This past Shabbat was Shabbat HaGadol. Literally “The Great Shabbat” that occurs the week before Passover begins. The question is, what is so great about it?
For many years rabbis would give very long talks about the laws of Passover that morning, sometimes lasting hours. There were of course a couple of problems with this. The people in the synagogue did not think it was so great to sit and listen to the rabbi for several hours. It was also a little late to do anything about it, anyway.
The real reason for this Shabbat to be called Great, is that Passover traditionally is considered to be the time of the coming of redemption, the beginning of the Messianic era. The Shabbat before would be one of preparation.
The way we prepare for this redemption is not obvious, and has to do with Elijah the Prophet. Elijah has a prominent place at the Passover Seder. We fill a cup of wine and leave it on the table. At a certain point in the Seder a young child goes to open the door to allow Elijah in, who then drinks from the cup. This of course opens all sorts of possibilities for adults to try to trick the children, particularly those adults who have already had at least their required amount of wine.
I always thought it was kind of strange that Elijah could make it around the world to everyone’s house, but could not get in the door himself. I eventually learned the real reason for the cup of Elijah.
There is a debate in the Talmud over how many cups of wine we should drink at the Seder. Some say four, others say five, depending on the interpretation of a particular verse in the Torah. The rabbis decided to compromise. We would drink four cups of wine, and leave a fifth on the table. When Elijah comes, meaning during the Messianic period, of which Elijah was the announcer, then we will know the final answer.
This means that the cup of Elijah is a symbol of compromise. Compromise in fact is what will bring redemption.
We live in a time when people think all the world’s problems, or at least their family’s problems will be solved if only people do exactly what they say, without compromise or change. People believe so much in the righteousness of their opinion that they are willing to end relationships and connections over their convictions.
My father taught me that being right does not always help. In fact you can be completely right and still spend the rest of your life on the couch.
Judaism values the process of decision-making as much, if not more than, any conclusion. A process that honors all opinions will build a much more solid family and community than a fight to the bitter end, no matter how right we think we are.
This is a good idea to remember at Passover, when a lot of families get together for the first time maybe since last Passover. Our homes have a daily reminder of the value of compromise. The mezuzah on the door posts of our houses and Jewish institutions are set on an angle. This, too, was a compromise. One group said it should be vertical. Another group said it should be horizontal. They compromised at an angle. It was more important to live in peace than to insist on getting one’s way.
Our tradition teaches us that the greatest thing we can do to bring redemption to the world is put our egos aside and learn to listen to others and find a common ground.
I wish all of us a Passover of joy and peace.