Why Wine?

V’hotzeisi… v’hitzalti… v’gaalti… 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 imbibing 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 that 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; 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.

Q: Were any of the Egyptians spared from the plague of blood?

Q: As Moshe was preparing to leave the city to pray for the end of the hail, he informed Pharaoh (9:30) that he recognized that Pharaoh still didn’t fear “Hashem Elokim.” This is the first time since Parashas Bereishis (3:23) that these two names of Hashem are used in conjunction. What is the significance of this?

A: The Meshech Chochmah quotes the Midrash that teaches that one of the purposes of the plague of blood was to make the Jews wealthy. Since only they had potable water, the Egyptians were forced to purchase it from them. Since Pharaoh had already “paid” the Jews through all of the kindnesses that he did for Moshe while raising him in his palace, he was exempt from the plague.

Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, wonders whether other Egyptians were able to come to the royal palace to receive water, or whether the water was restricted to Pharaoh and his family. The Matamei Yaakov questions the Meshech Chochmah’s explanation, pointing out that every Egyptian who ever did an act of kindness for a Jew should have been exempt from the plague based on this logic. Instead, he suggests that only money paid by the Egyptians after the plague commenced was sufficient to spare them.

A: The Maharshdam explains that Hashem executed the plagues using His attribute of justice, connoted by the name Elokim. However, during the plague of hail, He also combined an element of mercy, represented by the name Hashem. Even in the midst of the great destruction caused by the hail, the Torah records (9:32) that the wheat and spelt were spared from the plague. Because food was necessary for their survival, Hashem had mercy even on the Egyptians.

Although earlier plagues also struck at critical supplies (such as turning the water into blood), Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlita, writes that in the plague of hail, the Egyptians who feared Hashem brought their animals into their homes when they heard of the impending plague (9:20). Because they demonstrated some fear of Hashem, they merited His mercy.

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.