was carried off in a flaming chariot. After this occurred, Elijah's servant and disciple Elisha (a man's name in this case) carried on Elijah's policies concerning fighting pagan influences in the Kingdom of Israel. Elisha was a minor prophet, but a prophet nonetheless, as demonstrated by his name: Elisha means "my G-d who responds" in Hebrew. Since the soul, every soul, hears G-ds' call, then each soul is therefore a prophet, hence the name "Eli" (my G-d) "Sha" (who responds).
In Passover Seder Step #14 of 15 Steps (see our Passover Seder page for more details), the Prophet Elijah, symbol of the humble wayfarer, is invited to enter the home through the symbolic opening of the front door to the house. The Book of Prophets states that Elijah the Prophet never really died but instead was taken to Heaven in a flaming chariot. Being a Prophet, Elijah has continued to deliver messages from G-d to this day. Jewish tradition believes that Elijah visits every Passover Seder that takes place around the world. The Cup of Elijah, usually a goblet that is filled with "Kosher for Passover" red wine and represented in the left border of this web page, is confirmation of the hope of Elijah's arrival into the house. Since the Book of Prophets says that Elijah the Prophet is the forerunner of the arrival of the Messiah, opening the door for Elijah means that Jews hope that Elijah will arrive to mark the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate redemption for the Jewish people and for all humankind. More specifically, the coming of the Messiah will usher in the age of permanent peace, freedom, and tranquility for both the Jewish people and for all humanity. Prior to opening the door for Elijah the Prophet, we connect his purpose and symbolism with the Passover festival: when on this Passover Seder night we pray for freedom, we remind ourselves of the memory of Elijah the Prophet and pray that his spirit enters our home and every home to offer a message of faith in the goodness of man, hope for the future, and the assurance that freedom will come to us all. Following this, we welcome the Prophet Elijah into our household as all at the Passover Seder table stand up. One person opens the front door of the house for Elijah to enter. After the door is opened, the Seder leader then follows with an appeal to ask G-d for protection of the Jewish people from evil and persecution and to ask G-d to direct G-ds' wrath upon those that promote evil and persecution and who attempt to destroy the Jewish people. We then wish that Elijah the Prophet enters the hearts of all people, inspiring them to love G-d. We hope that Elijah's presence in the hearts of all people will inspire them to build a good and better world in which justice and freedom will be inherited by all. Following this recital, the door is then closed and all at the Passover Seder table sit down again.
After welcoming and opening the door for Elijah, and connecting his purpose and symbolism with the Passover festival as outlined in the previous paragraph, the fourth of four cups of wine is then filled for each person at the Passover Seder table, and then the Seder leader asks all at the Passover Seder table to join in reciting a selection of Songs (or Psalms) of Praise, that are known as the 'Hallel'; specifically, Psalms 115-118 from the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew bible. These psalms of praise are about praising G-d for G-ds' blessings which are bestowed on the Jewish people and for the goodness which G-d grants the Jewish people each and every day. The closing of the Passover Seder is highlighted by the 'Redemption Theme', as well as a reminder that the joyous festival of Passover is to be shared with the less fortunate. All Passover foods and the 4 cups of wine served at the Passover meal carry a significant symbolic meaning and weight in the mind of each guest, and the recital of the Passover story and its rituals serve to remind the individual of his/her importance, enabling the person to be aware of gratitude and, just as important, widen an individual's perspective of himself/herself in relation to his/her fellow human beings. The message of Passover carries a sense of humbleness to the self, placing one's frame of mind in a more balanced proportion relative to one's immediate surroundings and to the universe as a whole. Self-centeredness can magnify one's view of the world to the point where one can only see oneself more than one can see one's environment and those in it. The Feast (and Feat) of Freedom, called Passover, is a shining example of a meaningful story showing G-d's intent to convey a psychological balance between the Hebrews' self-concerns and the concerns of their enemies, the Egyptians, as G-d reminds the Hebrews to pray for the fallen Egyptian army and the slain first-borns of the Egyptian families by declaring to the Hebrews that 'the Egyptians are my creation as well'. Thus, Passover's concept of personal and collective freedom is not only a cause for celebration, but a strong lesson in the value of proportion and balance in how a person should conduct oneself or how a group should conduct itself in relation to other human beings. Shalom!