Friday, April 3, 2009

Four Cups of Wine

Like almost all festival meals, the Passover Seder begins with Kiddush, the sanctification of the day. On Passover, however, the first cup of wine is followed by three more mandatory cups. The requirement of four cups of wine at the Seder is derived from the four stages through which G-d promises to redeem the Jews from the Egyptian slavery (Exodus 6:6-7): “Therefore say to the Children of Israel: ‘I am G-d and 1) I will take you out (v’ho’tzay’tee) from beneath the burdens of Egypt, and 2) I will save you (v’hee’tzal’tee) from their servitude, and 3) I will redeem you (v’ga’ahl’tee) with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and 4) I will take you (v’la’kach’tee) for Me for a people...’”

While the four cups of wine remind us of the four phrases of redemption, each of the four cups has an independent function at the Seder:

The First Cup is designated for Kiddush.

The Second Cup is consumed after the section of the Hagaddah known as Maggid, in which we tell the story of the Exodus, as a way of praising G-d. The blessing on wine is made a second time, because significant time has passed since the first cup was blessed.

The Third Cup is blessed after Birkat Hamazon, the Grace After Meals. It is customary that after reciting Birkat Hamazon as a group, a cup of wine or grape juice is blessed, and consumed by the person who leads the prayer. At the seder, however, all those present bless and drink the wine.

The Fourth Cup is consumed at the conclusion of Hallel, the section of Psalms praising G-d, and marks the conclusion of the food part of the seder.

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