Opening the Door in the Passover Seder

(Page 30 of "An American Haggadah")

    Now to the opening of the door, after reciting the Kiddush over the 3rd cup. Children are told we are welcoming Elijah, in case he wants to join our seder; his cup is already waiting on the table! Perhaps he will bring some glad tidings for us, fulfilling what was read a bit earlier in the "Birkat Hamazon," the grace after meal:

      May the Merciful One send us Elijah the prophet, of blessed memory, to bring us good tidings, salvations and consolations

    Sad to say, but the open door has less to do with Elijah than with the lines immediately following it in the traditional Haggadah:

      "Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon kingdoms that did not call upon Thy name. For they have consumed Jacob, and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Thy rage upon them, and let Thy fury overtake them. Pursue them in anger and destroy them, from under the heavens of the LORD."

    Strong words, not taken kindly by Christian neighbors in Europe. The door was therefore opened for a practical reason--to make sure no adversary was eavesdropping, ready to pounce on the seder as soon as the offending words were spoken. Traditionally, every one rises for this part, and once it is over, the door is closed again.

    The world has changed and today--at least in the USA--these words can be spoken without fear of retribution. But still--is it appropriate to curse ceremonially all nations and anyone not Jewish, even using the words of Psalm 79?

    Sure, the words have been part of the seder for many centuries, an ancient tradition. But are they essential? "Aleinu," a prayer just as old, had derogatory words removed (at least among Ashkenazi Jews), after authorities threatened Jews with expulsion and worse. Are not these words contrary to the spirit of the seder?

    In this Haggadah, therefore, they were replaced by other words. But the door is still opened. In the traditional seder, the door is also opened at the beginning of the seder--when the leader invites "All who are hungry, come and eat." We open it at that time to demonstrate that our invitation is made in earnest.

    Here this theme is picked up again. We who enjoy freedom and ample food, should always bear in mind the less fortunate who are not so privileged. It is for them that the door is opened--symbolically, at least.


Back to Haggadah index page

Back to "Outreach" index page

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 11 February 2003