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April 09, 1993 - Image 46

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-04-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

loft Portion

LSAT
MCAT
GMAT
GRE
ACT/SAT

Why We Drink
our Cups Of Wine

SIILOMO RISKIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH TIMES

W by do we drink four
cups of wine at the
seder table? Accord-
ing to the Babylon-
ian Talmud, the number four
signifies God's four different
expressions of deliverance
used when he renews His
promise of redemption to
Moses. "I will bring you out
from under the burdens of the
Egyptians and I will deliver
you from their bondage, and
I will redeem you with an out-
stretched arm and with great
judgments, and I will take
you to me for a people." Exo-

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dus 6:6 7.

-

The Jerusalem Talmud,
however, also records anoth-
er explanation. R. Yehoshua
ben Levi teaches that the four
cups divine correspond to the
number of times that wine
cups are mentioned in the
butler's dream and in
Joseph's interpretation of it,
when they were both impris-
oned in an Egyptian jail.
"...And Pharaoh's cup was in
my hand, and I took the
grapes, and pressed them into
Pharaoh's cup, and I gave the
cup into Pharaoh's hand." Ex-
odus 40:11. Without hesita-
tion, Joseph announces the
butler's imminent freedom:
‘`...you shall give Pharaoh's
cup into his hand, after the
former manner when you
were his butler." Exodus

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40:13.

At first glance, R. Ye-
hoshua's position is strange.
Is he telling us that when we
fill our goblets with wine, it is
preferable to remember the
perplexing dream of a des-
perate prisoner rather than
the language God Himself
uses for redemption.
Several explanations could
be given for R. Yehoshua ben
Levi's position. First of all, al-
though a jailed wine butler
may not sound inspiring, the
word kos (cup) appears four
times in the passage of the
dream, creating a parallel be-
tween the four cups of wine
on the seder table and the
four cups of wine in the but-
ler's account. An important
view in Jewish law even in-
sists that we drink the ma-
jority of the cup — no matter
how much wine it holds — at
each juncture of the seder,

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and the psalmist often speaks
of the "cup" of salvation.
Hence the Jerusalem Talmud
-cites the more specific refer-
ence.
Second, the butler's dream
is essentially about serving
Pharaoh, so by linking the
butler's four cups and the
seder's four cups, we are de-
claring that the essence of our
lives and the purpose of our -
freedom must be service — in
our case, obviously, service to
God.
The butler, while in prison,
dreams of his freedom in or-

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Rabbi Riskin is chief rabbi of
Efrat and founder and dean
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Shabbat Chol
Hamoed Pesach:

Exodus 38:12-34:26
Numbers 28:19-25
Ezekiel 37:1-14.

der to once again serve his
master. The cry that reaches
us on the night of the seder
from the butler's remote cell
is that the meaning of free-
dom is not merely freedom
from something but is rather
freedom for something. Did
we leave Egypt to spend our
lives accumulating 'little em-
pires' of our own before head-
ing for the golf course when
we retire, or did we leave
Egypt for something far more
significant: serving our God
with at least as much com-
mitment as the butler has to
serve his Pharaoh?
Third, the butler's eventu-
al freedom begins with a
dream he has one night while
still in jail, teaching that our
own redemption must begin
with a dream, no matter how
distant, no matter how elu-
sive it may seem. Not all
dreams will be realized, but
without the dream, no change
will ever be effectuated.
As significant as these
ideas may be, however, I be-
lieve there is yet a further
message built into the sug-
gestion of R. Yehoshua ben
Levi in the Jerusalem Tal-
mud.
In Hebrew, the word "song"
has both a feminine form, shi-
rah, and a masculine form,
shir. For example, toward the
end of the narrative segment
of the Haggadah, we read how
God "...has brought us forth

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