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Tzav

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet . . . And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” Malachi 3:23, 24

    Elijah, the prophet invoked by the final verses of the haftarah for Shabbat Hagadol, is closely associated with the Pesach Seder. Towards the end of this well-known ritual, we open the front door wide to him into our home.

    Yet as we stand in the open doorway, we simultaneously recite perhaps the most difficult phrase of the entire Seder, imploring God to take revenge on those who have hurt us: Sh’foch hamatcha al hagoyim, “Pour out Your wrath upon the nations”. At the very moment that we open our door as a sign of welcome, we also acknowledge the very real pain that the non-Jewish world has caused us.

    This scene captures the dilemma of how we as Jews ought to engage with the non-Jewish world: should we be fearful and angry over the pain that Pharaoh inflicted on us? Or should we be open to the unexpected and selfless kindness of Pharaoh’s daughter who saved us? Or, as the Pesach Seder scene suggests, is the answer that we must do both and live with the tension of that ambiguity?

    Strikingly, at this symbolic moment of ambiguity in the Seder, who should enter but the prophet who has become most associated with unanswered questions, Elijah. Whether at a Seder, havdalah, or a brit milah, Elijah is the character who appears at liminal moments in our lives to remind us that complex issues — peoplehood, holiness, family — do not have simple answers. His presence encourages us to live with complexity and ambiguity, in order to fulfil the verse of the Shabbat Hagadol haftarah, to “turn our hearts” to those complex relationships without simple answers.

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