There is an always an air of anticipation in the weeks before Pesach. It is one of the most joyous times of the year, and people are in the final stages of their cleaning and planning for Seder gatherings.
Pesach is such an important family time. But the transient nature of our society makes the words of the haftara for Shabat HaGadol, the Shabat before the holiday, so much more poignant. God promises that Elijah, harbinger of the Messiah and secret visitor to every Seder, will come on "that great and awesome day." In doing so, "he will turn the heart of the parents to the children, and the children to the parents." On this great and awesome day, the Great Shabbes, the eve of Elijah's arrival, our hearts turn to each other, just as the prophet Malachi promised.
But sometimes the anticipation exceeds the realization. It is a sad fact that too many families and friendships have been poisoned by rancor or resentment. A slight or an insult has been enshrined in the heart of the offended, or perhaps a necessary apology has become lodged just behind the offender's vocal cords. Either way, the reverie of today's anticipation gives way to familiar patterns of antagonism. This great and awesome day becomes a gratingly awful day.
There is, however, a remedy. The annual cycle Torah portion alludes to it in one of the last verses.
After completing the consecration of Aaron and his sons as the priests of Israel, Moses provides one last set of instructions, which God has commanded him to recite. The new priests are to take up residence at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting for seven days. "You shall remain at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord's charge," says Moses, "that you not die."
It is a peculiar commandment with a rather harsh penalty for an infraction. We have no record of what occurred during those seven days, but the father and his four sons respectfully, perhaps even joyfully, respected this commandment. It must have been a remarkable family time.
But we who know the rest of the story are chilled by that warning, "that you not die." Two of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Abihu, will shortly die for offering strange fire in the Tabernacle. Aaron's family will never be whole again. Of course, they had no way of knowing. Death comes unexpectedly. Their time of gathering - seven days, just like Pesach - was a gift that satisfied twice: the first time when they observed together and the second time when the survivors remembered their sons and brothers without regret.
May it be God's will that we all be granted long and healthy lives, filled with opportunities to create warm memories and joined together to fulfill God's commandments with joy and respect. But if you are tempted somehow to miss that opportunity with child or parent, friend or relative, then may Elijah's impending arrival turn your hearts to each other on this great and awesome day.
From our house to yours, a joyous and kosher Pesach.