“I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem, that he shall return the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi Chapter 3).
Elijah the prophet (pictured) is widely assumed to be an incarnation of Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, who took dramatic steps to prevent widespread licentiousness among the children of Israel.
In his day, Elijah took a similar stand against the wicked King Ahab (husband of Jezebel) and earned fame for his successful showdown against the false prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. He stands up for what he believes to be right, often at great personal cost.
His presence is ubiquitous in Jewish history and rabbinic literature and is unique in Jewish consciousness in that his death is not recorded as such; rather he is described as ascending to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
The Maharal of Prague explains that since he departed this world without dying, he is able to reappear in later generations -— this is because his mission transcends the barriers of time. Stationed in Gan Eden, which means the garden of time, or timelessness, he can journey through different eras in history with access to all times. His immortality suggests that his mission, as well as ours, has not yet been fulfilled.
Elijah, being the harbinger of the redemption, has an honoured place at the Seder. Following grace after meals we open the door in the hope that he will come and inform us of the final redemption.
Before the coming of Mashiach, with the restoration of prophecy, Eliyahu will appear again to help the Jews return to Hashem.
- Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is educational director at Jewish Futures Trust