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  An Overview - Part X: The Four Cups from
Haggadah - Expanded Edition
Passover Haggadah with translation and a new commentary based on Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic sources

By Rabbi Joseph Elias 


Other Available Chapters
An Overview - Part VI: God's People 
An Overview - Part VII: Our Obligation 
An Overview - Part VIII: From Bondage to Freedom 
An Overview - Part IX: The Redemption To Come 
An Overview - Part XI: Preparation For Pesach 


An Overview - Part X: The Four Cups

I will lift up the cup of salvations and call upon the name of HASHEM.” (Tehillim 116:13)

This structure of the Seder is highlighted by the arrangement of the four cups of wine, which according to the Halachah must be drunk at specific points of the evening. Two cups clearly underline the past redemption and the future deliverance, as they are drunk after the narration of the Exodus, and the last part of Hallel, the praise in anticipation of the future redemption (Avudraham).

The other two cups are not unique to Pesach - the cup of Kiddush and that of Birchas Hamazon which concludes the meal, have their counterparts throughout the year. Nevertheless, it is only on Pesach night that everyone at the table must drink a cup after Kiddush, and, again, only on Pesach is the cup after Birchas Hamazon a fixed requirement. Our Sages ordained a specific rule that we must drink four cups on Seder night, as testimony of our deliverance and newly bestowed freedom: “I will lift the cup of salvations” (Tehillim 116:13). They based the requirement of four cups on the passage in the Torah describing the four stages by which the Jews were delivered from bondage: “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: 'I am Hashem, and I will take you out from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and I will save you from their servitude, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments; and I will take you for Me for a people and I will be God for you ...' ”(Shemos 6:6-7). Each of these expressions describes yet another joyful stage on the road to the full redemption, worthy of being celebrated with a cup of wine: “wine gladdens the heart of man” (Tehillim 104:15).

In another illustration of the parallel between past and future, we also find four expressions of deliverance in connection with the Messianic redemption: “And I will take them out from the nations, and I will gather them from the countries, and I will bring them to their land, and I will tend them on the mountains of Yisrael ...” (Ezekiel 34:13).

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out that the four expressions of deliverance found in Shemos correspond to the deliverance from the three stages of Egyptian bondage, announced to Abraham at the Covenant Between the Portions (exile, slavery, and affliction), and to the final attainment of freedom as God's people. But the passage in Shemos contains yet a fifth expression of deliverance, “And I will bring you to the land ...” We do not drink a fifth cup to correspond to this expression; but in its honor we place a filled cup called the Cup of Elijah on the Seder table. The Rabbis disagree whether “I will bring you” should be considered a fifth expression of deliverance, requiring that a fifth cup be drunk at the Seder. The question remaining undecided, we put aside a cup until Elijah, who will come preparatory to the coming of Mashiach, answers all such halachic questions (Vilna Gaon). We are meant to understand thereby that the fifth cup belongs to the realm of the future coming of Mashiach and the ultimate redemption, when we shall finally be brought to our land never to depart: the fifth cup points ahead to the final fulfillment of the promise of Pesach.

We have outlined here, in brief - and in the Commentary we will trace in detail - the Seder night pattern that makes us relive Yetzias Mitzrayim and prepare for the redemption to come. But is it realistic to aspire to such spiritual height? Is it not very possible that we may go through the motions of the ritual without being caught up in its spirit? This is indeed a real danger whenever a person. is called upon to rise above his petty daily concerns. The Torah has an antidote for it: preparation - not merely a matter of getting ready in a practical sense, but of thoughtful inner concentration on the goals lying ahead.

 
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