Passover marks the beginning of spring, but many years ago at 3 o’clock in the morning – after a seder with friends – my mother, father, brother and I trudged home through a wooded Alberta ravine with snow up to our knees and more falling down onto our knitted hats and thick winter coats. Why had a Canadian winter not been one of the ten plagues inflicted upon Egypt?
The full moon illuminated the void between us and home, the ice crunched and echoed beneath our boots, and I worried whether an America’s Most Wanted fugitive was hiding behind the nearest tree or if a buck might mistake us for hostile intruders during the woodland mating season. The night was eerie and I was afraid, but my father told me not to worry. After all, “Leil Shimurim Hu” – seder night is one of divine safeguarding – and we display our faith in God’s protection when we open the door for Elijah the Prophet towards the seder’s end, late, late at night, well past our non-Jewish neighbors’ bedtimes.
A month ago, I wondered whether I would get to see snow again this Pesach, for the first time in nearly a decade since I’ve been home for the holiday. The answer is most certainly no. Due to the coronavirus pandemic my husband, son and I will be staying right here in New Jersey, our home-sweet-epicenter-home. For us, and for our entire community, there will be no guests.
Towards the seder’s end, when all is nearly said, eaten and sung, we will open the door and greet Elijah the Prophet as we do every year. Silently, looking out into the night, checking (in spite of all logic) whether the real, materialized Elijah the Prophet might be crouching beneath the seven or eight delivery boxes on the front porch. We will not see him, but we will somehow know he is there anyway. There will be no social distancing, and I will not force my husband to sanitize Elijah with a Clorox wipe (although I would kind of like to).
Normally, we ordinary Jews are the ones who display our faith by opening up our fragile earthly abodes in the middle of the night. This year, however, Elijah will be taking the greatest risk, drinking from every fifth cup of wine in every Jewish home around the world. Yet, Leil Shimurim Hu – during his lifetime Elijah evaded the murderous wrath of Queen Jezebel, and surely in his afterlife will survive coronavirus as well.
We will implore Elijah to reveal whether he has at last come to bring us redemption. We will ask him, good-natured but impatient, whether he has finally brought along Moshiach ben Dovid as his plus one. And even if he hasn’t, we will offer him the wine from our table, and examine that cup out of the corners of our eyes to see if the wine level has gone down.
I will ask him, silently, to take with him hugs and kisses to my mother and father and brother, two time zones and thousands of miles away. I will think of individual family members and friends who are alone at their tables, with Elijah as the sole other person at the seder, and even then only toward the seder’s close. Next year, in Jerusalem. Together?