What is the connection between God’s promise to free the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery and the four cups of wine at a Passover seder?
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Va’era” (Exodus 6:2–9:35) and with it we find ourselves in the thick of the Jewish people’s slavery to Pharaoh. Slavery to Pharaoh was much more than being overworked and underpaid. As the Talmud and Midrashic literature elaborate, the slavery of Egypt was nothing less than concentration camps and attempts at extermination.
Hitler wasn’t the first to try to destroy the Jewish people. Neither were the Cossacks, the inquisitors, or the Hezbollah crazies. Persecution of the Jews just because they are Jewish may very well have been the invention of the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Although we are presented with a very gloomy picture in this week’s reading, we are also given our first taste of freedom and redemption. God tells the Jewish people –in four different ways—that He is going to free them from Egyptian slavery. As it says:
1) “I shall bring you out from the suffering of Egypt”;
2) “I shall rescue you from their labor”;
3) “I shall redeem you with a mighty hand”;
4) “I shall take you for me as a nation.”
It is explained that these four expressions correspond to the four stages in which the Jewish people were freed. As God and Moses began to get the upper hand over Pharaoh, and Pharaoh realized that he was living on borrowed time, the Jewish people were excused from much of their backbreaking labor (“the suffering of Egypt”), but they were still nevertheless forced to work as slaves. They were not yet truly free. That was stage one. The second stage marked their exemption from all slave labor completely (“I shall rescue you from their labor”), and the third stage was the actual Exodus, when the nation was “redeemed” and finally allowed to leave Egypt. The fourth and final stage (“I shall take you”) refers to the revelation at Sinai when God gave us the Torah
Did you know that the primary reason we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder is in order to recall these four expressions? Just like (too much!) wine causes a person to think and act differently, each of the four stages of redemption brought about a significant change in the way the Jewish people related to themselves, their experience, and their future. We drink wine to commemorate these various stages and the changes that the people went through
That being said, it is worth exploring a curious rule regarding the four cups of wine.
Although a person is allowed to drink more than four cups of wine at the Passover Seder, such as by drinking many cups of wine during the festive meal, or even by drinking additional cups of wine between the official “first” and second” cups of wine, it is forbidden to do so between the third and fourth cups of wine. No additional wine may be drunk during this time. Why is this?
It is explained that the Rabbis wanted to emphasize the connection between the third expression of redemption and the fourth expression of redemption. As such, they forbade any “drinking interruption” between the third cup of wine and the fourth cup of wine. This is because, as mentioned, the third cup of wine corresponds to the third expression of redemption – the actual Exodus, while the fourth cup of wine represents the fourth expression of redemption — the giving of the Torah.
So why must there be no interruption between the two themes? Because without the Torah, the Jewish people aren’t truly free! In fact, without the Torah, the Jewish people aren’t even Jewish! Being Jewish means a commitment to the Torah, plain and simple!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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