Dear Rabbi,

Here’s one we argue over every year at our Passover Seder: Why do we spill the wine when we mention each one of the Ten Plagues, and what are we supposed to do with the spilled wine?


Every Jewish ceremony is said over a cup of wine. A wedding, the circumcision, the welcoming in and ushering out of Shabbat and festivals, and most notably the Seder on Passover, are all said over a full cup of wine, which we then drink down.

Why is this? Can’t we recite prayers and stay dry? Why do we seem to drink at every opportunity?

There is a power to saying a prayer over a cup. It allows us to drink in the moment. Instead of just saying words out into the open air, we recite our blessings over a cup, the cup absorbs the words, and then we drink it down. We imbibe the holiness.

Under the wedding canopy, the bride and groom drink from the cup of wine, so that the blessings that consecrated their marriage should be internalized and captured. At a circumcision, the baby himself is given a drop from the wine that has absorbed the prayers, so that the holy words should become a part of his being. On each holiday we drink in the messages of the festival, to take along with us when the festival is over.

At the Seder on Passover night, we retell the story of our ancestors who were slaves in Egypt, and sing songs of thanks to G‑d who freed them. As we recount this tale, a cup of wine stands at attention, soaking in every word, absorbing every message, capturing every song. This is so that at the end of the story, we can drink down the cup and ingest the moment. We don’t just read the Passover haggadah text, we imbibe it, we take it with us. We drink in the freedom, we ingest the miracle. The story of faith and freedom becomes a part of our inner reality.

However there are some words we don’t want to ingest. The Ten Plagues, describing the affliction of the Egyptians, represent negative energy that we would rather not bring into our system. So after reading each plague we spill wine from the cup, banishing the forces of punishment and its curses, and leaving the cup with only blessings. The spilled wine should then be discarded, for drinking it would be drinking in the plagues.

Words have impact. Our surroundings absorb our words. Be careful what you say, and be even more careful what you imbibe.

Leave the plagues to wicked oppressors. We should have only blessings. I’ll drink to that.