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The Multidimensional Four Cups Of Wine

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In this week’s parshah (Shemos 6:6) Hashem tells Moshe to tell the Bnei Yisrael the four leshonos of geulah: v’hotzeisi, v’hitzalti, v’ga’alti, and v’lakachti. The Mishnah in Pesachim 99b says that a poor man should be given four cups of wine, even from money that is allotted for tzedakah. Rashi there quotes a Yerushalmi in Pesachim that cites Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion that the four cups of wine that we are commanded to drink at the Pesach Seder correspond to the four leshonos of geulah as mentioned above.

The Yerushalmi also cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who says that the four cups correspond to the word “kos” – as mentioned in the pesukim regarding the dreams of the sar hamashkim (Pharaoh’s butler).

Many Acharonim point out a seeming contradiction between the aforementioned Rashi and his commentary on a later Gemara in that perek. In Pesachim 108a the Gemara says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that women are obligated in the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine because of the rule of af hein hayu b’osah ha’nes (they too were involved in the miracle). There Rashi explains that the four cups of wine represent the three times that the word “kos” (cup) appears in the pesukim that discuss the sar hamashkim’s dream, plus one more time for bentching. Thus, we drink four cups of wine.

Several Acharonim suggest that Rashi is consistent with each opinion in the Yerushalmi. The Gemara that says that women are obligated in the mitzvah is quoted in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Therefore, on that Gemara did Rashi cite his reasoning for the four cups of wine as mentioned in the Yerushalmi.

On the pasuk in Shemos 6:6, the Ba’al Haturim says that the gematria (numerical value) of the four leshonos of geulah equals the gematria of the halacha of zeh ani b’Yisrael lo yifchesu lo mei’arba kosos – a poor man in Israel should not be given less than four cups (of wine).

The Brisker Rav, in his sefer on the Rambam, Hilchos Chametz U’matzah 7:9, explains that there are two separate aspects to the four cups of wine. One aspect is to recite the Haggadah and berachos over a kos. This is similar to the general halacha of Kiddush. The second aspect is the obligation to drink the kos. One difference between these two aspects is if one does not have wine but only has chamar medinah, such as beer. For the element of reciting over a kos, chamar medinah would suffice. However, regarding the aspect that one must drink wine, chamar medinah cannot replace wine.

Additionally, only regarding the aspect of reciting the Haggadah and berachos over a cup will one be able to fulfill another person’s obligation in the mitzvah of the four cups of wine. However, each person must drink his own cup of wine.

It has been suggested that the two reasons for the mitzvah that Rashi mentions represents these two aspects of the mitzvah – namely, on the one hand, reciting the Haggadah and berachos over the cup; and on the other, actually drinking the wine.

The reason given that the four cups of wine correspond to the four leshonos of geulah represents the aspect of drinking the cups of wine. Drinking the wine is a symbol of freedom. The four leshonos of geulah are the basis for the obligation to drink the cups of wine.

The other reason mentioned, namely that the word “kos” is used three times, serves as the reason for the second aspect of the mitzvah: to recite the Haggadah and berachos over a kos.

About the Author: For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.


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