By Rabbi Mark Melamut
When I was young, I remember being intrigued every year at Passover by the ritual of opening our doors at the end of the seder. I recall anxiously awaiting Elijah, who I thought might walk through our doors and finally enjoy his full cup of sweet Manischewitz wine. It was something us kids got to do in the seder, and we would energetically jump up, open the door, and just wait. Well, I’m still waiting, as my own children now jump up to open the doors of our home in expectation of the mysterious guest.
Passover is an opportunity for us to open our doors to the possibilities that life places before us. We open our doors at the beginning of the seder and we extend a warm and welcoming invitation, “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are hungry come and celebrate.” And, we open our doors at the end of the seder to invite in Elijah, a herald of peace. Will he stay and take a sip this year?
What is the origin of this tradition? There are at least two answers (of course). One is a story about Elijah which tells us that before he rose to heaven, he declared that he would return once each generation in the guise of a poor or oppressed person. He would knock on people’s doors for the sole reason to see how he would be treated. By the response offered him, he would know whether humanity had reached a level of ethical behavior necessary to bring about a new and peaceful reality. Another answer notes that opening the door was a cautionary move. Looking out the front door ensured that no one was hiding there, as we continued in the next part of the traditional seder. After we open the door, some read in the haggadah a section which calls upon G-d to take an active role in the defeat of our enemies.
If we think about it, this ritual of opening our doors is quite unique. Generally, the doors to our homes are not only closed, but locked as well. When someone knocks, we greet them at the door, but not before first asking, “Who’s there?” However, at this season of four questions our doors are ritually opened without question. I can think of other Jewish times in which we include the prophet Elijah, namely at havdallah and at a bris with Elijah’s chair, but when else do we ritually swing the doors of our homes wide open without a concern? This of course is not just fun for the kids, but it is pregnant with symbolism for us all. “For the door is the interface, the threshold, the meeting place between the inner Jewish world and the outer world. When it opens, how it opens, when it closes and how it closes has in a sense created Jewish history.” (David Moss, “The Moss Haggada”) Why do we open our doors at Passover? We are taught that as we open our doors, G-d opens all the gateways to the spiritual realms and provides access to the highest level of spiritual ascension. (R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson) Opening our doors is a prompt to get us to ask questions and to provide a breath of fresh air after a big meal. It ushers in Elijah and signals a welcome to others, and to letting them into our lives and our homes. And, it’s instructive, as we are to open ourselves to the world, to new ideas and to the insights of our own hearts. When our doors are open, fear can be replaced by hope.
An open door on Passover symbolizes a posture of openness to life’s possibilities. “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear as it is, Infinite. For a person has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern. (William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”) An open door helps us to see and appreciate each precious moment of life. “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.” (Alexander Graham Bell) Rather than being preoccupied with looking back, an open door orients us towards the direction of what comes next.
Passover is the great existential “knock” upon all of our doors. Just once a year, we don’t ask out of fear, “Who’s there?” Instead, in a moment full of hope, we celebrate our freedom and the precious privilege we have to open our doors and our hearts. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Passover full of possibilities,
Rabbi Mark Melamut