Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Opening Doors: Shabbat Hagadol
This Shabbat before Passover is given a special name - Shabbat Hagadol- the great Shabbat. One explanation for this special name is that it is lifted from a verse we read in the special haftarah for this Shabbat which directly preceeds Passover.
Hinei anokhi sholeiach lachem et Eliyahu Hanavi lifnei bo yom Adonai hagadol vehanora.
“Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of God’s great and awesome day. (Mal. 3:23)
What is the great day, before which Elijah arrives? It is taught that Elijah will herald the Messiah on that great and awesome day at the time of the redemption of the world. And so on Pesach we end our seder, our evening of reliving the Egyptian redemption, with our hope for the full monty- the redemption of our broken world. As we open the door for Elijah, we create an opening, ritualizing an opening in ourselves. We welcome in the potential for transformative change- for a greater redemption -for freedom and peace to be manifested in global proportions.
But here, in this verse from which we derive the ritual, we see a very personal, intimate expression of healing. The verse does not speak in global proportions but rather describes a healing within each family, a healing between the generations. The full selection reads as follows:
Hinei anokhi sholeiach lachem et Eliyahu Hanavi lifnei bo yom Adonai hagadol vehanora. “Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of God’s great and awesome day.
V’heishiv lev avot al banim v’lev banim al avotam…He will turn the heart of parents to their children and the children’s hearts to their parents...” (Mal. 3:23).
This ancient verse acknowledges the perennial wounding that occurs in both generations when it says, “He will turn the heart of parents to their children and the children’s hearts to their parents...”
How rare it is to meet a family in which there is no one, who feels estranged or alienated from other members of the family, especially the relationships between parents and children.
In Hebrew, the land of Egypt is called Mitzrayim, meaning a place of constriction. Passover celebrates the awesome potential to move from a place of oppression to freedom. This includes emotional constriction which may feel as if there is a padlock on the heart. In our seder ritual, as we literally open the door to Elijah the prophet, we call on the potential to open up the constrictions of the heart that perpetuate the intergenerational wounds.
Whereas we begin the seder with a description of the 4 types of children and 4 different pedagogical approaches for sharing the story of our people, we end the seder with the very real acknowledgement, that the higher purpose of the “whole story” is to ultimately establish family harmony as a microcosm of world peace.
Must we wait however for Elijah and the Messiah to create such a healing?
Is it not in our hands?
Might we reconsider the power of the Elijah image as one that holds this very specific potential? Opening a closed door requires engagement. It is not a passive process. If the door has been shut for too long, it may require more work to open it. Likely, it requires tenacity, much like the spring bud that weathers the snow storm of April and declares, I am still here and I will open and make myself vulnerable.
This is the season of new beginnings, of new openings as delicate buds push through the boundaries of wood and soil. After the long winter, each and every year, it feels like a miracle… because it is. The miracle of rebirth is embedded in the nature of life. And each new blossom testifies to the regenerative forces that lie waiting in every relationship.
Elijah the prophet- we call upon your energy, You, the herald of transformation and healing, to remind us that we can indeed, soften and open our hearts.
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Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
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