Tag Archives: Easter

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

Easter, Passover, and Myriad Truths

When our universe as we know it first emerged, the soil of the earth was imbued with a wondrous power—the power to generate life.

Place a tiny seed in the ground and it converts the carbon of the air into a mighty redwood—a decomposing seed awakens the power of the infinite.

Yet another miracle, even more wondrous: A quiet act of kindness buried in humility ignites an explosion of G‑dly light.

Infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Seeding Miracles”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Depending on your religious orientation, we are entering a “season of miracles” in a few days. If you’re Christian, then you are certainly looking forward to Holy Week, culminating with the festivities of Easter and the celebration of the risen Christ this coming Sunday. If you’re Jewish, then you are busy preparing your home and your soul for the Passover season, which begins with Erev Shabbat this coming Friday evening.

Or you have another sort of religious tradition that has no holidays at this time of year, or a tradition that contains no wonders or miracles at all.

I haven’t celebrated Easter for many, many years but I usually look forward to Passover. My wife and I haven’t discussed plans for Pesach this  year, and there are years when we don’t have a personal Pesach seder in our home. Life gets hectic and my spouse isn’t always up to the challenge of preparing an elaborate meal along with the many other preparations and tasks she performs. I suggested yesterday morning, that my sons and I take a turn this year at preparing the Passover meal, but my daughter (who knows what it all entails) just rolled her eyes (mercifully, my wife wasn’t present when I “shot off my big mouth”).

I’ve been avoiding the obligatory Passover blog posts so far due to the uncertainty of the season and, like corporate fellowship, I may have to admit that there will be no personal Passover for me this year. I suppose because I’m not Jewish that it shouldn’t apply to me anyway, so in that, there is no loss if one less Christian isn’t available to attend a purely Jewish commemoration of freedom from slavery and bonding with God.

While, as Rabbi Freeman says, “infinite power is hidden in the humblest of places,” sometimes only humility is to be found in such places as well. There is a time to rise up, to attempt to exceed your limitations, and strive to touch the hem of the garment of God. There are other times that it’s best to step aside and make room for others to achieve that purpose by making yourself small and still. The latter is what’s best for me.

I used to think that so much time had passed since I initiated this “experiment” that my “alternate path” should be apparent to me by now. However, I realize that only an instant has elapsed and it is my place to sit in the shadows and wait. If there is a “miracle” for me, it will be the silence and the muted shades and the stillness of the abyss as I contemplate my existence and ponder on the wonder of God and His unique, radical Oneness.

And I contemplate my path and consider the fork in the road. I can hardly say that it’s either Judaism or Christianity that presents themselves before me, since my options are not two but rather nearly infinite. Within Christianity, there are a myriad of possibilities, both “formal” and idiosyncratic. Judaism, as an option, really doesn’t present itself to me for the simple reason that I am not Jewish. Yet some part of that voice speaks to me and incorporates itself in the other, more “appropriate” options that I still find available to me. Rabbi Freeman presents the transcendent path of truth as containing two paths, but indeed, it contains so much more.

If you find yourself affixed to a single path to truth—

the path of prayer and praise,

or the path of kindness and love,

or the path of wisdom and meditation,

or any other path of a singular mode

—you are on the wrong path.

Truth is not at the end of a path.

Truth transcends all paths.

Choose a path. But when you must, take the opposite path as well.

But if “truth transcends all paths,” then how do you tell truth from its opposite? If choosing truth means choosing opposite paths, when how can I make a choice? If I can’t make a choice, I can then walk no particular path in seeking God.

That leaves me with an impossible decision and no way to make that decision. How can I choose truth if truth is transcendent but I am only human?

If, for me, there is no Easter and there is no Passover, then my choice is to choose no option. That may be the only choice in relation to truth as well. Is it Jacob’s ladder of prayer that sits in front of me, shimmering faintly in the darkness and taunting me in the twilight, or is it the point at which a billion, billion paths converge all demanding I choose the truth and all demanding I choose all truths?

Hypothetical indecision must give way to practical living. I still must wake up each morning, must acknowledge God as the author of my life, such as it is, must get dressed, go to work, labor, go home, be a husband, and father, and grandfather, and walk all the different paths that my life requires, as my tiny march of days on this earth continues to elapse.

All of Judaism will be reading from the seder in a few days, and in a week, Christianity will turn to the end of the Gospels and the resurrection of Jesus. But I will wait and by the dim light of a candle or my soul (I can’t always tell which), I’ll thumb through the pages of Lamentations:

My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
by his hand they were fastened together;
they were set upon my neck;
he caused my strength to fail;
the Lord gave me into the hands
of those whom I cannot withstand.

Lamentations 1:14

Vayikra: Voluntary Offering

The Torah portion Vayikra discusses various types of korbanos, sacrificial offerings, first relating the laws of voluntary offerings and then of obligatory offerings. Why does the Torah begin with free-will offerings; one would think that we should first be made aware of the laws regarding the korbanos that must be brought, and only then learn about the details of the voluntary offerings. The answer is that, by doing so, it indicates that the most crucial aspect of all offerings is that they be offered from a genuine desire to come closer to G-d – “his heart’s intent is for the sake of Heaven.”

It can thus be said that all korbanos are to be considered free-will offerings, for at the crux of all offerings are the feelings of the individual bringing them.

In fact, the intention required is found within each and every Jew, but when an individual brings a free-will offering, these latent desires are revealed for all to see.

Thus, it is not necessary for the Torah to command this intent, for it is found in any case; bringing the offering will automatically reveal the Jew’s innate intention of drawing close to G-d.

-from “Korbanos and the Heart’s Intent”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, pp. 9-13
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

In Christianity, we have a tendency to view Jewish religious behavior as obligatory, works-driven acts; almost a kind of “slavery” to God. By comparison, the Christian believes that grace makes us as free as a bird in flight to enjoy the peace and understanding of a loving and forgiving God. What we do in response to the grace of God and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is based (ideally) on sheer gratitude for all God has done for us. There are few, if any, obligations incumbent on the Christian, or at least that’s how it sounds when most Pastors deliver their message from the pulpit on Sunday.

But here we see a different side of Judaism, one that we’re not always aware of. We see that a Jew is encouraged to embrace the motivation of voluntarily drawing closer to God. It’s not a slave approaching a Master with bloody sacrifices on a hot, burning, and ash-filled altar, but a person who actually wants to approach, as a lover with a gift, desiring to enter into the presence of her paramour.

Today’s daf continues to discuss the halachos of various issurei kareis.

The evil inclination will drive a person insane if given half a chance. First it entices a person to sin. Then it riddles him with thoughts of guilt and gloomy thoughts of what will be the result of his sinful activities.

Rav Yitzchak Sher, zt”l, explained why the yetzer hara won’t even allow a person to enjoy having sinned. “The yetzer wants to kill us, as our sages teach. He therefore pushes one to sin and urges God to punish the hapless fellow. Even if he cannot kill us, he wants us to suffer. He is in essence saying, ‘You sinned, now give up all the pleasure too.’”

One of the strongest arguments the yetzer has is when a person transgresses issurei kareis, chas v’shalom. The evil inclination immediately begins harping on this stain, insisting that teshuvah doesn’t help—in direct contradiction of the Gemara itself. Yet even one who learned that kareis can be rectified cannot help being daunted by the need for Yom Kippur and yesurin to clean away such guilt. Although the Meiri there adds that a complete teshuvah also atones alone, who can say he has done a complete teshuvah?

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, brings that the Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah, zt”l, teaches how to wipe away even the kareissins. “It is brought from the Arizal that one who did a sin punishable by kareis should stay awake the entire night and learn Torah, especially those segments where the sin he transgressed is discussed.”

The Yesod V’Shoresh Ha’avodah adds, “This practice is most frequently followed during the nights of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. The custom is for people to stay on their feet and learn Meseches Kareisos the entire night.”

The Chofetz Chaim adds that one who learns Meseches Kareisos well attains added holiness and purity. Learning this tractate is a segulah to rectify transgressions.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Repairing the Damage”
Kereisos 3

That doesn’t sound very voluntary, but when we have distanced ourselves from God, it’s pretty tough to actually want to face Him again, particularly after we’ve sinned and let Him down. Guilt makes things a mess and we’ll put ourselves through all kinds of pain and sorrow as a result.

But God does not want sin to make His people distant and desires that His chosen ones draw close, even after periods of separation.

The unique love which G-d shows the Jewish people is reflected in the beginning of our Torah reading, which states: “And He called to Moshe, and G-d spoke to him.” Before G-d spoke to Moshe, He called to him, showing him a unique measure of endearment. G-d did not call Moshe to impart information; on the contrary, He called him to express the fundamental love He shares with our people. (For although it was Moshe alone who was called, this call was addressed to him as the leader of our people as a whole.)

The inner G-dly nature which we possess constantly “calls” to us, seeking to express itself. This is reflected by the subject of the Torah reading, the sacrificial offerings. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, shares a root with the word kerov, meaning “close.” Sacrifices bring the Jews’ spiritual potential to the surface, carrying our people and each individual closer to G-d.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
from “The Dearness of Every Jew”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayikra
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, pgs. 24-26;
Vol. XVII, pgs. 12-15;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. I, p. 327ff

But how does this speak to the Christian? Actually, it speaks to us especially so that me might understand how passionately God does not want His chosen ones, the Jewish people, to be distant from Him…ever. How can the joining of the nations to the God of Israel ever diminish, or God forbid, destroy the loving union between the Jews and God? How can we ever dare believe such as thing?

But if God is so close to the Jew, where does that leave the Gentile?

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

God’s grace and mercy are not limited to the Jewish people, although the Jews have been and always shall be a special people unto the Creator. God grants His grace to the nations of the world as well, but here’s the catch. We must volunteer to draw near to Him. We are not compelled to do so, nor are we born into His grace.

To one degree or another, if you are born Jewish, even though God desires the Jewish person to draw near of his or her own free will, there is an attachment of the Jew to all other Jews and to the Torah that can never be disconnected. You belong, quite frankly, whether you want to or not. This is not true for the rest of us. Although each of us was created in God’s own image, we either choose to draw near to Him or we choose to be distant. Even the atheist, who believes it is more rational to disbelieve in the existence of God, is still making a choice, since knowledge of God is abundant in the world around us.

But God desires us. He desires that we all draw near to Him and that none should be lost or perish (2 Peter 3:9). But we must desire Him. How can this be done, since all human beings desire only their own wants and needs without hardly a thought of God? It would take a miracle. Rabbi Touger’s commentary continues.

The G-dly potential within every Jew and within our people as a whole will not remain dormant. Its blossoming will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption. At that time, the Jewish people will “relate [G-d’s] praise” in a complete manner, showing our gratitude for the miracles performed on our behalf.

Herein we see a connection to the month of Nissan, during which Parshas Vayikra usually falls. Our Sages associate Nissan with miracles. Further, Nissan is the month in which the Jews were redeemed, and the month in which we will be redeemed in the future. At that time, our entire nation will proceed to our Holy Land and “relate [G-d’s] praise” in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place in the immediate future.

The Rabbi’s words echo those of the Apostle Paul who also said that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). We also see how the rest of us are included in God’s grace, as Rabbi Touger says that the “blossoming” of Jewish holiness, “will lead to an age when the G-dliness latent in the world at large will become manifest, the Era of the Redemption.”

This is the era of the Messiah’s return.

The Christian world is looking forward to a reminder of the return of Jesus in its celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday, which is on April 8th this year. For the Jew, the special time of redemption is when the Jewish people were redeemed from slavery by God, during the Passover season, which begins at sundown on Thursday, April 5th. I personally relate more to the Passover season for reasons too numerous to mention here, but regardless of which time you hold dear in your heart, realize that we are called, not to be chained to God, but to fervently desire to be near to Him, to draw close, to love His Word and His Presence in our lives.

To want to be near God, we must believe we are safe when we are with Him. We must do more than hope in Him, we must trust in God, something that is not always easy for me. I suppose this is a major reason why our relationship isn’t what it should be. I suppose it’s why God drops little reminders into my calendar; little invitations to draw near to Him. He does so every week on Shabbat. He does so every day for morning and evening prayers. He does so many times a year and, after all, as I just mentioned, Passover is drawing near. These are times when God asks me to set aside my doubts and fears, to trust Him, to believe in miracles, and to approach.

Trust transcends hope, as the sky above transcends the earth below.

The heart that clings to a thread of hope is anchored to its earthly bounds. It desires to receive, but its capacity is tightly defined. The thread snaps and your eyes look up to see nothing more than the open sky. Hope is gone. All you can do now is trust the One who has no bounds.

That is Trust: When you stop suggesting to your Maker what He should do. When you are prepared to be surprised and open to wonders and miracles.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Trust over Hope”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.