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What is the significance of the four cups of wine?

What is the significance of the four cups of wine?

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G‑d uses four expressions of redemption in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation:1

1. "I will take you out…"

2. "I will save you…"

3. "I will redeem you…"

4. "I will take you as a nation…"

Our sages instituted that we should drink a cup of wine, a toast if you will, for each one of these expressions. We recite the Kiddush over the first cup, we read the Exodus story from the Haggadah over the second cup, we recite the Grace after Meals over the third cup, and we sing the "big Hallel" (Psalms and hymns of praises to G‑d) over the fourth cup.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual senseThere are a number of explanations as to the significance of the various stages of redemption conveyed through each of these expressions. Here is one:

1. Salvation from harsh labor—this began as soon as the plagues were introduced.

2. Salvation from servitude; or the day the Jews left Egypt geographically and arrived at Ramses.

3. The splitting of the sea, after which the Jews felt completely redeemed, without fear of the Egyptians recapturing them.

4. Becoming a nation at Sinai.

During the Seder we can experience these elements of redemption in a spiritual sense, by leaving our "Egypt" and our servitude to our egos.2


There is actually a fifth expression in the above mentioned verses: "And I will bring you to the land which I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance."3

While the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish nation were permanent, we have yet to be brought to Israel on a permanent basis.

In honor of this verse we have a fifth cup at the Seder: the Cup of Elijah. This cup is set up for Elijah during the second half of the Seder, but we do not drink it. Elijah will announce the arrival of Moshiach, who will bring all Jews to Israel, for good.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Exodus 6:6-7.

2.

Sources: Shmot Rabbah end of 86; Ramban and Seforno on abovementioned verses.

3.

Ibid. 8.

Yosef Marcus is director of the Chabad center in S. Mateo, California, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is a translator and adaptor of Judaic texts and a contributor to several websites including: Chabad.org, Askmoses.com and Kabbalaonline.com. He can be reached via his website www.chabadnp.com
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Discussion (2)
October 10, 2012
Re: James
The practice of drinking the 4 cups at the Seder is a Rabbinic institution mentioned as a given in the Mishna, the earliest documentation of of the Oral Torah and Rabbinic Law.
When we celebrate the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage to freedom, we are commanded to relive this experience by behaving like nobility, reminding us of the great gift of freedom that we received on Passover. Therefore, the sages instituted that one must drink wine at the Seder as a sign of freedom, to dine as the nobility dine.
The minimum they set is four cups, primarily to represent the four expressions of redemption that G-d uses in describing our Exodus from Egypt and our birth as a nation: “I will take you out…I will save you…I will redeem you…I will take you as a nation…” (Exodus 6:6-7).�
Each of the cups is associated with another part of the Seder, so in Halachic terms the third cups is called the cup of blessing, since the blessings of Birkat Hamzaon are recited over that cup of wine.
Baruch Davidson
October 4, 2012
The Four Cups
This is a great site. Thank you!

I was wondering if it is known when the four cups were instituted. When did these cups actually start to become part of the Seder? How are the cups referenced? For instance, I have heard the third cup referred to as the cup of blessing.

Thank you for your help.
James
Brunswick, Ohio
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