We welcome Elijah the Prophet at three unique Jewish rituals: annually at our Passover seders, every Saturday night during havdalah when we conclude Shabbat, as well as at every briss/brit milah when a son is welcomed into the covenant. As the harbinger of the messianic age, Elijah infuses each of these three Jewish rituals with hope for that future time of peace.
Just as Passover speaks to a historic past of exodus and redemption, so do we hope for such a future. Just as we experience a mini-Eden each Shabbat, so do we conclude it with hopes — to be heralded by Elijah — that every day may feel so blessed and filled with shalom for body and soul. As for the briss, why settle for a Jewish doctor when you can aim for the Messiah him/herself? Each baby has that potential, and Elijah is there to welcome him. (We will need to infuse further feminist spirit into the tradition and invite Elijah to the babynamings for daughters, as well.)
In Jewish folklore, Elijah is the prophet who comes to earth in various guises, performing miracles for communities and individuals in need.
In the Bible, Elijah was a miracle worker and healer. He was also a curmudgeon, derisive of the Israelites and their faithlessness.
Joseph Telushkin teaches (in the name of his grandfather, as I recall) that Elijah visits each Passover, havdalah, and briss as a punishment for his doubt in the future of the Jewish people. In other words, God is forcing him to do teshuvah (repentance) every single day for his own faithlessness. Brilliant Torah! (I wrote more about Elijah earlier in the month — February 6, “Meeting the Other” — during my visit to a different Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel dedicated to Elijah and his murderous tendencies.)
But there is another Biblical story (1 Kings 18) about Elijah that is beloved: that of his hiding in the cave to escape the wrath of Ahab and hearing “the small, still voice” of God. That cave is believed to be a grotto on Mount Carmel that is sacred to Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. After dropping off our rental car, Chaim and I took a cab to the top of a trail that would lead us to that cave (starting at the monastery Stella Maris and ending at the Bat Galim beach). The cave was certainly the holiest place I’ve experienced thus far in Israel this trip. The devotion I witnessed there reminded me of what I’d seen in the Western Wall tunnels five years ago in Jerusalem.
From the beach we took a bus to our Talpiot shuk to replenish our food supply, came home to cook for Shabbat, and are sadly too exhausted to walk the hour (uphill) to Reform synagogue Ohel Avraham at Leo Baeck for Shabbat services, though we loved them last Friday night.