The sun beams down on an empty chair

Waiting for Elijah

By Rabbi Stephanie Crawley

Elijah’s role in tradition is to be the herald of the messiah. At Havdalah, when we link the Garden of Eden of creation to the Eden of Eternity, the liturgy asks for him to come soon.

In Jewish lore, Elijah is thought to be a protector of children and a peacemaker. Tradition again includes the figure of Elijah in the Bris ritual—with a chair left open for him. And, perhaps most well-known, Elijah is invited into every home for Passover, with a symbolic chair and a glass of wine, in case he should arrive. The Seder includes a moment where we walk to the door and check to see if he is outside.

Elijah is a placeholder for hope. The hope of a promise of a new week, of a new child, and of a new year, where freedom is possible. My intention in writing was that this poem would sit in a dynamic tension that is ever present in Jewish existence the constant yearning for a better future, even as its arrival seems to be continually postponed.

I’ve set the table
each glass at each plate
And yours – more goblet than glass

That’s for you, I whisper to an empty chair

Don’t worry –
I won’t give up your seat

I was hoping to see you next month
as you made the rounds
welcoming new
babies into the world

Still, it would be great to have you visit now
Really – anytime.
Sure, it doesn’t have to be tonight.
And please – no gifts.
Showing up is enough.
but we could really use some of that peace
the protection you carry in your pocket

Ok – so you couldn’t make it last yearwas there no news to share?
did something come up?

Things always seem to be coming up with you
Always a maybe

Nevermind –
It really isn’t such a big deal to set an extra place
and maybe you’ll be here in time for singing

Is that you at the door, just now?

This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of the Vine.

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