Red Wine in glass 370.
‘I will bring you to the land regarding which I raised My hand (swearing) that I
would give it to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; I will give it to you as a heritage.
I am God’ (Exodus 6:8)
Since my aliya 30 years ago, I am filled with shame and a
little trepidation on the Sabbath of Va’era. As we read the four
expressions of redemption – the source of our four cups of wine at the Passover
Seder, I can hear the Almighty saying from His Place on High: “My beloved
children, where is your gratitude? Do you not yet realize that I have returned
you to your ancestral homeland?”
You see, there are not four, but five verbal
expressions of redemption in our portion of Va’era: “I shall take you out from
under the burdens of Egypt, I shall save you from their slave labor, I shall
redeem you with an outstretched arm… I shall take you to Myself as a nation… and
I shall bring you to the land…” (Exodus 6:6-8). And as there are five
expressions of redemption, why are we only mandated to drink four and not five
cups of wine? The reason is that within a few weeks of our exodus from Egypt,
the first four expressions of redemption were effectuated. However, the
realization of the fifth expression, our entry into the Land of Israel, only
began to take place 40 years later under the leadership of
Moreover, the compilation of our Passover Haggada took place
after the destruction of the Second Temple, when the Jewish people required a
book of ordered prayers to give meaningful content to the Passover Seder, the
pale substitute for the dramatic Paschal lamb celebration of myriads of family
groups uniting in pilgrimage to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
the destruction of the Temple, the majority of Jews lived in the Diaspora, so it
would have been difficult after the tragic end of our national sovereignty to
ordain a fifth cup in gratitude for God’s gift of our ancestral
Nevertheless, foremost early authorities like Rabbenu Nissim
maintained that while four cups were obligatory, a fifth cup was voluntary. It
was an extra stringency for those whose faith in God’s promise to restore our
national sovereignty was firm and unwavering. Maimonides legislates that after
drinking the fourth cup of wine of hallel praise for our eventual national
restoration, “It is then proper [for the Seder leader] to pour a fifth cup and
to say over it the Great Hallel (Psalms 136-137)” – our prayer for world
redemption (Mishne Torah, Laws of Hametz and Matza 8:10).
Kasher explains that originally there were two different haggadot, one which was
read in the Land of Israel and the other in the Diaspora. The Haggada used in
all communities today is the Diaspora version, as is clear from its prologue,
“This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel; this year we
are slaves, next year, may we be free people.” Hence our Diaspora Haggada
composed after we lost our national sovereignty lacks the fifth cup of
thanksgiving for God’s having brought us to Israel. However, the Eretz Yisrael
version of the Haggada which included the fifth cup was still used by Jews in
Israel for a short period after the destruction.
Now that we are
privileged to experience Israel reborn, would it not be fitting – and even
mandatory – for us to take five cups of wine, thereby showing gratitude to the
Almighty for keeping His promise and confirming His Covenant? Certainly, for
those living in Israel, it behooves us to drink the fifth cup celebrating God’s
promise to Abraham 4,000 years ago: “I shall make you a great nation . . . and
through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth” (Genesis
Postscript During the last 30 years, billions of dollars have
been spent on memorials to the sacred six million murdered by the Nazis. I
certainly understand the great need of those who lost loved ones to erect such
memorials, especially when they don’t even have a gravestone to weep over.
Nevertheless, I respectfully question the ability of such museums to strengthen
Jewish identity or express a meaningful Jewish theology. Yes, we must never
forgive and we must never forget, and yes, we must certainly remember the
innocent souls whose lives were cut short – but no young, proud Jew wishes to
identify as a victim!
Look to the biblical celebrations of Passover and my
position will become clear. We experienced 210 years of holocaust in Egypt, 210
years of Auschwitz-like enslavement with genocidal murder of male Jewish babies
– and we certainly mention and mourn these atrocities during the Passover Seder.
But the Seder is defined by and dedicated to our exodus from Egypt, our
emergence from enslavement, and our triumph over Pharaoh. We do not leave the
Passover Seder as victims, but rather as victors.
Hence every Holocaust
memorial must conclude with the story of Israel reborn three years after
Hitler’s ignominious suicide in his Berlin bunker. And we must conclude our
Passover Seder with a fifth cup of joy celebrating our miraculous return to our
“In every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us,
but the Holy One blessed be He always saves us from their hands.”
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and
graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.
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