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. These four cups of wine represent the four different expressions used by the Torah to illustrate the redemption of the Jewish people. 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. 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.
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.
It is preferable to drink the entire cup of wine each time, though it suffices to merely drink the majority of the cup. It is permitted to use white wine at the Seder but red wine is to be preferred. It is preferable to use non-mevushal, uncooked, wine for the four cups of the Seder. The four cups must be drunk at the specific points in the Haggada where they were instituted. 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.
One should make great efforts to use wine rather than grape juice for the Seder even if it means some physical discomfort, though one need not make oneself sick. 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.” Chamar medina is generally defined as a beverage worthy of being served to guests. 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. 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.
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. 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.
***Dear Friends: I am in need of funds to publish my next English halacha sefer. Please consider supporting me simply in the form of pre-ordering a copy (only $25 including shipping!). Money can be sent by check or paypal. For more information: [email protected]. Thank you!!!
Chag Kasher V’same’ach! Next post: Tuesday April 17.
 Pesachim 108b.
 Levush 472:8; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 472:14; Mishna Berura 472:43. See Shemot 6:6.
 Rashi, Pesachim 108a; Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1. See Bereishit 40. See also Rivevot Ephraim 1:298:6.
 Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1. See Yirmiyahu 55.
 Pesachim 99b.
 Mishna Berura 472:30,33; Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 472:19.
 OC 472:9; Mishna Berura 472:33.
 OC 472:11.
 Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 77:6.
 OC 472:8.
 Maggid Mishna, Hilchot Chanuka 4:12; Rivevot V’yovlot 4:112.
 Nedarim 49b; OC 472:10.
 Mishna Berura 472:35; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:243.
 Mishna Berura 472:37; Igrot Moshe, OC 2:75.
 Igrot Moshe 2:75.
 OC 472:1; Mishna Berura 472:5.
 OC 473:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:2; Kaf Hachaim, OC 473:31.
 Elya Rabba 472:8.
 Pekudat Elazar (Ben-Tuvo) 473. See also Rivevot Ephraim 8:221 for more on this.