Wine glasses filled half-way.

Finding Mental Wellness in the Four Cups of the Seder

By Max Hollander

In his commentary on the collection of Jewish law known as the Mishnah, the 12th century medieval commentator Rashi shares one possible origin for the practice of drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder:

These four cups correspond to the four descriptions of redemption stated during the exodus from Egypt: “I will free you,” “I will deliver you,” ‘I will redeem you,” and “I will take you out” (Shemot 6:6-7) in Parshat VaYera. (Mishnah Pesachim 10:1)

At first glance, this seems somewhat redundant. If we are commemorating one event, our escape from slavery in Egypt, and emphasizing our newfound freedom and appreciation for it, why not drink a single glass of wine (or an alternative beverage) like any other holiday? Additionally, why not drink the four cups of wine at once rather than over the course of the Seder?

Perhaps Rashi’s commentary answers both of those questions in the following way: By identifying these four cups with different descriptions of redemption, Rashi may be suggesting the Jews’ journey to recovery and freedom did not happen in one awesome moment; rather, it was achieved in stages that took time and effort. For that reason, we spread these four cups — these four stages of redemption, as explained by 16th century scholar Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also known as the Maharal of Prague — out over the course of the Seder.

Even if we had remained slaves, but the burden had been removed, we would have raised a cup of gratitude to God.

We drink another cup, because God completely nullified our servitude.

Because God defeated our pursuers so they could no longer afflict us, we drink the third cup.

We raise the fourth cup in honor of the redemption and freedom that come with the giving of the Torah — the Jew’s introduction to Judaism — and the freedom that comes with the purpose and meaning our tradition provides.

This highlights the fact that freedom from the things that oppress us and hold us back takes time, and we should feel grateful for and celebrate each step in our own journeys out of our personal “Egypts.”

Is there a personal Egypt in which you found yourself trapped in the past or are still dealing with? Can you identify and feel gratitude for the steps you took to escape that Egypt and the people who helped you do it — or the steps you have taken so far in escaping that Egypt? Or, should you still find yourself in Egypt, perhaps you can consider any steps you can take over the course of the Seder to escape that Egypt? During the Seder, each of the four cups is supposed to be poured by someone else for the person drinking that glass — showing us the steps we take toward freedom don’t have to be — nor should they be — made alone.

I have always found it challenging to see myself in the Seder experience. There is so many long passages to read and different foods to eat — it can be hard to find a moment to be introspective. However, drinking the four cups offers a fantastic opportunity to pause, be in the moment, and silently appreciate the steps you’ve taken to escape your “Egypt.”

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