Passover Pages of Sinai Temple
The Four Cups of Wine
Aren't Just Four Cups

This is a reading that could be done before the first cup of wine is blessed.  The reading is based on the Talmud’s explanation for why there are four cups of wine at a Seder.  The rabbis of the Talmud created the idea of four cups because they noted that there were four expressions of redemption early in the Exodus story.  In Exodus 6:6-7, God promises the Israelites… “I will bring you out;” “I will deliver you;” “I will redeem you;” and “I will take you.”

In our time, we could imagine that each promise & each cup of wine represent current groups that need to be “brought out, delivered, redeemed, or taken out.”

Rabbis for Human Rights (an Israeli social justice group) suggests the following way for interpreting the cups this year.  The leader could read or share what follows as a responsive reading with another participant.

As we consider the first cup of wine for this year’s Seder, we envision America as a true “land of the free” – where everyone has a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing of him/herself and of his/her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services (from Article 25 of the Declaration of Human Rights).

As we consider the second cup of wine, we envision modern Israel as a country that fosters development for the benefit of all its inhabitants. We envision an Israel that is “based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel,” an Israel that “will ensure the complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants” (from the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, 1948).

And as we consider the third cup of wine, we envision a world where everyone has work and where everyone receives equal pay for equal work. We envision a world where everyone also can enjoy rest and leisure, and periodic holidays with pay (adapted from Articles 23 and 24 of the Declaration of Human Rights).

For our fourth cup, we will dream.  We will hope for a world where no one is held in slavery or servitude… a world without sweatshop laborers, where all workers are able to make a fair wage, regardless of which country they are born.  We pray for a world where all products are fairly traded, and no one country or financial institution can dictate trade policies (adapted from Article 4 of the Declaration of Human Rights). 

Four cups for four visions of a renewed world! 

L’chaim – To Life.

So that next year we may all be free…

Forgive me, God, for remaining aloof while others are in need of my assistance.

Wake me up, God, ignite my passion, fill me with outrage.  Remind me that I am responsible for Your world.  Don’t allow me to stand idly by. Inspire me to act.  Teach me to believe that I can repair some corner of the world. 

When I despair, fill me with hope.  When I doubt my strength, fill me with faith.  When I am weary, renew my spirit.  When I have lost direction, show me the way back to meaning, back to compassion, back to You.  Amen.             

From Rabbi Naomi Levy


Why do we drink four cups of wine on this night?

It is the first reminder that only the Jews, who suffered so much under the Romans, have preserved the customs of the Roman meal:  reclining when we drink, two cups before the meal and two after, dipping one kind of food into another before eating.  But since the ancient Romans exist no longer, banished to oblivion for their cruelty and their ostentation, why do we continue their custom?  Perhaps as a reminder that however human beings may misuse the products of God’s creation, it is up to us to help redeem them, to restore the holiness for which God created them.  Thus we have transformed the ostentatious meal of an arrogant oppressor into the modest matzah feast of the (rescued) oppressed.  Part of the transformation takes place through the taste of the wine itself, changing an ordinary night into the holy time of Passover.

How can drinking wine be a mitzvah/commandment?

A great teacher, Rav Moshe Poleyoff, once explained the difference between drinking for the sake of the mitzvah and drinking that leads to drunkenness.  If one is empty inside and expects the wine to supply the happiness, the wine only leads to hopeless abandon and inebriation.  But if one is filled with joy and wishes to express that joy through drink, then the wine represents a simcha shel mitzvah (the joy of the mitzvah) – and the consumption of the wine itself becomes a mitzvah.  That is the kind of drinking that takes place at the Passover Seder.