New York – It is a custom on Pesach that is the fulfillment of our ancient traditions as well as inspiring to our immediate future. It is the filling up of the kos shel Eliyahu – the fifth cup of Elijah. We pour it and, as it seems is the custom, leave its contents untouched.
It is a Minhag not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch. We find it in the Chok Yaakov (480:6) and it is also cited in the Be’er Heitev and Sefer Yaavetz. There are also earlier references. What is the reason for this fascinating minhag? And what are its details?
The silver stores on Central Avenue (and in Boro Park and Williamsburg as well) sell larger cups for the Kos Shel Eliyahu. Some might even be gigantic. Is there any basis for this aspect of the Minhag? The Chsam Sofer too used to use a larger cup for Kos Shel Eliyahu according to his student (Likuttei Chaver Ben Chaim in the responsa section at the end of volume five.) The reason provided is for the glory and beauty of the Mitzvah.
The Mishna Brurah (480:10) explains that the pouring of this cup is to remind us of our Emunah that Hashem will redeem us from our galus, just like He redeemed us from Egypt. And that Hashem will send us Eliyahu the prophet to inform us of the arrival of Mashiach. The Mishna Brura juxtaposes this remark with the idea that we open the door on Pesach to remind us that it is Lail Shimurim, the night when Hashem guards us.
The Vilona Gaon explains that the reason is because there is a debate in the Gemorah whether we need a fifth cup and the halacha was not determined definitively. For this reason we pour a fifth cup, but we do not drink from it. It is called the cup of ELiyahu because he will come and resolve all of our halachic questions.
This author would like to suggest, perhaps another reason why it can be called the cup of Eliyahu. It is based on the notion of why we sing songs of Eliyhau HaNavi on Motzei Shabbos. There is a Midrash cited by the Maharil in his Hilchos Shabbos. The Midrash states that every Motzei Shabbos Eliyahu HaNAvi sits down and writes how careful we were in the Mitzvos of Shabbos. It is this care and devotion which will bring the future Geulah – and is thus announced by ELiyahu.
The recitation of Kiddush on the night of Shabbos is a fulfillment of a Biblical Mitzvah. The Mitzvah is to sanctify the Shabbos. On Yom Tov, we also sanctify the Yom Tov – but the Kiddush is predicated upon the Mitzvah of Shabbos. This too, is a fulfillment of sanctifying the Shabbos – when we sanctify the other holy days as well.
Eliyahu haNavi perhaps notes this custom too – where we sanctify the Yomim Tovim on wine and reports on it to HaKadosh Boruch Hu in fulfillment of how we sanctify what Hashem has given us. Our care and devotion in this will be noted and it too will help bring the Geulah. The Kiddush cup, is the badge and sign of our devotion to Shabbos and the holy days that follow with it. Eliyahu notes this and reports on it to bring the Geulah. It is also for this reason that the cup is so much larger. It is representative of Klal Yisroel’s devotion to Hashem’s Mitzvos.