Dressing as Elijah & Pouring Out Love

Three customs regarding the seder verses "Pour Out Thy Wrath"

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In the traditional Passover Haggadah, a verse from Jeremiah (10:25) appears following the Grace After Meals, when the door is opened for Elijah the Prophet: "Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not on Thy name; for they have devoured Jacob, yea, they have devoured him and consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation." In Hebrew, the verse begins, "Shefokh hamatkha…" Many Jews, especially in modern times, have had problems with the violent nature of this verse. The following article describes three customs, the last of which offers a creative alternative to reciting this verse. Reprinted with permission from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Quite a few scholars have already detailed the history of these verses, which are recited after Birkat Hamazon [the Grace After Meals] and before Hallel. We shall describe here three customs related to these verses:

Dressing Up As Elijah 

The apostate Antonius Margaritha (born ca. 1490) relates in his book Der Gantz Judisch Glaub, published in Augsberg in 1530, that when Jews open the door for shefokh, someone in costume enters the room quickly, as if he is Elijah himself coming to announce the coming of the Messiah.

R. Yosef Yuzpah Hahn (1570-1637) says, "how good is the custom that they do something in memory of the Messiah. One falls into the entranceway at the beginning of shefokh to show during the night of our first redemption our strong belief in our final redemption."

Apparently, someone would pretend to be Elijah coming through the door, and Rabbi Hahn thought that this was a wonderful custom. But R. Yair Hayyim Bachrach (1638-1701) was opposed to this custom: "But what the servants and maids are accustomed to make the figure of a man and the like, something frightening when the door is opened--this is only licentiousness and derision."

This custom clearly fits in with the Cup of Elijah and other Elijah customs at the seder. It may have been another tactic to keep the children awake. On the other hand, this may be a misunderstanding of the "wandering Jew" skit which took place, at many different points in the seder. 

Praying for Salvation

In the Haggadah Shel Pesach with the commentary attributed to the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), first published in Warsaw in 1905, we find another custom related to Elijah. In the instructions, the author says that after drinking the third cup of wine, we fill the fourth cup, and we fill another cup in honor of Elijah the Prophet.

Afterwards, it is customary to open the door in honor of Elijah the Prophet, and it is fitting to say this while the door is open:

"May the All-merciful send us speedily Elijah the Prophet of blessed memory, and may he tell us good tidings, and salvation. As it is written (Malachi 3:23-24): 'Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet, before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord. He shall reconcile parents with children and children with parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.' And it is written (ibid., v. 1): 'Behold, I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me, and the Lord whom you seek shall come to His Temple suddenly. As for the angel of covenant that you desire, he is already coming.'"

This is indeed a beautiful custom, but we now know that this Haggadah, first published by Rabbi Yudl Rosenberg (1859-1935), was also written by R. Yudl Rosenberg, not the Maharal of Prague, as it claimed. This prolific author was also the author of Nifl'ot Maharal, first published in 1909. That work is the main source for the idea that the Maharal created a Golem [a being that became animate through the use of the name of God]. Both works are based on manuscripts supposedly found in the "Royal Library of Metz". The only problem is, that such a library never existed. These works and others were the products of R. Yudl's fertile imagination.

Modern Alternatives 

Some modern Haggadot include an alternative version of Shefokh Hamatkha instead of, or in addition to, the traditional verses.63b

Rabbi Leopold Stein (1810-1882) was a German Reform rabbi who published numerous Reform prayers and prayerbooks over the course of 40 years. In his Seder Ha'avodah, published in Mannheim in 1882, he printed the following instead of Shefokh Hamatkha:

Shefokh ruhakha al kol bassar
V'yavo'u kol ha'amim l'ovdekha
Shekhem ehad v'safah ahat
V'hayta lashem hamelukhah.

Pour out Your spirit on all flesh
May all nations come to serve You
Together in one language
Because the Lord is the Sovereign of Nations.

In Hatza'ah L'Seder, a new Israeli Haggadah published by the staff of the Midrasha at Oranim Teachers' College in 2000, the following addition appears after the three traditional Shefokh verses:

A piyyut which exhibits a different attitude to non-Jews (found in a Haggadah manuscript from the early 16th century):

Shefokh ahavatekha al hagoyim asher yeda'ukha
V'al mamlakhot asher b'shimkha kor'im
Biglal hasadim shehem ossim im zera ya'akov
U'meginim al amekha Yisrael mipi okhleihem
Yizku lirot b'tovat b'hirekha
V'lismoah b'simhat hagekha.

Pour out your love on the nations who know You
And on kingdoms who call Your name.
For the good which they do for the seed of Jacob
And they shield Your people Israel from their enemies.
May they merit to see the good of Your chosen}
And to rejoice in the joy of Your nation.

This prayer was first published by the bibliographer Naftali Ben-Menahem in 1963. It was supposedly discovered by Rabbi Hayyim Bloch (1881-ca. 1970) in a beautiful manuscript on parchment from the estate of Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer (1658-1724).

The Haggadah was supposed to have been edited in Worms in 1521 by "Yehudah b"r Yekutiel, the grandson of Rashi", but the manuscript was lost during the Holocaust.

However, a number of scholars have pointed our that this prayer was probably invented by Hayyim Bloch himself, who was born in Galicia and later moved to Vienna (ca. 1917) and New York (1939). He was one of the rabbis who published the Kherson letters attributed to the Besht and his disciples, which later turned out to be forgeries. He also published a letter from the Maharal of Prague, whose authenticity was already disproved by Gershom Scholem.

Finally, from 1959-1965 he published three volumes containing over 300 letters of great rabbis opposed to Zionism, but Rabbi Shemuel Hacohen Weingarten has proved that these "letters" were invented by Rabbi Bloch himself. Therefore, we may assume that "Shefokh Ahavatkha" was not composed in Worms in 1521, but rather by Rabbi Hayyim Bloch ca. 1963.

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Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.