Origin - Meaning - History - The Four Cups of Wine for Passover / Pesach
The Four Cups of wine used in the Pesach / Passover Seder primarily symbolize the four distinct redemptions promised by G-d to the Hebrews as told in Shemot or Exodus 6:6-7. (1) "I will take you out of Egypt", (2) "I will deliver you from Egyptian slavery", (3) "I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power", and (4) "I will acquire you as a nation". Since each of these cups of wine symbolize an action that was performed by G-d, Jewish people fill a small cup or small wine glass with wine at four different points in the Passover Seder and drink each cup of wine. Drinking from The Four Cups also tells us that we can actively pursue these goals ourselves, meaning that we can actively free ourselves from whatever enslaves us. These are positive goals to salute by having a drink! There is a fifth cup of wine called "The Cup of Elijah" and it is reserved for Elijah the Prophet, who is believed to visit each Passover Seder that takes place around the world. In Shemot or Exodus 6:6-8, following the aforementioned Four Expressions of Redemption, there is a Fifth Expression of Redemption. A Fifth Cup of Wine symbolizes this expression of redemption for all humanity upon the arrival of Messianic Times and because this has not occurred yet, the Fifth Cup of Wine is not drunk.
The origin of The Four Cups of Wine dates from rabbinical opinions contained in the Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 10:1). The Pesachim tractate of the Talmud comprises rabbinical opinions concerning performing various Passover rituals. Pesachim 10:1 states the following: "And they should not give him less than 4 cups of wine, even from the charity bin." This means that every person - whether rich or poor - should be given four cups of wine to celebrate redemption and freedom. Whereas matzah's bland taste symbolized the hardships of slavery in Egypt, the rich and strong taste of wine corresponds to the richness and strength that the Hebrews felt once they stopped believing the idea of worshipping Egyptian idols and instead chose to worship G-d during their wanderings in the Sinai Desert after they left Egypt. And just where did the rabbis themselves determine the idea of instituting four cups of wine? The rabbis wrote these instructions in the Pesachim tractate of the Talmud during the time of Roman rule in Israel, and during that time it was customary at Roman feasts or banquets to begin the festivities by drinking wine. This was followed by going into the dining hall and eating the main meal which was accompanied by more wine. At the end of the main meal, more wine would be served to the guests. The rabbis of Roman times in Israel added a fourth cup of wine - the kiddush cup - to sanctify G-d and His merciful deeds, which established the four cups of wine as mandatory for the Passover Seder: (1) the first cup of wine drunk for kiddush; (2) the second cup of wine drunk just before the main meal; (3) the third cup of wine drunk after the "Grace After Meals" ritual; and (4) the fourth cup of wine drunk after the conclusion of "Hallel" which is near the end of the Passover Seder. The addition of a 5th cup was disputed by many rabbis at that time, and so a 5th cup, called the "Cup of Elijah", was filled but not drunk. Over time, all the symbolic foods of Passover and even the wine used for the four cups developed various symbolic meanings attached to them. To read about the type of wine used for the Four Cups of Wine, which is Kosher For Passover wine or Kosher For Pesach wine, visit our Passover Wine - Kosher For Passover Wine web page. To read about Kosher wine in general, and how it is related to Kosher For Passover wine or Kosher For Pesach wine, visit our Kosher Wine web page.