Why do we drink wine at the Passover Seder? And why four cups?

As most of you already know, we are required to drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder. So now we have two questions: Why wine, and why four cups?

To answer the first question (indeed, our sages teach us that when one is asked a number of questions, they should be answered in the order they were asked!): We drink wine at the Passover Seder because wine is considered a prestigious drink, if not an outright royal one. It is also a beverage that symbolizes prosperity, wealth and freedom, which are the themes of the Seder night.

But why FOUR cups of wine?

The four cups of wine represent and correspond to the four expressions of freedom and redemption that the Torah uses to describe the Exodus. As it says in Exodus, Chapter 6:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out (V’hotzeiti) from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you (V’hitzalti) from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you (V’go’alti) with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people (V’lakachti), and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

Although these expressions were used so many thousands of years ago, they have more contemporary relevance than you may have realized.

For example, when the Torah says “I will bring you out,” it is a wake-up call, meaning that sometimes we just have to pick up and leave a miserable situation. Sometimes things aren’t working out. It might be a neighborhood issue, social issue or workplace issue. When things aren’t going the way they should, we must get out, just like God knew it was time to take us out of Egypt. In fact, our sages teach us: Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal – When we change our location, we change our fortune. This is a deep kabbalistic idea that we can expand upon at another time.


The second expression of redemption is: I will free you. The Hebrew word V’hitzalti generally refers to a “quick fix,” a need for Divine help. It goes without saying that this was the experience of the Exodus – an entire supernatural sequence of events that saw the Jews become a free people overnight. V’hitzalti teaches us that we must never despair; God’s salvation and assistance can come faster than the blink of an eye. We must never despair, no matter what our situation. Even when we feel that we are at the bottom, we could very quickly rise to the top.

The third expression is: I will redeem you. What is redemption? The dictionary translates redemption as: “repurchase, buyback, or salvation, the act of delivering from sin, saving from evil; atonement and expiation.” The message of V’go’alti is that even if we don’t deserve it – God is there. God bestows kindness and mercy even upon the undeserving.

Four cups of wine and lots to discuss!

Finally, we have: I will take you as my own people. This symbolizes relationships. Building relationships and solidifying them. God wanted a relationship with us not only then; He wants one with us NOW. Every relationship takes work. Whether with our friends, colleagues or spouses, a relationship can never remain stagnant or stale. It must always be nurtured. So, too, we must nurture our relationship with God through prayer, study and good deeds!

There you have it! I trust that this article will give you lots to think about and discuss at your Passover Seder while drinking the four cups of wine. From all of us here at United with Israel, Happy Passover! L’Chaim!

Author: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Passover Articles



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