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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Pesach Seder’

Five Terms Of Endearment – So Why Only Four Cups Of Wine?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The number four seems to play a major role in the Pesach Seder. We have four questions, four sons, four terms of endearment and, of course, one of the major features we soon will be enjoying – the drinking of four cups of wine.

The Mishnah is very specific about those four cups, requiring the community to see to it that even the poor have them, even if it comes from public charity (Pesachim 10:1).

Since the Torah says nothing about wine in describing the Pesach ritual, the question arises as to the origin and meaning of this practice. Why wine at all and why four cups?

To begin with, wine does appear in the Torah in ritual contexts. It was used as libations on the altar (Exodus 29:40) and was considered a special drink that caused people to rejoice.

As we read in Psalm 104:15, “And wine makes the heart of man joyful…” This is why it was taken from the Temple rite into the synagogue and the home, so that Kiddush is recited over it, as are Havdalah and the Birkat Hamazon. Weddings are also solemnized with wine and it is used in the ceremony of the brit milah.

It would only have been natural, then, for the festive Pesach meal, like any holiday feast, to begin with wine and conclude with it. Two cups.

However, at the Seder the third cup is associated with maggid – the telling of the story. The fourth cup is recited over Hallel and is a special addition unique to the Seder.

Different explanations were offered in the writings of the sages, the gaonim, and the later rabbis as to the significance of the number four. Among them are: four expressions of redemption, four empires that oppressed Israel, four cups of punishment of those empires, four cups mentioned in connection with Pharaoh, four cups of fury, four cups of salvation, four decrees of Pharaoh against Israel, four exiles.

The most popular and most generally accepted explanation was that the four cups stand for the four promises of redemption that God uttered: I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements, and I will take you to be My people (Exodus 6:6-7). The Hebrew words are vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vegoalti and velakahti.

Once these four promises had been accepted as the reason for the four cups, the question arose about the fact that there was a fifth expression of redemption in Exodus 6, verse 8 – “And I shall bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – veheiveiti.

And so Rabbi Tarfon taught, “On the fifth cup one finishes the Hallel and says the Great Hallel (Psalm 136).” This is found in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:1, and also in the manuscript reading of Pesachim 118a.

This is also probably the origin of the Cup of Elijah. Since not all were agreed that we should drink a fifth cup, it was set aside until Elijah would come and decide that issue and all other halachic issues. It may be that the majority of the sages demurred because that promise was painfully unfulfilled after the exile of the year 70 CE. That may also explain why in the verses elucidated in the Haggadah, the verse “He brought us to this place and gave us this land” (Deuteronomy 26:9) is absent.

Both Rav Amram Gaon and the Rambam mention using the fifth cup, though they see it as optional but not required.

Rabbi Menachem Kasher, in his edition of the Haggadah, strongly advocates the drinking of the fifth cup. The Cup of Elijah can be passed to all the participants as the fifth cup.

Rabbi Kasher believes we have been privileged to live in a time when the fifth expression of redemption has actually come to pass, as the Jewish people have returned to their own land and established the state of Israel. Therefore, it is right and proper that we drink a fifth cup to recognize that reality and express our gratitude and thanksgiving to God for it.

Considering that so great a sage as Rabbi Tarfon advocated the fifth cup and that such great authorities as the Rambam and Rav Amram Gaon permitted it, it would seem that not to drink the fifth cup would be an act of ingratitude to God for the partial redemption represented by the state of Israel.

How many cups does it take to express our gratitude to God at the Seder? I believe the answer is five.

By Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Title: Exodus and Emancipation

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Title: Exodus and Emancipation

Author: Dr. Kenneth Chelst

Publisher: Urim Publications

 

 

   Each year, at the Pesach Seder, we enumerate the kindnesses that Hashem bestowed upon our ancestors. Has there ever been a population of slaves that was redeemed in so glorious a way – their oppressors punished, their physical exertion remunerated, their system of beliefs revealed Divinely, their nationhood established in the land they were promised centuries before? For all that we proclaim “Dayenu” at the Seder, we must wonder nevertheless whether it would have sufficed to have been granted less. Would we have been able to serve as a light unto the nations, leading the battle against slavery and oppression throughout the ages, had we not been prepared for the privileges and obligations that come with freedom?

 

   Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Chelst’s book, Exodus and Emancipation reviews the slave experience in Egypt, from the selling of Joseph into bondage to the triumphant entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land. He offers a deft analysis of relevant Biblical and Midrashic texts that he enhances by discussing an array of commentaries, ranging from the classical exegesis cited in Mikraot G’dolot to the writings of such modern scholars as Thomas Mann.

 

   The author then applies the lessons gleaned from the Biblical narrative to the history of the Atlantic slave trade, from its inception in the second half of the 15th century to the struggle for Civil Rights that continues to this very day.

 

   Chelst examines the institution of slavery, distinguishing between political and personal enslavement as well as between a society with slaves and a “slave society.” He demonstrates the role played by physical abuse and humiliation in the subjugation of a people – whether in Egypt or in Dixie.

 

   Chelst also addresses the importance of faith in uniting even a subjugated people and inspiring them to rise above the misery of day-to-day existence. He deals with the emotional and psychological needs of emancipated slaves – their need for retribution, for remuneration, for a single, shared ideal, and for strong leadership – and points out how these needs were met for the Bnei Yisrael when they were redeemed from Egypt by God’s strong hand and outstretched arm.

 

   Indeed, the lyrics of “Dayenu” catalogue these needs and remind us how very blessed we are to have had them met. It is this blessing that gives us the strength to go on as a people, that gives us the compassion to care for others who have suffered in a comparable way.

 

   Exodus and Emancipation is a scholarly book, replete with tables, illustrations, and primary source material. It is, nevertheless, written in a style that is accessible even to those who lack Dr. Chelst’s erudition. It is a book that will be a welcome addition to any private Judaic library, but it is not one that should remain on a shelf. Rather, this book belongs at the Shabbat table – especially when the weekly parasha deals with the issues that Chelst discusses – at the Pesach Seder, and anywhere that people gather to exchange ideas and opinions.

Title: Exodus and Emancipation

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Title: Exodus and Emancipation


Author: Dr. Kenneth Chelst


Publisher: Urim Publications


 


 


   Each year, at the Pesach Seder, we enumerate the kindnesses that Hashem bestowed upon our ancestors. Has there ever been a population of slaves that was redeemed in so glorious a way – their oppressors punished, their physical exertion remunerated, their system of beliefs revealed Divinely, their nationhood established in the land they were promised centuries before? For all that we proclaim “Dayenu” at the Seder, we must wonder nevertheless whether it would have sufficed to have been granted less. Would we have been able to serve as a light unto the nations, leading the battle against slavery and oppression throughout the ages, had we not been prepared for the privileges and obligations that come with freedom?

 

   Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Chelst’s book, Exodus and Emancipation reviews the slave experience in Egypt, from the selling of Joseph into bondage to the triumphant entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land. He offers a deft analysis of relevant Biblical and Midrashic texts that he enhances by discussing an array of commentaries, ranging from the classical exegesis cited in Mikraot G’dolot to the writings of such modern scholars as Thomas Mann.

 

   The author then applies the lessons gleaned from the Biblical narrative to the history of the Atlantic slave trade, from its inception in the second half of the 15th century to the struggle for Civil Rights that continues to this very day.

 

   Chelst examines the institution of slavery, distinguishing between political and personal enslavement as well as between a society with slaves and a “slave society.” He demonstrates the role played by physical abuse and humiliation in the subjugation of a people – whether in Egypt or in Dixie.

 

   Chelst also addresses the importance of faith in uniting even a subjugated people and inspiring them to rise above the misery of day-to-day existence. He deals with the emotional and psychological needs of emancipated slaves – their need for retribution, for remuneration, for a single, shared ideal, and for strong leadership – and points out how these needs were met for the Bnei Yisrael when they were redeemed from Egypt by God’s strong hand and outstretched arm.

 

   Indeed, the lyrics of “Dayenu” catalogue these needs and remind us how very blessed we are to have had them met. It is this blessing that gives us the strength to go on as a people, that gives us the compassion to care for others who have suffered in a comparable way.

 

   Exodus and Emancipation is a scholarly book, replete with tables, illustrations, and primary source material. It is, nevertheless, written in a style that is accessible even to those who lack Dr. Chelst’s erudition. It is a book that will be a welcome addition to any private Judaic library, but it is not one that should remain on a shelf. Rather, this book belongs at the Shabbat table – especially when the weekly parasha deals with the issues that Chelst discusses – at the Pesach Seder, and anywhere that people gather to exchange ideas and opinions.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-exodus-and-emancipation-2/2010/03/10/

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