The Four Cups of Wine

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The most prominent rabbinical mitzva of the Seder night is the requirement to drink four cups of wine at the specifically designated points in the Haggada.[1] These four cups of wine represent the four different expressions used by the Torah to illustrate the redemption of the Jewish people.[2] Another interpretation has it that the four cups of wine are intended to recall the four times that the word kos appears in the narrative of Pharaoh’s dream.[3] It is also taught that the four cups of wine represent the four forms of retribution that God will avenge upon the nations of the world in the Messianic era.[4]

 

The wine goblets used at the Seder must hold at least 3.3 ounces, though widespread custom is to ensure that they hold at least 4.5 ounces of wine. Some authorities even require 5.5 ounces. One who cannot afford to purchase wine for the four cups is required to appeal to a charity for the money to do so.[5]

 

It is preferable to drink the entire cup of wine each time,[6] though it suffices to merely drink the majority of the cup.[7] It is permitted to use white wine at the Seder but red wine is to be preferred.[8] It is preferable to use non-mevushal, uncooked, wine for the four cups of the Seder.[9] The four cups must be drunk at the specific points in the Haggada where they were instituted.[10] Drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder is among the mitzvot in the category of pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle of the Exodus.[11]

 

One should make great efforts to use wine rather than grape juice for the Seder even if it means some physical discomfort,[12] though one need not make oneself sick.[13] Even mixing wine and grape juice is preferable to using exclusively grape juice for the four cups. In an emergency, one can use any chamar medina for the four cups of “wine.”[14] Chamar medina is generally defined as a beverage worthy of being served to guests.[15] It must also be a beverage that one drinks simply to enjoy its taste and even when not thirsty. Liquer and coffee are certainly examples of chamar medina

 

As the Seder officially begins with the recitation of Kiddush, which is also when the first of the four cups of wine is drunk, one must be sure not to commence Kiddush before dark.[16] It is customary to arrange that Seder participants not pour their own wine but rather have it poured by someone else as a symbol of freedom and royalty.[17]

 

Unlike most other mitzvot of the evening, a blessing is not recited upon the mitzva of the four cups of wine. Among the reasons for this is that a blessing is only recited upon mitzvot that are completely discharged at one time. The mitzva of the four cups, however, is a mitzva that is fulfilled at intervals throughout the evening with a significant delay between each cup.[18] Another reason cited that a blessing is not recited is out of concern that one may get drunk or otherwise fall asleep and not properly complete the mitzva at all.[19]

 

 

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Chag Kasher V’same’ach! Next post: Tuesday April 17.

 

 

 


[1] Pesachim 108b.

[2] Levush 472:8; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 472:14; Mishna Berura 472:43. See Shemot 6:6.

[3] Rashi, Pesachim 108a; Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1. See Bereishit 40. See also Rivevot Ephraim 1:298:6.

[4] Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1. See Yirmiyahu 55.

[5] Pesachim 99b.

[6] Mishna Berura 472:30,33; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 472:19.

[7] OC 472:9; Mishna Berura 472:33.

[8] OC 472:11.

[9] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 77:6.

[10] OC 472:8.

[11] Maggid Mishna, Hilchot Chanuka 4:12; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:112.

[12] Nedarim 49b; OC 472:10.

[13] Mishna Berura 472:35; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:243.

[14] Mishna Berura 472:37; Igrot Moshe, OC 2:75.

[15] Igrot Moshe 2:75.

[16] OC 472:1; Mishna Berura 472:5.

[17] OC 473:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:2; Kaf Hachaim, OC 473:31.

[18] Elya Rabba 472:8.

[19] Pekudat Elazar (Ben-Tuvo) 473. See also Rivevot Ephraim 8:221 for more on this.

 



About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

19 comments

  1. I always wondered which came first: It seems to me that the four cups fit organically into the seder. That is, we make Kiddush every chag meal, and should say Birkat HaMazon over a cup every time as well. (I guess we only do that on formalized occasions, much as we only wash for vegetables at the seder, or bentch over a cup at Sheva Brachot.) That’s two. The other two are over other mitzvot of the night (most of the mitzvot can be included in the meal, i.e., the cup over Birkat HaMazon): Maggid and Hallel. That’s four (or five).

    So the question is: Did the seder order come first, and they noticed there were four cups, or did they want four cups, and arranged the seder so as to have them?

  2. The degree to which using grape juice is not lechatchila is shanuy b’machlokes. See here for Rav Soloveitchik’s view:
    http://www.koltorah.org/ravj/15-27_May_We_Use_Grape_Juice_for_the_Arba_Kosot_3.htm

    Rav Jachter also notes that the prevalent custom is to use mevushal wine lechatchila:
    http://www.koltorah.org/ravj/15-25_May_We_Use_Grape_Juice_for_the_Arba_Kosot_1.htm

    Rav Willig says both that one should use grape juice in one prefers it and that he himself uses wine that is mevushal (20:43):
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/774096/Rabbi_Mordechai_I._Willig/Hilchos_Pesach:_Questions_and_Answers

  3. Nachum — seems to me that Tosefta P’sachim 10 answers (to the latter).

  4. In Siach HaGrid (compiled by R’ Yitzchak Lichtenstein) there is a discussion of the Arba Kosot as each having the din of a kos shel beracha, and therefore having the same requirements. While the discussion focuses on whether you would need to raise the kos up at least a tefach for all of maggid, it would appear that another implication would be that you would need to clean out the cup between each glass. Has anyone ever heard of a minhag like this?

  5. Hi,

    I know that Arbah Kosos are classified as a Pirsumei Nisah mitzvah. I was just wondering how you understand it, being that observers are not required as part of the Mitzvah (like Chanukah). One can be reading the hagadah alone, as per halacha, and be fulfilling the Pirsumei Nisah aspect of Arbah Kosos. How is that to be understood?

  6. What about the Rashi in Parashas Shelach connecting Arbaah Kosos to the mitzvoh of tzitzis?

  7. “Another interpretation has it that the four cups of wine are intended to recall the four times that the word kos appears in the narrative of Pharaoh’s dream”

    I think that should be the Butler’s dream.

  8. Rafael and David-

    Thanks.. Ill look into these things.

    Ari Enkin

  9. Anon613-

    There is pirsumei missa among all the participants in the seder. In fact, it can be argued that there is even pirsumei nissa to oneself when all alone.

    Ari Enkin

  10. MiMedinat HaYam

    technically, every “birkat hamazon” (even individually) requires a “cos”. since the “prevailing custom” is not to do it (we seem to have an aversion to real wine, in today’s society) we see to it that the wine bottle is removed from the table before “birkat hamazon”. (that is “ha’aramah”, not the “mechirat chametz”, which is real.)

    daniel — the butlers naarative of his dream of pharoe. the
    butler is unimportant. pharoe is important. thus the phraseology.

    “Among the reasons for this is that a blessing is only recited upon mitzvot that are completely discharged at one time” many mitzvot are not duscharged in one time — biur chametz (bracha at night, final / primary biur in morning; why no shehecheyanu?), shofar, to name two.

  11. “It is customary to arrange that Seder participants not pour their own wine but rather have it poured by someone else as a symbol of freedom and royalty.”

    I agree that this is customary (at least at sedarim I have been to), but the sources only talk about the baal habayis not pouring his own wine. Otherwise we end up with a situation where everyone ends up being a “wine waiter” which means that no one really gets to feel the “freedom and royalty”.

  12. What is the argument for the presence of Pirsumei Nisah when you are all alone?

  13. If I remember correctly, R’ Shlomo Zalman is meikel on grape juice?

  14. IH: How so? I read it, don’t see your point.

  15. Anon 613-

    Re: Pirsumei Nissa while all alone —

    There is an inherent Pirsumei Nissa when a mitzva is done b’zmana even when alone. cf. Rav in Megilla 5a. Most rishonim go with his view. It’s not a slam-dunk proof, but I think there is what to explore form there on in.

    Ari Enkin

  16. Matthew –

    Good point. The K.S.A. 119:2 seems to say that one prosn should be appointed to pour everyone’s wine. Gotta look closely at the sources, but common custom is for everyone to have someone else pour for them.

    Ari Enkin

  17. Hi R’ Ari,

    Thanks for responding to my question regarding personal Pirsum Haneis.

    The Gemara in Megillah doesn’t really help too much. I mean, granted Rashi writes that a Yachid reading the Megillah B’Zmanah fulfills Pirsum Haneis. However, he seems a bit unclear about it as he writes the reason that he fulfills Pirsum Haneis is because everyone reads it on that day. It seems like Yachid alone would lack Pirsum. Yet, when others are doing it, Yachid is okay. Seems a bit difficult to understand, to me at least.

    I think the entire concept needs more clarification. I would imagine that “personal Pirsum Haneis” is the idea that often we have to do something external (i.e. action, speech) in order to ingrain an idea into ourselves. The external commemoration of drinking wine will give us a better understanding and recognition of Cheirus internally.

    Even so, I must say that I would not necessarily have used the words “Pirsum Haneis” to describe that idea, even if that is the right approach to understanding the issue.

    Isn’t it a bit funny that the meforshim throw the word around so liberally without offering a comprehensive explanation that would thread the different applications together?

    Thank you again for taking the time to answer all our questions. Your work is much appreciated.

  18. I recently heard that the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZL , in his later years after the Petirah of his Rebbitzen, Zicronah Livrahca, would at times have a Seder by himself and ask himself the questions.OTOH, if one understands the Arbah Kosos in the manner of the Netziv that the Kosos represent the progress from phsucial liberation to Kabalas HaTorah, then why would not Pirsum HaNes be incumbent on every Jew, regardless of how many or how few people are at a Seder?

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