The Four Cups – ארבע כוסות

From the Teachings of Nechama Leibovitz

Edited by Itshak Reiner and Shmuel Pearless
Excerpts with permission from Urim Publications


The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10a) informs us that the four cups that we drink at the seder are based on the four expressions of redemption that are found at the beginning of Parshat Vaera (Shemot 6:6-8):

ו.לכן אמור לבני ישראל: אני ה'. והוצאתי אתכם מתחת סבלות מצרים, והצלתי אתכם מעבדתם, וגאלתי אתכם בזרוע נטויה ובשפטים גדולים.
ז. ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם והייתי לכם לא-לקים, וידעתם כי אני ה' א-לקיכם המוציא אתכם מתחת סבלות מצרים.
ח. והבאתי אתכם אל הארץ אשר נשאתי את ידי לתת אותה לאברהם ליצחק וליעקב …

(6) Say therefore to the children of Israel: I am the L-rd. And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements.
(7) And I will take you to me as a people (this refers to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai) and I will be your G-d, and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d who takes you out from under the burdens of Egypt.
(8) And I will bring you to the land, concerning which I swore with an uplifted hand to give to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov…

1) Explain the gradual change that takes place from the first expression to the second, then to the third, and to the fourth.

Suggested Answer: The sequence of the four expressions of redemption reflects the changing relationship between Bnai Yisrael and both the Egyptians and G-d, as follows:

1) “And I will take you out from under the burdens of Egypt” – Bnai Yisrael are at this point in total subjugation to the Egyptians.
2) “And I will save you from their bondage” – Here the Egyptian bondage is still a factor, but the Egyptians are not mentioned by name. This reflects a lessening of the subjugation.
3) “And I will redeem you” – Here the Egyptians and the bondage are not referred to at all, reflecting a liberation from Egyptian subjugation.
4) “And I will take you to me as a people” – After being completely liberated from the Egyptians, Bnai Yisrael can forge a new relationship with G-d.

2) It has been noted that this section actually includes a fifth expression of redemption, והבאתי – “ And I will bring (you to the land…)”. According to many commentators, this cup is reflected in the cup of Elijah.

The Or Hachaim noted another difficulty in this section: Why is the consequence “and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d” placed after the four promises (והוצאתי, והצלתי, וגאלתי, ולקחתי) and before the fifth (והבאתי) ? Shouldn’t it come at the conclusion of all of the promises ? The following is his answer:

The statement “you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d” is deliberately placed before that of “I shall bring you to the land” to stress that this was the precondition for the fulfillment of the “I shall bring you to the land”. Failing this (the acknowledgement of G-d), they would not enjoy the fulfillment of the subsequent promises.

Questions:
1) How does Or Hachaim solve the textual difficulty ?
2) How does his solution diverge from the generally accepted meaning of the text ?

Suggested Answers:
a) Or Hachaim suggests that the placement of this phrase indicates that the recognition of G-d is a precondition for the fulfillment of the latter promise, the entry into Eretz Yisrael. In other words, the fulfillment of that aspect is not only dependent on G-d, but also on the faith and recognition demonstrated by Bnai Yisrael. Without this recognition, G-d would not fulfill the promise of entry into Eretz Yisrael.

b) This interpretation differs from the usual understanding of the expression, which seems to be a consequence of the promises. Or Hachaim interprets it as a condition, rather than a consequence.

3) There are those who solve the difficulty raised by the Or Hachaim alternatively based on the famous dictum of R. Akiva in Pirke Avot 3:14:

He used to say: “Beloved is man that he was created in the image of G-d; but it was by a greater love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of G-d.

Question: Why, according to this opinion, does the phrase “and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d” come specifically where it does ?

Suggested Answer: According to this explanation, the statement “and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d” represent a blessing that is a consequence of the previous promise, the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is a special gift given by G-d rather than a condition placed on Bnai Yisrael before entering the land. According to Nechama, the knowledge of G-d was the primary goal of the exodus of Egypt. That recognition would give greater meaning and purpose to the entry into Eretz Yisrael.

4) How do these commentaries help to explain why we drink four rather than five cups of wine at the seder ?

Suggested Answer: Both of these commentaries demonstrate that the Torah text itself separates the first four expressions of redemption from the fifth expression (והבאתי) with the statement “and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d”.

According to Or Hachaim, the statement divides between those aspects that are solely within G-d’s purview, and the aspects that require the involvement of Bnai Yisrael.
According to the second commentary, the placement of the phrase “and you shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d” indicates that the fourth expression (ולקחת – the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the subsequent recognition of G-d) represents the primary goal of the redemption from Egypt.

Nechama herself explained that the fifth expression “והבאתי” is not reflected in a cup of wine at the seder because, although the promise would be fulfilled, the Jews would subsequently go into exile. While the impact of the first four promises was eternal, the fulfillment of the fifth would be interrupted. Nechama added that when the State of Israel was established, Rav Menachem Kasher (author of the תורה שלמה) tried unsuccessfully to convince the Rabbinate to institute a fifth cup.

1. Interestingly, Rav Soloveitchik made a similar comment on the fact that the Mishna (Pesachim 10:4) requires that the seder include a study of the section of the Torah that begins with ארמי אובד אבי (Devarim 26:5) "until he completes the entire section." He points out that the section actually ends with verse 9 that reads: "And he brought us (ויביאנו) to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey." This verse, however, is not included in the text of the Haggadah. Just as the final expression of redemption (והבאתי) is not included in the cups of wine at the seder, so too the final verse (ויביאנו) is excluded from the Haggadah. From this, Rav Soloveitchik similarly concluded that the giving of the Torah was the primary goal of the exodus from Egypt, and a necessary step that would give meaning to entering Eretz Yisrael.


 

 

Share                   PRINT    
06 Jul 2005 / 29 Sivan 5765 0