Why do Jews drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder and what do these cups teach us about the nature of true liberation?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
The reason we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder is to recall the four expressions that God used to describe the freedom and redemption that the Jewish people were about to experience. God said “I shall release you from under the sufferings of Egypt,” “I shall save you from their forced labor,” “I shall redeem you,” and “I shall take you for Me as a nation”
The question is asked: Why does God feel the need to repeat his promise to take the Jews out of Egypt in four different ways? So too, why are these four expressions of redemption commemorated with four cups of wine? Why not four matzos or four eggs or four of something else? Why specifically wine?
It is explained that the four expressions of freedom correspond to four different periods that led up to the Jews being freed.
The Jews began to feel a lessening of pressure and work after Egypt suffered the first few of the Ten Plagues. From that time onward, the taskmasters began to treat them a bit better. The Jews were still slaves, but the conditions improved slightly. This corresponds to the first statement “I shall release you from under the sufferings of Egypt.”
Sometime later, the Jews were actually relieved from slave labor, but freedom was still severely limited. This stage clearly corresponds to the second statement of “I shall save you from their forced labor.”
Eventually the Jews were freed from Egypt, and this corresponds with the third statement “I shall redeem you.”
But even when the Jews were officially free there was still no organization, central authority, or even purpose to their freedom. Being free from slavery is great but a free nation without purpose and direction is an orphaned nation.
Freedom was only solidified and worth celebrating with the announcement of “I shall take you for Me as a nation.” At that point, the Jews were no longer slaves to Pharaoh, they became “slaves” to Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth.
A promise and process that was only completed when the Jews received the Torah 50 days later
We commemorate these four expressions with wine because wine has the ability to change a person. Just like a person might behave a bit differently after drinking one cup of wine after the other, so too, the Jewish people were transformed slowly from a lowly slave nation to a nation of princes under the King of kings!
See if you remember this teaching as you drink your fourth cup!
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