Shabbat Tzav 5775
Since I was a child I was
fascinated with the prophet Elijah. As a child I remember staring at the Cup of
Elijah sitting on our Seder table looking for any of the wine to disappear,
proof the prophet had stopped by our home. In addition to being present on
Passover Elijah is also present at a host of other Jewish ritual events, most
notably Brit Milah, the Passover Seder, and the conclusion of Shabbat to name
but a few. On Passover we open the door for Elijah for whom we believe will
welcome in the coming of the Messiah. As a child I never fully understood why we
had to open the door for the prophet, could he not simply show up at our table?
Why must we get up and open the door for the ritual to have been observed. Perhaps
opening the door was itself an important part of the ritual of welcoming the
In his book, Justice
in the City, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen teaches the following Mishnah.
MISHNAH BAVA BATRA 1:5
“They may coerce him to [participate in the] building
of a gate house and a gate for the [joint] courtyard. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel
says: Not all courtyards need a gate house.”
It seems clear from the Mishnah
that building a gatehouse is completely acceptable, but as Shimon ben Gamliel
explains, not something that is necessary in all courtyards. In 2015 this can
be compared to having to pay condo fees or join the home owners association.
Essentially an individual can be coerced/persuaded into paying fees for the
greater good of his/her neighbors.
The Gemara, commenting on the
Mishnah text above, appears to agree with the reading of the Mishnah, then
throws in an interesting twist.
TALMUD BAVA BATRA 7B
“This implies that the building of a gate house is a
laudable thing. However, there is [the story of] that righteous person whom
Elijah spoke with [regularly]. He built a gate house for his house, and Elijah
no longer spoke with him.”
Rabbi Cohen points out that a
few assumptions are built into our reading of the Mishnah. First and foremost is that building a
gatehouse is commendable, or at a minimum, it is permitted. This being the case, we are then left to ask,
what is difference between the gatehouse in the Mishnah as compared to that in
According to Rashi, the
gatehouse built by the righteous person, was constructed to block out the poor
who are crying out so that their voices could not be heard. It was not a matter
of security or privacy, which we assume to have been the case brought in the
mishnah. The gatehouse of the gemara was constructed as a means of separating himself
from those around him, those who are in need, those who cry out for help. What
does it say about an individual who builds a fence for the sole reason of not
wanted to see or hear the people who live in the world around you? No wonder Elijah
stopped having his regular conversations with this person.
So what can this teach us
about opening the door for Elijah on Passover? Perhaps we must open the door so
that we make sure to see the outside world…to see beyond the proverbial
gatehouses we have set up and to be sure to hear the cries of those in need.
Redemption can only come when we see and hear those around us. Not by hiding inside our own homes and
communities, never venturing out into the world to actually see those for whom
we actually live. Imagine for a moment
that when we read the words “Let anyone who is hungry come and eat” we stepped
outside the comfort of our homes and our communities to find those in our
community who needed a table, who needed a meal, and listened to their stories.
As we prepare for Passover
let us take a moment to think about the gatehouses we have built in our own
lives. As we open the door this year for
Elijah, pause for a moment to see the world around you, to see those in need
and hear the cries of those less fortunate.