Parasha picture Goats 521.
(photo credit: Israel Weiss)
During the majestic and magical evening of the Pessah Seder, how many matzot
does the leader of the proceedings take, two or three? And how many cups of
wine, do the participants drink, four or five? I daresay the overwhelming
majority of readers will respond: three matzot and four cups of wine. But in my
Seder, we all take two matzot and drink five cups of wine. The reason stems from
Halacha and Zionism.
The simple interpretation of a talmudic passage
(Brachot 39B) would suggest two matzot: “Rav Papa maintains that everyone agrees
that on Pessah evening we place the broken matza within [or under] the whole
matza and make a blessing thereon” – two matzot, or rather one and one half, and
so rules the Vilna Gaon.
The origin of the custom of taking three matzot
– two whole and one broken – stems from Rashi (Commentary on Pessahim 116a), who
insists that we have two whole matzot to retain our custom of lehem mishne
(parallel to the two Shabbat halla loaves). Maimonides, on the other hand,
insists on one-and-one-half, ruling that “lehem oni,” the matza/bread of
affliction, trumps lehem mishne – the double portion of manna which we
commemorate on Shabbat.
I vote with Maimonides, since Pessah is only the
beginning of our redemption: When we left Egypt, we were still a long way (and a
whole generation) from the Land of Israel, and seven weeks away from receiving
the Torah. The “whole” matza expresses our gratitude for the Exodus, but the
half matza is a necessary reminder that our affliction had far from
Let us turn to the wine. Conventional wisdom explains the four
cups as emanating from the four expressions of redemption articulated in Exodus
(6:6-7): “I will free you…. I will save you… I will redeem you….
take you….” But in the very next verse comes the fifth expression: “I will bring
you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob…” What
happened to the fifth cup? A cursory glimpse into the order of the cups should
explain what occurred. We begin with kiddush, the first cup, which mentions both
the Creation and the Exodus, and enables us to eat a little hors d’oeuvre of
karpas; then we pour the second cup for maggid, the story of our enslavement and
Exodus; we then eat the meal of our freedom, replete with reminders of the
sacrificial foods, and pour the third cup for Grace after the Meal.
this blessing for the food which, in its prayer for the restoration of
Jerusalem, makes reference to its destruction, and in its praise for the God who
is good and who does good reminds us of the Hadrianic persecutions following the
abortive Bar Kochba rebellion.
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Albeit within the context of praise, the
specter of destruction and exile has entered the Pessah Seder. At this point
comes the special cup for Elijah (it’s not in the count of four because only
Elijah drinks from it), but this is also within the context of exile, since it
is introduced with the words, “Pour out Your wrath against the gentiles who do
not know You… for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his habitation…” Now
comes the fourth cup of hallel, with its prayer and gratitude for God’s
restoration of Israel to our homeland and Jerusalem (Mishna Pessahim 10:5). The
fourth cup is poured, and upon it we conclude the Hallel and recite the blessing
of the song Nishmat, “May the breath of all living souls praise God….”) A
Tosefta substitutes Hallel Hagadol (Psalm 136: Praised be the Lord… whose
lovingkindness extends to the world) for the Nishmat prayer. The Haggada
includes Hallel Hagadol as well as Nishmat, until the conclusion of Yishtabah,
with the praise to “God, King of all living worlds.”
Each ritual drinking
of wine should refer to a specific theme. Hallel evokes our return to national
sovereignty in Israel; Hallel Hagadol and Nishmat refer to the redemption of the
world. And indeed the Tosafists (as well as the Gaonim and Maimonides) all cite
a variant reading, “On the fifth cup we recite the Blessing of the Song [or
Hallel Hagadol].” Many of the Gaonim actually demand a fifth cup, and the Rambam
(along with most decisors) permits it, though he would only endorse reciting
Hallel Hagadol with this fifth cup.
Modern scholarship would suggest that
in haggadot in the Land of Israel they always included a fifth cup; only in
haggadot in the galut (Exile) was it excluded.
Perhaps the yearning for
world redemption during exile seemed a bit too much to ask for. But now that we
have returned to our homeland, I would urge the addition of a fifth cup
immediately before reciting Hallel Hagadol; in our global village, a world not
recognizing our God of peace and morality, no single nation will ever feel
secure.The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone
Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.
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