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The Fifth Cup

Va'eira (Exodus 6:2-9:35 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

Moshe's initial attempt to liberate the people seemed to have had the opposite result: instead of winning their freedom, the misery had increased. Moshe questions God. What happened to the assurances he was given at the Burning Bush? Why have things regressed? How and when will they be freed? In response, God provides Moshe with new assurances, and tells him to transmit these assurances to the people:

Therefore say to the People of Israel, 'I am God, and I will bring you out from under the burden of Egypt, and I will save you from their slavery, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and you shall know that I am the Almighty your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in to the land which I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give it to you for a heritage; I am God.' (Shmot 6:6-8)

These verses contain what has become known as the 'four expressions of redemption'. The Jerusalem Talmud(1) associates(2) these expressions with the four cups of wine that punctuate the various parts of the Haggada and around which the Pesach Seder is constructed.(3)

From where do we derive the Four Cups? Rebbi Yochanan said in the name of Rav B'naya, 'These parallel the four redemptions: "Therefore say to the People of Israel, I am God, and I will bring you out ... And I will take you to me for a People...;" etc.; 'bring', 'save', 'redeem', 'take'. (Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 68b)

Despite the familiarity of this teaching, some may find it disingenuous: In order to arrive at the desired number four, in order to create a parallel between the verses which promise liberation and the four cups of the Seder, a fifth expression is 'edited out': The verses quoted above constitute what appears to be one organic divine statement, yet the last expression, "And I will bring you in to the land", is ignored.

This problem was addressed by Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, who differentiated between two different themes in these verses, and ascribed them to different events in the Jewish calendar, ritual and liturgy: Pesach commemorates the Exodus, and the Seder is an educational tool to teach us about the experience of slavery in Egypt and our miraculous salvation. This is the subject of the first four expressions, but not the fifth. The fifth expression addresses a different phase in our history. There is no reason to mention our conquest of the Land of Israel during the Seder; this is a different aspect of the biblical narrative, commemorated by a different holiday (Shavuot), in different liturgy and ritual (the Bringing of the First Fruits). For this reason, the last verse is "disconnected" from the others. Although all five expressions comprise one unified communiqu?, God's message to Moshe and the nation is truncated in the sages' analysis, and the fifth expression, the "Shavuot" expression, is suppressed.

On the other hand, the purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was never merely geographical. The Jews were not freed from bondage in order to become nomads. Their freedom, as well as their enslavement, served a greater purpose. For this reason, from the outset, Moshe was entrusted with a task that went beyond the physical extrication of the Children of Israel from Egypt. As Moshe was told at the moment God first informed him of his task, their true freedom would involve more than a relocation or political emancipation. The purpose of the Exodus was to bring the Jewish People to Mount Sinai, where they would serve God.(4)

And he said, 'For I will be with you; and this shall be a sign to you, that I have sent you: When you bring forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain. (Shmot 3:12)

For millennia, this has been the Jewish definition of true freedom:

And it says, 'And the Tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the Tablets.' Read not harut [which means graven] but herut [which means freedom]. For there is no free man but he that occupies himself with the study of the Torah. (Mishne Avot 6:2)

It is an axiom of rabbinic thought that true freedom is possible only through receiving the Torah, an event we commemorate, celebrate and renew on Shavuot. Among the sages there are those, including Rabbi David Pardo, who opine that true freedom was achieved only when the Jews entered the Land of Israel, for freedom includes religious and political autonomy.(5) Nonetheless, the fifth expression of freedom that is the basis for this view seems to have been purposefully left out of the Exodus story told at the Seder. The rabbinic mainstream separated between the four expressions of redemption that lie at the heart of the Pesach Seder, the ultimate re-telling of the liberation story, and the fifth expression which involves inheriting the Land of Israel. Thus, even though the Talmud Bavli does not connect the four expressions of liberation with the Seder's four cups, the Mishna's instruction that four cups are to be consumed is left as an uncontested rule of law.

On the eve of Pesach close to minha a man must not eat until nightfall. Even the poorest man in Israel must not eat [on the night of Pesach] until he reclines [at the Seder table]; and they should give him not less than four cups [of wine], even [if he is supported by] charity. (Talmud Bavli Pesachim 99b)

In fact, many traditions seem to indicate that the Talmud Bavli did speak of a fifth cup at the Seder:(6)

Our Rabbis taught: On the fourth [cup] he concludes the Hallel and recites the great Hallel. (Talmud Bavli Pesachim 118a)

While our texts of the Talmud read that the Hallel is recited over the fourth cup of wine, many early commentaries, the Rambam among them, apparently had a different text:(7)

He should pour the fifth cup and say upon it the great Hallel. (Rambam Laws of Chametz and Matzah Chapter 8)

The fifth expression of redemption is alive and well in the versions of the Talmud that were current and common through the late Middle Ages; many mainstream commentaries taught that the Hallel is recited on a fifth cup, while others taught that the fifth cup is optional.(8) In many communities, a "compromise" was forged between the traditions that reflected the variance in Talmudic texts, whereby the fifth cup is poured but not consumed. This fifth cup is known today as the "Cup of Eliyahu", perhaps because the Prophet Eliyahu will resolve the underlying textual dispute,(9) or because of the symbolism of the fifth expression of redemption as it relates to Eliyahu, the harbinger of the future redemption in which all Jews will be brought to the Land of Israel.(10) In either case, the fifth expression of redemption, the final verse in God's assurances to Moshe, is not set aside completely; it remains part of the same organic speech to Moshe that was transmitted to the Children of Israel in Egypt - and to all of their descendents, throughout the generations - in the context of the process of liberation and redemption. As such, this fifth expression is preserved in the Pesach Seder.(11)

A deeper analysis of God's assurances to Moshe may resolve this issue, and help us determine whether the verses contain five distinct statements - or only four. First, we should broaden our parameters somewhat and consider the context of these verses. The expressions of redemption are introduced as God tells Moshe that He has not forgotten the covenant forged with the Patriarchs:

And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the Land of Canaan, the land of their sojourning, in which they sojourned. And I have also heard the groaning of the People of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in slavery; and I have remembered my covenant. (Shmot 6:4-5)

Rashi explains that God is referring to the covenant first made with Avraham, known as the Brit Bein Hab'tarim, the Covenant of the Pieces.(12)

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, lo, a fear of great darkness fell upon him. And he said to Avram, 'Know for a certainty that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and [they] shall enslave them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great wealth.' (Bereishit 15:12-14)

Rashi makes this statement in a general sense, and does not attempt to match each promise made to Avraham with the assurances received by Moshe. That task was left to Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, in his work Kli Yakar.(13) There, he explains that the four expressions of freedom precisely parallel God's covenant with Avraham, the vision that mapped out the history of the Jewish People. Avraham was informed that his descendants would suffer exile, slavery and persecution. The very core of this affliction is the isolation and estrangement that results from becoming distanced from the shechina. This is what it means to be a stranger, to feel isolated; it is this estrangement that is described in the verse "strangers in a land that is not theirs." This initial stage is followed by slavery; the spiritual disconnection is what makes the slavery possible. Surely, not every stranger is enslaved; this second stage represented a more extreme level of affliction, a deepening of the existential crisis that Avraham's descendents would experience. This second stage is described to Avraham in the verse "and [they] shall enslave them". A third stage is foretold: Even more than 'regular' slavery was the extreme torture and abuse meted by the Egyptians, which is represented by the phrase "and they shall afflict them."

The redemption may be seen as a stage-by-stage reversal of each of these levels, with the most pressing need addressed and corrected first: When God addresses Moshe with the various expressions of redemption; He first gives redress to the affliction, to their acute and unprecedented physical affliction. The first thing God tells Moshe is that He will save the Children of Israel from suffering: "I will bring you out from under the burden of Egypt". The next expression addresses the second stage: "I will save you from their slavery". The next expression of redemption, "I will redeem you", addresses the physical exile of the Jewish People.

Taking the Kli Yakar's model in a slightly different direction, we might suggest that this third element should focus on the end of the verse:

I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. (Shmot 6:6)

God assures Moshe that the Exodus will be accompanied by a process of judgment of their oppressors. This same assurance is found in God's covenant with Avraham:

And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great wealth. (Bereishit 15:14)

The final expression of redemption addresses the metaphysical distress of estrangement: "And I will take you to me for a People, and I will be to you a God". The uniqueness of this nation of erstwhile slaves will be made apparent to the world. Pharaoh and all of Egypt will finally understand the unique relationship that God has with the descendents of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The reason for the suffering, the hardship, the exile and torture, will become apparent as the Jews march out of slavery toward their destiny as God's chosen nation.

This fourth expression stands alone, in a verse unto itself, and the terminology used to express this assurance is noteworthy: The word with which God describes the realization of Israel's uniqueness is "ve'lakachti", the very same term used in the context of marriage.(14) When God says that He will "take" us as a people, the language used to describe this special, unique relationship is reminiscent of marriage. In effect, when God gives Moshe this assurance, when He says "ve'lakachti", the overtones that we hear, the echoes that reverberate through the text, seem to say "Harei at mekudeshet li". This phrase, which creates the legal status of marriage, demarcates and creates a unique, holy bond. The literal translation of this phrase, "I am making you holy to me", is the core of the relationship between man and wife, as well as between God and the Jewish People. This unique relationship, promised to Moshe and to all of the Jewish slaves, was consummated at Sinai.(15)

Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own treasure among all peoples; for all the earth is mine. And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the People of Israel. And Moshe came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Almighty commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, 'All that the Almighty has spoken we will do.' And Moshe returned the words of the people to God. (Shmot 19:5-8)

We may say, then, that the first three expressions of redemption were used describe the Exodus, while the fourth term describes the realization of the true and complete emancipation of the Jewish People, as they stand at Sinai and are betrothed to God. This is parallel to the Brit bein Habtarim, the covenant between God and Avraham; it is in that covenant that God spells out the path of exile, slavery, affliction, but it is also the covenant that lays the basis for Avraham's chosenness, and for the unique destiny of all of Avraham's descendents.(16)

But what of the fifth expression of redemption - "And I will bring you in to the land I swore to give to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov; and I will give it to you for a heritage; I am God"? The reference to the covenant forged with the Patriarchs is explicit - as explicit as the promise of the Land of Israel is in the Brit bein Habtarim:

'But in the fourth generation they shall come here again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.' And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Almighty made a covenant with Avram, saying, 'To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates. (Bereishit 15:16-18)

Indeed, we may say that the main focus of that covenant was that Avraham and his descendants would one day inherit the Land of Israel. Their sojourn in Egypt and their travels through the desert were merely the path that they would take in order to become God's nation and receive the Land. The ultimate expression of freedom, then, is the fifth expression of redemption in God's assurances to Moshe: the Jews will inherit the Holy Land, the Land of Israel. Only then, only there, can the People of Israel attain the highest level of freedom. This may be seen as ultimate expression of the sanctity of the union between a husband and wife: their union is not complete until they establish their home together and live together. While their relationship is unique and holy as soon as the "Harei at mekudeshet li" is uttered, the full realization of their unique bond occurs when they live together. So, too, the covenant with the descendents of Avraham is fully realized only when the Children of Israel reside in their own home, in perfect union with God.

These same stages of redemption may be found in the eschatological vision of the Prophet Yechezkel:(17)

For thus says the Almighty God: 'Behold, I will search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock in the day when he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from among the peoples, and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be; there shall they lie in a good pasture, and in a fat grazing land shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down,' said the Almighty God. (Yechezkel 34:11-15)

This vision of the messianic age describes the ingathering of the exiles and their return to the Land of Israel. Yechezkel's vision is one of peace and tranquility, with God as our shepherd. The symbolic language gives voice to the Jewish vision of true freedom - freedom from tyranny, from foreign rule, from evil. This is the very same vision symbolized by another cup of wine - the cup of our future salvation.

I will raise the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of God. (Psalm 115:13)



1. The Jerusalem Talmud actually offers multiple possible sources for the four cups of wine around which the Pesach Seder is organized. One suggestion is that the four cups commemorate the four times the word 'cup' is mentioned in the dream of the wine steward. This dream, and Yosef's ability to properly interpret it, was the catalyst for Yosef's liberation from slavery, and, ironically, the beginning of the brothers' enslavement. For more on this idea, see Emanations (Targum Press, 2000).

2. This teaching is also found in Shmot Rabbah 6:4, where the four expressions of redemption are said to parallel the four decrees of Pharaoh enumerated in Shmot Rabbah 1:12,18: AND I WILL BRING YOU OUT FROM UNDER THE BURDENS OF THE EGYPTIANS, etc. (Shmot 6: 6). There are here four expressions of redemption: I WILL BRING YOU OUT-I WILL DELIVER YOU-I WILL REDEEM YOU and I WILL TAKE YOU. These correspond to the four decrees which Pharaoh issued regarding them. The Sages accordingly ordained four cups to be drunk on the eve of Passover to correspond with these four expressions, in order to fulfill the verse: I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord (Ps. 116:13).

3. The four cups are assigned to four parts of the Seder: The first cup is for the Kiddush, the second is for telling the story of leaving Egypt, the third is for the Blessing after the food, and the fourth is for the completion of the Hallel. See Meiri's succinct comments to Pesachim 99b.

4. See Siftei Kohen Shmot 6:6.

5. See Maskil Lidavid Shmot 12:25.

6. For more on the fifth cup see Haggada Sheleyma of Rav Kasher pp 161-177, and Chokrei Zmanim volume 2 of Rav Alter Hilovitz 108-111.

7. For example see Rosh tenth chapter Pesachim section 33. Rambam Mishne Torah laws of Chametz and Matza 8:10.

8. See Rav Kasher page 170, who states "all the Gaonim and the overwhelming majority of Rishonim, and most manuscripts state 5th cup."

9. It is often assumed that the Hebrew word teku is an acronym which means that Tishbi - Eliyahu will one day come and resolve all arguments. It is doubtful that this is the original meaning of the word; most probably, it means "unresolved."

10. See Chokrei Zmanim page 111.

11. The Ra'avad, who commented on a version of the Talmudic text that read "fifth cup," is explicit: Rebbi Tarfon, the Talmudic sage to whom the passage is attributed, advocated a fifth cup because of the fifth expression of redemption, "And I will bring you in to the Land". See Raavad in his hasagot to the Baal Hamaor. Also see the citation of the Ra'avad in Orchot Chaim Pesachim page 79, Haggada Shleyma 177, Chokrei Zmanim page 109.

12. Rashi Shmot 6:5.

13. Kli Yakar Shmot 6:6.

14. Kli Yakar ibid.

15. See Mishna Ta'anit end of Chapter 4.

16. For a discussion of the sequence of events in Avraham's life, see Rashi on Shmot 12:40: Avraham was seventy years old at the time of the Covenant of the Pieces, and he was seventy five years old when he set out for Israel. According to Rashi, the Brit Bein Habtarim is the first time God appears to Avraham, despite the sequence in which the Torah records the events.

17. See Rabbenu Bachya Shmot 6:8.


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