Passover: Kos shel Eliyahu

In addition to the four cups of wine that each participant drinks during the Pesach Seder, a fifth cup is placed on the Seder table. This cup, which is not drunk, is known as kos shel Eliyahu , Eliyahu’s Cup.

Regarding this cup, the Alter Rebbe states in his Shulchan Aruch : (Orach Chayim, 481:1.) “It is customary in these countries to pour an additional cup — one more than for those seated. This cup is called kos shel Eliyahu.” What is the reason for this additional cup, and why is it so named?

There is a difference of opinion in the Gemara regarding the necessity of pouring a fifth cup of wine. Since this matter was not clearly adjudicated, there are those who say that a fifth cup is placed on the table. This cup, they say, is called kos shel Eliyahu , because, just as Eliyahu will clarify all doubtful Halachic matters, he will clarify the ruling about this cup as well.

The very fact that kos shel Eliyahu is merely placed on the table and not consumed indicates that it is bound up with a level of Divine service loftier than man’s drinking of wine. This is so, for kos shel Eliyahu is bound up with the final Redemption, something that transcends man’s service.

This belief is to be found within all Jews, for all are “believers and children of believers.” And this is so, notwithstanding the individual’s revealed level of service. For every Jew intrinsically believes in and awaits the coming of Moshiach — this belief and anticipation being a Divine command both in the written and oral Torah. Moreover, these feelings grow ever stronger as we move closer to the Redemption.

“Kos shel Eliyahu— A Cup of Redemption”
Commentary on Pesach
The Chassidic Dimension
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pp. 48-53
and on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:27-29 (ESV)

The cup of redemption. The fifth cup. Based on the above, the meaning of this cup is abundantly clear. Its placement at the Seder table is a testimony to the coming redemption of the Jewish people by the prophesied Moshiach. But the cup of the Messiah has meaning for the Goyim as well, since the Master commanded that the nations also be joined to him as disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). Can I say that the actual Passover Seder has meaning for we Christians? Perhaps. I know that it has meaning to me.

I just became aware of the Christian tradition of Maundy Thursday. My daughter plays drums with the local Highlanders and the group practices once a week at a church. When I was driving her to practice on Wednesday evening, I saw on the church marquee a mention of Maundy Thursday, but neither one of us had any idea what it meant. Of course, I looked it up.

Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday and Thursday of Mysteries, is the Christian feast or holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter that commemorates the Maundy and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles as described in the Canonical gospels. It is the fifth day of Holy Week, and is preceded by Spy Wednesday and followed by Good Friday.


My first reaction when reading this was that it was a waste of effort, since Passover is a perfectly good occasion to commemorate these things and it existed thousands of years before the establishment of the Christian event. Kind of like re-inventing the wheel, and maybe it misses the point as well. I subsequently learned that there’s a little more to it than that. The interpretation of the scripture behind the holiday is that Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love each other and then (apparently) washed their feet, linking the two events. For different churches, this is interpreted either as a tradition, a custom, or an actual, literal commandment to show love by washing the feet of your fellow believer.

I think that’s a little too literal, and my interpretation was that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in a “teachable moment” to  illustrate a point by metaphor. But I’ve been wrong before.

Christianity sees the Passover as the commemoration of the death of Jesus and Easter as the celebration of his resurrection and his life, so I suppose they found it necessary to initiate Maundy Thursday to “fill in the gaps.” But as we have already seen, the presence of the fifth cup; Eliyahu’s Cup, is the presence of the promise of the redemption, which encompasses all of these things, including loving God and loving one another. Death and Life are bound together at the Seder table, along with the bitter herbs, the bread of affliction, and the sweetness of the charoset. The beitzah or roasted egg symbolizes life everlasting and the meaning of the shank bone of the lamb should be obvious.

While the Passover Seder is primarily the story and the promise of the Jewish people, the final Seder meal (if it was a true Seder) of the Master is the bridge that allows we who call ourselves by his name to also find meaning and significance in the promise of life through the death of the Lamb. When he was resurrected, joined with Jesus, so were we. But we don’t drink the fifth cup because of its transcendent nature, and because we have yet to come to that place in the progression of all things. The Moshiach hasn’t returned yet. When he returns, he will come for his chosen people, his lost sheep of Israel. And by the grace of God, he will also come for we among the nations, who wait in humility and unworthiness for the King of the Jews.

Why pour a cup if we lack the ability to drink it?

In the course of the Passover Seder we drink four cups of wine, corresponding to the four “expressions of redemption” in the Divine declaration (Exodus 6:2-8):

“I will take you out”,

“I will deliver you”,

“I will redeem you”,

“I will acquire you.”

But the final and culminating level of redemption – its “I will bring you” element, which shall be fully realized only in the era of Mashiach – is something that transcends our human efforts.

This is not a cup we can drink on our own. We can only bring ourselves to the threshold of this Divinely perfect world, through our active realization of the first four “expressions of redemption.”

The drinking of the fifth cup awaits Elijah, herald of the final and ultimate redemption.

“The Fifth Cup”
Commentary on the Passover Seder

Chag Sameach Pesach


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