V’hotzeisi … v’hitzalti … v’ga’alti … v’lakachti (Shemos 6:6–7)
The Pesach Seder begins with Kiddush, which is the first of the four cups of wine that we are required to drink. Rashi writes (Pesachim 99b) that these four cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption mentioned in the Torah. However, this begs the question: even if we want to commemorate these four different expressions of freedom at the Seder, why must we specifically do so by drinking four cups of wine as opposed to any other food item, such as eating four apples?
Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, explains that the four expressions of redemption aren’t four different phrases connoting freedom, but four different levels of freedom, with each one being higher than the one below it. Therefore, our Sages specifically instituted a requirement to drink four cups of wine because wine is unique in that each additional glass isn’t simply more of what we’ve already had, but rather it qualitatively brings additional joy and happiness.
With apples or any other food, this isn’t the case, as each additional fruit is essentially the same as those which preceded it, and by the third and fourth serving one is already accustomed to it and it adds little additional value. Because we are commemorating the four expressions of redemption and the fact that each represents a higher level of freedom and joy, wine is the appropriate means for doing so.
Alternatively, wine is unique in that it is made from grapes. In their state as grapes, there is nothing particularly special about them, and the blessing recited when eating them is the same as for any other fruit. Only after they have been crushed with the proper amount of pressure does their juice come out, at which point it must be left to ferment in the right environment so that it becomes wine and not vinegar.
In this sense, grapes are a perfect metaphor for the experience of the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. The Egyptians constantly pressed and squeezed the Jewish slaves, but their doing so was part of Hashem’s master plan to subject the Jewish people to a kur habarzel — iron furnace — in order to purify them and bring out their true greatness.
In fact, the very name Mitzrayim refers to constricting borders, which describes the experience of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. However, just like the liquid secreted by the grapes, the Jews had a choice to succumb to the tests and trials and become vinegar, or to rise and overcome them to maximize their potential by becoming wine. Because wine is unique in this regard and contains this symbolic message, Chazal specifically commanded us to use it to represent the four expressions of redemption.
Parashah Q & A
Q: The Torah records (6:23) that Aharon married Elisheva, the sister of Nachshon. Rashi writes that from the fact that the Torah mentions the seemingly extraneous detail about Elisheva’s brother, we may derive that before marrying a woman, one should first examine her brothers, because her sons will grow up to be similar to them. If a woman has two brothers, of whom one is righteous and one is wicked, is it appropriate to marry her?
Q: As private citizens, why weren’t the Egyptians and their animals exempt from the punishment of the plagues which should have been meted out exclusively to Pharaoh for his cruel role in enslaving the Jewish people?
A: Harav Dovid Halevi Horowitz notes that the Mishnah in Eduyos (2:9) teaches that a son is similar to his father in appearance, strength, wealth, intelligence and lifespan. If so, how can Rashi write that a woman’s sons are similar to her brothers? He suggests that half of a son’s traits come from his father and half come from his mother’s brothers. In light of this, in the case of a woman with one righteous brother and one wicked brother, her sons will receive half of their attributes from their virtuous father, and of the half that come from her brothers, some will come from her righteous brother. Because the majority of the traits will come from positive sources, there is no problem with marrying such a woman. As proof, he notes that Chazal record (Masechta Semachos 12) that Rav Chanina ben Tradion had a wicked son, yet we find that the Tanna Rav Meir married the daughter of Rav Chanina. Even though she had an evil brother, the fact that she had other righteous brothers was sufficient for Rav Meir to marry her, especially in light of the fact that this entire concept is not a legal requirement but merely advice given by Chazal.
A: Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, explains that to prevent the individual Egyptians from being able to make this argument, Yosef intentionally purchased them, their land and their animals to be part of Pharaoh’s national treasury. As a result, they had no such claim, since anything that happened to them was all part of the punishment coming to Pharaoh. Alternatively, the M’rafsin Igri quotes a Midrash which teaches that Pharaoh initially refused to enslave the Jews, so the Egyptian people deposed him, at which point he acquiesced to their demands, and was reinstated. Since the individual Egyptians were the ones who forced Pharaoh to enslave the Jews, they were also deserving of punishment. Additionally, once they demonstrated their ability to tell Pharaoh what to do, they should have insisted that he free the Jews once the plagues began.
Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.