Leaving the Door Open

At the Seder meal, we drink four cups of wine, but pour a fifth that sits on the table untouched. That fifth cup is our offering to Elijah the prophet, whom we then invite to drink by opening the door after we have completed the Seder meal. When my wife, the artist Jan Aronson, and I began working on a Haggadah together, she asked why the door was opened for Elijah at the end of the meal, not at the beginning.

The interpretations for why we open the door have evolved from the Middle Ages, when it was commonly believed we did this to ask for God’s protection, to now, when it is seen as welcoming a holy presence at the table. But I interpret the open door as a symbol of the mandate to include all comers to the Seder table, and to be generous in sharing the bounty of our festive meal.

To that end, in the Haggadah we wrote, we made the decision to invite Elijah in at the beginning of our meal. As the Jewish people, we should prioritize welcoming those who are not included. We are all inheritors of a beautiful and wondrous religion, and we must be generous in welcoming the unaffiliated and disenfranchised. To open the door at the beginning of the meal, not at the end, is to signify our intention that no one should be left out and that all are welcome as we celebrate this holiday of freedom.

Edgar M. Bronfman is president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. He is the author, with Beth Zasloff, of “Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

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