Four Cups, Four LeChaims
The Meshech Chochmah on the Four Cups (Parshas VaEirah)
Our Sages instituted 4 cups of wine at the seder and the Talmud Yerushalmi says that each one of the cups of wine symbolizes a different expression of redemption.
In Shmos 6:6 there are four expressions of redemption. They are:
- Vehhotzeisi—I will take them out
- Vehitzalty—I will save them
- Vego’alty—I will redeem them
- Velakachty—I will take them to me as a people.
Each expression is a different aspect of the redemption from Egypt.
The first expression, I will take them out, refers to God taking the Jews out of Egyptian culture. Because the Jews were culturally and ideologically assimilated and believed in the Egyptian idols and followed Egyptian philosophy. Taking them out meant removing the Jews from ideological subjugation to Egyptian philosophy. For God to take the Jews out of the midst of Egypt would only be possible if the Jews maintained their separateness as a Nation. This expression of redemption parallels the first cup of wine which is kidush. Kidush is sanctification of the festival however the only one who can create sanctity and holiness is someone who is, themselves, holy. Holiness, kedusha, in Hebrew means separation. Indeed, the Jews although they were culturally assimilated did not intermarry with the Egyptians. Therefore, they remained a separate nation. Thus, they fulfilled a requirement of being kadosh and are able therefore to sanctify the festival.
The second expression, I will save them, the vehitzalty, refers to God saving the Jews from the threat of being killed by the Egyptians. Saving the Jews from death at the hands of the Egyptians. However, to save the Jews from death at the hands of the Egyptians is possible but to save them from self-destruction would not be possible. So it was only possible to save the Jews from the Egyptians if the Jews were not pursuing, hurting and killing each other. So the fact that the Jews were saved from death at the hands of the Egyptians indicates that amongst themselves there was a unity within the Jewish people and they did not inform on each other to the Egyptian authorities, they did not pursue each other. Hence when God saved them from the hands of the Egyptians they were indeed saved because they were not going to self-destruct. This second expression of redemption shows the unity of the Jewish people.
The first expression indicates, identity—they did not assimilate even though culturally they were Egyptians, they maintained their status as a separate nation. The second expression indicates that the Jewish people had a sense of unity amongst themselves and hence God could save them from the hands of the Egyptians. He did not have to save them from themselves. This expression parallels the cup of Benching, which is an expression of our faith and trust in God. Because it is only when there is trust and faith in God that a person will not be jealous and hateful of others. Benching expresses the belief that our fortunes come from God, and that we should not be jealous and hateful. Therefore in this merit the Jews were saved from death at the hands of the Egyptians.
The third expression of redemption, the vego’alty, this refers to redemption from slavery. However, we know from the Talmud that slaves generally want to remain as slaves because they have no desire to have responsibility, no sense of self-esteem, or self-worth and they do not look at themselves as important. If God was able to redeem the Jews from slavery this indicates that the Jewish people still retain an understanding of who they really were, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and they still had self-esteem and there value was not based on what Egyptian culture said of them but was based on what they understood about themselves. This is indicated by the fact that the Jewish people still use the ancestral names of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Tribes, naming their children after their ancestors. An indication that they did not look upon themselves as Egyptians, they looked upon themselves as the children of Israel. This parallels the second cup of wine which is drunk at the first part of hallel which expresses our connection to our ancestors and forefathers.
The fourth expression of redemption, I will take you to me as a people, velakachty, states that God will bring us to Him and make us into an independent sovereign nation with laws, with rules and with a national identity. This would only be possible if the Jews would retain a hope of becoming such a nation, but if the Jews did not hope for the future to make them into a nation would not have been possible. The
Hope of the Jewish people that they would one day be a nation is indicated by the fact that they still used the Hebrew language. They retained the Hebrew language because they realized that once again they would be a nation, independent in their own land and would of course be using their own language.
This parallels the last cup of wine which is drunk after the last section of hallel which discusses the future redemption and future return of the Jewish people to Israel. So all of the expressions of redemption are each needed for one according to this explanation of the meshech chochmah maintains that each cup of wine also celebrates the virtue of the Jewish people at the time of the exodus:
- They did not intermarry and they maintained their kedushah, so they can be mekadesh the Yom Tov
- They had unity amongst themselves, they did not pursue and inform on each other so God could save them from death. This shows their bitachon and emunah expressed in benching.
- They still looked to themselves as children of Israel and did not identify as slaves and they showed this by keeping the names of their ancestors. This is found in the first half of Hallel.
- They held the hope for the future that they would be an independent nation and use the Hebrew language amongst themselves. This is the second part of Hallel
So that the Meshech Chochmah shows that there is not only a sign of praise to God but there is also a sign of praise to the Jewish people in these four cups of wine