Who is Elijah the Prophet ?
Elijah the Prophet, also known as The Prophet Elijah ("Eliyahu Ha-Navi" or "Eliyahu HaNavi" in Hebrew), was a 9th century B.C.E. prophet who lived in the northern Kingdom of Israel, one of two successor kingdoms - the other being the southern Kingdom of Judah - to the United Kingdom of Israel. In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah the Prophet is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8; 2 Chronicles 21; 1 Kings 17, 18, 19, 21; 2 Kings 1, 2, 3, 9, 10; Ezra 10; and Malachi 3.
Elijah the Prophet had many events occur in his life, but here we will focus on The Prophet Elijah and his relevance to the Passover or Pesach festival. The name Elijah means "G-d is L-rd" in Hebrew, and true to his name, Elijah possessed a fervant attitude throughout his life on earth concerning upholding the belief in the One True G-d among his people - the Israelites, as well as the Judahites or Jewish people of the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Israelite king of the northern Kingdom of Israel at that time - King Ahab - was heavily influenced by his Phoenician queen from Sidon, Queen Jezebel, to turn away from the One True G-d of the Israelites and Judahites or Jewish people from the southern Kingdom of Judah, and instead worship her idol G-d, the Phoenician G-d Baal, of which a shrine on Mount Carmel was erected to Baal by Queen Jezebel. Temples to Baal were built throughout the northern Kingdom of Israel and the worship of Baal was approved by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Queen Jezebel also used her influential power over King Ahab to lead the Israelites to do sins and to rule over the Israelites in a tyrannical manner. Following the killing of the prophets of the One True G-d on an order from Queen Jezebel, Elijah the Prophet demonstrated his devotion to the One True G-d when he challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a test (told in 1 Kings 18) to determine if the One True G-d of Elijah's people was in fact the true G-d or if the true G-d was Baal, the Phoenician idol G-d that Queen Jezebel worshipped. Elijah proceeded to show through the test that the idol G-d Baal was a false G-d and that the One True G-d was a true G-d. This example of the absolute devotion of Elijah to the One True G-d was instrumental in his role in the Passover or Pesach festival since only a person who exemplified unparalleled devotion to G-d like Elijah would be appropriate for the role of being the forerunner and bearer of news to humanity that the arrival of the Messiah ("Moshiach" in Hebrew) on earth and hence, Messianic times, was imminent. The result of Elijah's actions throughout his life which demonstrated his absolute devotion to G-d was that he transformed his physical self into a pure, holy, and spiritual entity; in other words, into G-dliness, and as a result, was able to physically ascend to the spiritual worlds. In fact, Elijah the Prophet is the only person mentioned in the Hebrew Bible who never died but rather, physically ascended to the spiritual worlds in a flaming chariot. Since the arrival of Messianic times indicates in Judaism that the physical world has transformed itself into G-dliness - and the arrival of Messianic times is the culmination of that transformation - then it is only appropriate that The Prophet Elijah - who transformed his physical self into G-dliness while on earth - would be the one chosen to announce on earth to humanity that the arrival of the Messiah and of Messianic times was imminent.
In Jewish tradition, The Prophet Elijah will return to earth to inform all Jewish males of their exact genealogical lineage, including which Hebrew tribe they are from, etc. This is because according to Jewish tradition, Hebrew tribal lineage is through the male and Elijah is present at every "Brit Milah" or circumcision ceremony of every Jewish male and so Elijah knows the exact Hebrew tribal lineage of every Jewish male, and, by extension, of all females and males who are Jewish.
In the Passover or Pesach festival, when setting the Seder table for the Seder meal, a separate goblet or cup is set aside for Elijah since by Jewish tradition, Elijah visits every Seder that is held worldwide on both the first Seder night and, for Jewish people who celebrate an additional Seder, on the second Seder night. Toward the end of the Seder, in the 14th Step of 15 Seder Steps, when the orientation of the participants is directed to the future, the goblet or cup set aside for Elijah is filled with red wine. The door to the household is then opened just before Elijah is first mentioned during the Seder, to allow Elijah to enter and visit the Seder and its participants. Everyone at the Seder table then stands and Elijah is then welcomed into the household and he is then mentioned as the forerunner to the Messiah and an example of leading a G-dly life, in turn leading Elijah to symbolize hope and a better life for not only the Jewish people, but for all humanity. After the Seder leader recites this wish, the door to the household is closed and then everyone sits down again.
Elijah is also associated and his name is invoked with the major theme of Passover or Pesach: the theme of physical and political freedom from oppression. Just as Jewish people worldwide celebrate and commemorate their physical and political freedom from oppression in ancient Egypt - as it is said that in every generation, each Jewish person must experience and feel as if he or she has personally been freed from oppression in Egypt - all Jewish people who now live in politically free societies hope for and work toward the physical and political freedom from oppression that others, who are still under oppression, have not yet experienced. By achieving physical and political freedom for all, as well as each person overcoming their personal "Egypts" - meaning their personal shortcomings - and living a life of goodness, the conditions will be set for the coming of Elijah on earth to announce that the Messiah's arrival on earth to usher in Messianic times - a time of permanent peace, justice, and tranquility for all - will come shortly. Near the close of the Seder, a song is sung by the participants entitled "Eliyahu HaNavi" or "Eliyahu Ha-Navi" ("Elijah The Prophet" in Hebrew) that expresses this hope for Elijah to arrive on earth as soon as possible to indicate the imminent arrival of Messianic times, and so this song expresses a positive outlook toward the future.
As one can imagine from the above symbolism of Elijah The Prophet, Jewish tradition also states that since he is a prophet - and prophets deliver messages from G-d to humanity - Elijah mystically appears on earth whenever there are troubled times, bringing messages of hope for the future, relief, and redemption, to lift troubled spirits, and to instill hope in the hearts of the downtrodden. In every Seder, it is hoped that the visit of Elijah to the Seder will result in the spirit and inspiration of Elijah entering into the hearts of all humans, enabling them to love G-d with all their heart, to lead a G-dly life, and to inspire each and every person to build a better world for all. At every Seder, the hope for all Seder participants is that the spirit of Elijah entering the household will bring a message of assurance that freedom will come to all.