In a fiery chariot that rose towards heaven, Elijah disappeared from ordinary view and broke into Jewish religious imagination—now appearing at just the right moment, to prompt, protect, and provoke us to deepen ordinary events into Elijah Moments.
As a man, woman, sage, warrior, Bedouin, physician, pauper, and prince, ancient sages recognized him—sometimes in retrospect—on the road, in the ruins, and in the market. Very often, they recognized him in the doorway.
Never did one sage ask another: “But, how did you know that it was Elijah whom you met?”
Each colleague seemed eager to affirm that, even if not yet bringing the Messiah, Elijah could bring redemptive moments of sense and salvation. I cannot prove that this is so, but I too am eager to join the conspiracy to recognize Elijah in his many disguises—among them, anonymity. Here is a case in point, as remembered from my days as a congregational rabbi:
No one had claimed the hand-woven tallit of white wool with black, gold, and silver stripes found in the sanctuary after a Bar Mitzvah; nor did anyone respond to “lost and found” notices.
In the everyday world of remembering and forgetting, of lost and found, that tallit would likely have been forgotten on a storage shelf. But in the world of Elijah moments, the tallit was not lost, only found—a gift from Elijah!
From that day to this in our synagogue, Elijah’s tallit is used only on certain occasions: It becomes a huppah, or the covering of a “Chair of Elijah” at an infant’s covenant celebration. During the month of Elul, Elijah’s tallit covers a chair set before the Ark where individuals can spend private moments looking for Elijah moments at the door of the new year.
Neither we nor our ancestors ever summon Elijah, but the prophet appears to us through, and throughout, the parts of our everyday lives. The work of a whole life is to see as many parts as we can. The possibility of Elijah encourages me to look for a deeper part—hiding in plain sight. Patience is a key:
Said Elijah, always remembered for the good… I do not reveal myself except to one who is not impatient. Happy is the one who has met Elijah, the one who has sat with him. (Kallah Rabbati, 5)
May Elijah come slowly, and in our days!