It’s interesting that when the gemarra[1] says ‘when Adar comes along we increase the simcha,’ Rashi[2] points out that this is referring to the miracles of both Purim and Pesach. Indeed, one thing these two festivals have in common is their connection to wine. On Purim, wine is drunk at the se’udah (without bounds!), and the four cups of wine structure Pesach’s seder night. We shall discuss the nature of the mitzvah of the four cups of wine on Pesach. Before we do so, a reminder that none of what we write is to be taken as halacha.

The ‘traditional’ understanding of the mitzvah of the four cups of wine is that the mitzvah is to drink the wine. As the Rambam writes:[3] ‘each person, male or female, is obligated to drink on this night four cups of wine.’ Clearly, the obligation/principal mitzvah here is to drink the wine. But Tosafos, as we shall see, has a different view. Tosafos[4] writes that it is technically sufficient for the leader of the seder to drink the four cups on behalf of everyone else; as their agent. Thus, a total of only four cups of wine would be necessary for an entire family, as he learns from the mishna.[5] But there is a difficulty with Tosafos’s opinion.[6] We have a general rule that one cannot appoint someone else to do a mitzvah for them. For example, I cannot appoint you to put tefillin on yourself a second time, in order that the mitzvah should count for me. There is great discussion as to why this is so, but a basic answer is that the mitzvah is a mitzvah which is done with one’s own body (a mitzvah she’be’gufo), whilst an agent can never make it as if the mitzvah is performed with your body. At the end of the day, my agent cannot make it as if the tefillin were put on my body, because in reality they were put his body.[7] Therefore, the question on Tosafos is: how can the leader of the seder be the agent of the ‘seder participants’ in drinking the four cups of wine for them; surely the drinking is a mitzvah she’be’gufo and as such prevents agency from working?

The answer is that Tosafos does not understand the mitzvah of the four cups of wine like our traditional understanding; I.e. that the main mitzvah is to drink the cups of wine (as the Rambam held). There is another way of looking at this mitzvah, as seen from a Tosafos elsewhere.[8] This second Tosafos says that ‘they only fixed the [mitzvah of the] four cups to [be present to] say Hallel and the Haggadah.’ This means that the mitzvah is not the drinking of the cups of wine per se, but rather that the mitzvah is that a cup of wine should be there when we say the Haggadah and Hallel - because the very presence of wine shows a certain importance and respect for that which is being recited. And we have a precedent for this; kiddush. In kiddush, the main mitzvah is the words that we say, but Chazal added that they must be said over a cup of wine, in order to add importance to the words.

We can now understand our Tosafos in light of this.[9] Our question was based upon the premise that the mitzvah of the four cups is a mitzvah she’be’gufo and as such obviates agency. But we can now presume that Tosafos holds that the (principal) mitzvah is not the drinking of the cups of wine, but rather their mere presence during the Hallel and Haggadah (and Kedesh and Birkas Hamazon), and so there is no problem for the leader of the seder to be the only one to have the four cups of wine - for it is not a mitzvah she’be’gufo. Indeed, in explaining why four cups suffices for the entire family, Tosafos says ‘the logic is that why should the four cups of wine be any different from kiddush;’ I.e. the mitzvah is that the cup of wine should be present during the recitation. So, in summary of what we have said so far: there are two ways of understanding the main mitzvah of the four cups; either the main mitzvah is the drinking of the four cups (Rambam), or their presence to show importance for Hallel and Haggadah, etc. (Tosafos). We shall label the first understanding ‘drinking,’ and the second understanding ‘presence.’

There are several practical differences which arise from this dispute; we have already mentioned one - does each person need to have four cups of wine (‘drinking’) or is it sufficient for the leader of the seder alone to have the four cups (‘presence’). Another example is the following case: you only have enough wine for four cups [each], and after having successfully recited the Haggadah over your cup of wine, the cup spills before you get a chance to make the bracha of ‘borei pri hagefen’ and actually drink the wine. What do you do? It depends. If the mitzvah is the ‘presence,’ there is no need to worry, because the main mitzvah has been fulfilled [the cup of wine was there for the reciting of the Haggadah], and you do not necessarily need to refill your glass just to drink the wine. But if the mitzvah is the ‘drinking,’ you would need to refill your glass and actually drink the wine; and hope that your neighbour has some spare wine to give you for the rest of the seder. A third practical difference is a case which the gemarra discusses; if one drinks the four cups of wine one after another in quick succession.[10] Tosafos[11] says that one has not fulfilled his obligation this way, whilst the Rambam[12] and Rashi[13] hold that one has fulfilled his obligation. This is based off the previous dispute between the Rambam and Tosafos; the Rambam holds that the mitzvah is the drinking, and thus as long as one has drunk the four cups (even consecutively), then one has fulfilled his obligation. But Tosafos holds that the mitzvah is the ‘presence,’ and so since the cups of wine were not present during Kadesh, Hallel, Haggadah, and Birkas Hamazon, (you drunk them consecutively already) one has not fulfilled his obligation here. A fourth difference is why one pours the second cup before Maggid. Rashi[14] says that it is in order to encourage the child to ask; this is because Rashi understands the mitzvah to be the ‘drinking.’ But if the mitzvah is the ‘presence’ (like Tosafos), the reason we pour the wine before Maggid is simple; because the mitzvah compels us to have a cup of wine in front of us when we recite the Haggadah.

Therefore, we have seen two different understandings of the mitzvah of the four cups; ‘drinking’ (Rambam), or ‘presence’ (Tosafos), and four practical differences between the two opinions. We shall add that it seems that Rashi is a slight mixture between the two. In the above differences (regarding drinking the four cups consecutively and the reason we pour the wine before Maggid), it seemed that Rashi held that the mitzvah was the drinking. It must be pointed out that this is only true of the first three cups; Rashi says[15] that the fourth cup of wine is there because of Birkas Hamazon - I.e. to show honour/importance to the Birkas Hamazon. This is a ‘presence’ aspect to the mitzvah.[16]

Finally, we shall add a bit about the ‘source’ of the four cups. There are several opinions as to what the four cups represent,[17] the most famous of them being that they represent the four expressions of redemption.[18] However, Rashi[19] cites a surprising opinion that the four cups are modelled on the times the word ‘cup’ comes up when the butler tells Yosef his dream in prison in Egypt. What does this part of the Yosef episode have to do with the Exodus that it should be the ‘source’ of the mitzvah of the four cups?

An answer is that it teaches us something fundamental about redemption, which is the theme of Pesach. Though some might see Yosef’s time in prison as his darkest hour, it was actually this dream of the butler which was the start of the redemption for Yosef’s brothers - this was the moment which set up Yosef’s elevation to viceroy in motion, and thus ensured that the brothers were settled in Egypt. The point is that the redemption was not despite this ‘dark hour,’ but was as a result of this dark hour. In fact, it was the Jews’ special status [which was secured by Yosef] which brought on the years of slavery, which, in turn, caused the redemption; HaShem says[20] ‘and I heard the cries of Bnei Yisrael that Egypt is enslaving them…therefore tell Bnei Yisrael that I am HaShem and will take them out of the burdens of Egypt…’ And the same occurred in the Purim story; just when it looked like things had taken one bad turn after another; Esther had been ‘legally kidnapped’ to be the king’s wife and the gallows were built to hang Mordechai, we saw that the very source of our pain was that which brought about our redemption - Esther’s position allowed her to plea to the king and saved the day, and the gallows were used to hang Hamman. This is why we have wine on Purim and Pesach. Of all the seven species of Eretz Yisrael, the grape is the only one which is edible naturally; it does not require any further processing or developing. But what do we do to it? We crush it, ferment it, and thoroughly beat the living daylights out of it. And to a novice onlooker’s surprise, what comes out is wine - something more valuable than what the process began with. Thus, the very process of making wine teaches us that the tragedy (decimating the perfect grape) causes the ‘redemption’ (the wine) - a theme which is central to both Purim and Pesach.[21]

Have a Chag Kasher Ve’Same’ach, [1] Gemarra Ta’anis 29a [2] Rashi Ta’anis 29a ‘mishenichnas’ [3] Rambam hilchos Chametz U’matzah 7:7 [4] Tosafos Pesachim 99b ‘lo’ #2 [5] The mishna there said that ‘we must not provide him (a poor person) with less than four cups of wine.’ Tosafos understood that the fact that this was expressed in the singular (‘him’) is because four cups of wine suffice for him and his entire family. The Rashbam there understands the ‘him’ differently; he understands it to refer to the gabbai tzedaka who gives out the wine to the poor people, and thus the mishna is saying that we must not provide him (the gabbai tzedaka) with less than four cups of wine (per poor person). [6] As asked by the Netziv in his Meromei Sadeh on the above Tosafos, if I remember correctly [7] This is the approach of the Ketzos HaChoshen 182. The Kovetz Shi’urim (Kesuvos 253) has a different approach. [8] Tosafos Sukkah 38a ‘mi’ [9] The Brisker Rav and Kehillas Ya’akov make this connection between the two Tosafosim [10] This connection is made by Dayan Abramski [11] Tosafos Pesachim 108b ‘bebas achas’ [12] Rambam hilchos Chametz U’matzah 7:9 (as long as one has drunk the majority of each cup) [13] Rashi Pesachim 108b ‘bebas achas.’ The fact that he understands the gemarra’s case (of when you have not fulfilled your obligation) to be referring to when one pours all four cups of wine into one cup and then drinks it, implies that if one were to drink four cups consecutively, there would be no problem. [14] Rashi on Mishna Pesachim 116a ’vekan’ [15] Rashi Pesachim 108a ‘arba.’ [16] Apparently, the Brisker Rav [Griz al HaRambam hilchos Chametz U’matzah perek 7] says that the Rambam also holds that the four cups of wine have both aspects. [17] See Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1 [18] Rashi Pesachim 99b ‘arba’ and Rashbam there ‘ve’lo’ [19] Rashi Pesachim 108a ‘arba;’ for the resolution to the contradiction between this Rashi and the Rashi in note 18, see the Yefei Einayim, Pesachim 108a [20] Shemos 6:5-6 [21] Rav Nissim Kaplan. He said this in the context of why, in certain circumstances, wine is the only food which commands a special bracha of ‘hatov vehameitiv’

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