Pouring Wine
Pouring WineHillel Mayer

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

One of the main components of the Passover Seder is drinking four cups of wine. The most well known reason for this ritual is that the four cups of wine are meant to represent the four different terms Hashem uses in the Torah to describe our deliverance from the Egyptian enslavement. But the Gemara also gives a somewhat lesser known reason, that the four cups parallel the four times Pharaoh's chief butler mentioned the cup as he related his dream to Joseph.

What is the power of wine, and what relationship is there between these two interpretations?

First, as Rabbi Senter notes in his Haggadah, each of the four cup representing a different term of redemption serves as the climactic note at a different part of the Seder: at Kiddush, at the end of the narrative itself, at the end of Grace after Meals, and at the conclusion of Hallel. If one did not drink at these designated times, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah of the four cups.

There is an aspect of wine that is different from most food, writes Rabbi Kluger. First, psychologically, wine seems to free one from the confines of his logical mind; he seems to enter a different reality. Further, notes R. Auerbach z”l with most foods, generally one reaches a satiation point where one "cannot eat another bite." With wine, however, one continues to crave more and more with each drink, raising one's spirits not only more intensely, but also to a different characteristic of his psyche.

Perhaps shedding further light on this matter, the number four is especially significant here. As Rabbi Yechiel Michel Zilber notes in B'Yam Derech, citing the Maharal, four cups is the ideal amount of wine for true freedom. The "free, rich" have exactly four cups of wine at their meal. Less than four cups is not totally freeing, while more than four cups puts you in the category of a drunkard. While we pour a fifth cup of wine, we refrain from drinking it, proving that we are still free and masters over our desires, appetites, and passions.

Our redemption from Egypt actually illustrates two complementary emotional components, writes Rabbi Wolbe in Daas Shlomoh. First, it is proof of the great love Hakodosh Boruch Hu has for Bnei Yisroel. In freeing us from physical enslavement in Egypt, Hashem also frees us from enslavement to our personal, physical impulses. But the second stage is the elevation of Bnei Yisroel, and our desire to reciprocate that love and to dedicate ourselves to His service. These aspects of redemption are active all year long.

We always have the ability to go beyond our nature and recognize that Hashem will help us. It is for this reason that the Kiddush of every holiday includes a reference to leaving Egypt, and that we remember the exodus multiple times every day in our prayers. Our entire Torah observance is predicated on the belief that we can leave the narrow straits that confine us.

This is also the reason, notes Rabbi Weiss is Ziv Hechochmah, that the Ten Commandments themselves begin not with identifying our God as the God of creation, but as the God who took us out of Egypt. Just as God was able to change nature to extricate us from Egypt, so do we have the ability to overcome our nature and achieve spiritual freedom. Just as it was Hashem Himself Who took us out of Egypt, so do we need His help to free us from the confines of self, from the negative tendencies we each have, whether of anger, jealousy, arrogance, or other characteristic. Thus, metaphorically, the cleaning we do before Pesach should include the removal of chametz within ourselves as well to achieve a level of freedom of self.

In Night of Watching, Rabbi Pruzansky quoting R. Pincus z’l suggests that just as our nation was born on that first Passover, so are we each reborn every year at the Passover Seder; just as there are three partners in a birth, the father who contributes the "white bones" of structure, the mother who contributes the "red blood of passion, and Hashem Who contributes the neshamah/soul, so are there three major elements to the Seder; the white matzah, the red wine, and the soul of the Seder—telling and reliving the story.

While the three matzot represent our three Patriarchs and the four cups of wine represent our four Matriarchs, Rabbi Zilverberg notes that maternal love is greater than paternal love. When we drink the four cups of wine, we are arousing in Hashem that never ending love that leaps over mountains, and should arouse in us similar love in reciprocity. As Rabbi Reiss reminds us, the exodus was the beginning of that journey of faith and love, following Hashem through the wilderness without question, just as wine removes questions from our minds.

When we work on ourselves to improve our middos/character, how much of our success do we attribute to ourselves and how much to Hashem's help? R. Gamliel Rabinowitz reminds us that this is the night to show gratitude and love not only to the people who help us—the deliveryman, the mechanic, the doctor, the neighbor - but to our ultimate Helper Who has given us all that we need. It is a night to train ourselves to see the hidden hand of Hashem providing for us through all intermediaries, of recognizing and sharing that recognition of His concealed love in so many aspects of our lives.

This love and passion brings us back to one of our original questions - what is the connection between the four cups at the Seder and Pharaoh's butler's dream? In truth, suggests Rabbi Frand, it was not the differences in the dreams themselves that elicited different interpretations, for the butler and the baker, but how each related his dream to Joseph. While the baker told his dream objectively, he was passive in all that happened. In contrast, the butler revealed his passion for his position and his job, "Pharaoh's cup was in my hand... I squeezed the grapes... I put the cup on Pharaoh's palm." The Shallal Rav adds that the butler's love extended not just to the job, but to his master Pharaoh as well, repeating Pharaoh's name multiple times in the narrative. That love and passion convinced Joseph that the butler would indeed be reinstated.

Similarly, continues Rabbi Frand, if we want to be reinstated in our own land and again bring the sacrifices, especially the Pascal offering, we, too, have to express passion for that to come and for Hashem to reinstate us as we were before, so that we can have the privilege of serving Him so much more fully, in our own land with a rebuilt Beit Hamikdash. The four cups of wine, representing the role of passion, reflected in the butler, is the mindset we need to feel each time we drink one of the four cups of wine.

If we want to know a thing's significance, we must go back to its first appearance in the Torah and trace its importance from there. In Bni Bechori Yisroel, Rabbi Kluger does just that. He reminds us that wine first appears at the very first salvation of mankind, as the first creative activity Noah engaged in when he and his family left the ark. But the wine that symbolized Noah's freedom was also the catalyst for enslavement, as Noah curses the son who disgraced him in his drunken state with the curse of slavery. It was Ham's descendant, Mitzrayim, that forged that ultimate house of slavery we were destined to endure millennia later.

Our next encounter with wine comes when Yaakov brings his father delicacies and wine, and receives Yitzchak's blessing of wheat and wine. Although Yitzchak asked only for the delicious meat, our Sages tell us this was the night of Pesach, and Yaakov brought Yitzchak the wine that would later be part of the Passover Seder.

Rabbi Kluger continues and tells us that the entire time Joseph was in Egypt, he did not drink wine until his brothers came down, even though when he sent Yaakov the "best of Egypt," he was sending him old wine.

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The grapes themselves are worthy to be eaten straight from the tree, yet they are picked, thrown into a pit and trampled upon. You think you have lost the grapes. After that, they are allowed to ferment for a long time, and they are transformed to something even better than the original grapes, something fit for a king's table.

Yosef Hatzadik is the paradigm for this transformation. When he interprets the butler's dream, he is interpreting his own life. In this context, we remember Yosef himself when we dip the karpas/vegetable into the salt water, symbolically dipping Yosef's coat in the blood of the goat. Yosef himself went from being a lowly, trampled upon slave to sitting at the king's table.

This is the message of the wine, continues Rabbi Kluger. This mindset of patience and endurance is what has sustained us throughout our history. The difference between גלה /exile, and גאלה /redemption is seeing the א, the One of the world. In hindsight, we understand that our suffering in Egypt, our being trampled upon, was a necessary step in fashioning the character of Bnei Yisroel, of making us fit to be the chosen of Hashem.

When we understand that all that Hashem does to us is for the good, we can understand that even Hashem's anger derives from His love. At the end of the Seder, we can sing,לך אף לך /Yours, surely Yours with a new understanding, that even Your אף/Your anger is coming from a place of love.

The four cups of wine that we drink at the four demarcations of the Seder symbolize ourselves and our own lives: We sanctify Hashem's name, we face challenges, we thank Him, and we sing His praises.

Each step of the way, we must have faith that Hashem is with us. The wine imparts this wisdom to us. As we drink these four cups, let us integrate that wisdom into our minds and hearts.