Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Seder Night
To dedicate this lesson

Why drink four glasses of wine? Are we sots?


Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

Our Sages decreed that one drink four glasses of wine in order to highligh our freedom on the Seder night, as well as to correspond to the four verbs regarding redemption in the Torah: "I will bring you out... I will deliver you... I will redeem you... I will take you".

Why did the Sages insist specifically on wine? First, free people drink wine, and drinking wine signifies freedom. In addition, drinking wine brings about special joy (Sefer HaChinuch, Positive Commandment 31). Wine makes a person rejoice, and when a person rejoices he can perform the commandments in a better way.

Furthermore, the enhanced joy brought about by wine hints at the way the redemption will come. Generally, when a person eats anything, the first bite is the most delicious, the second less so, and the third even less so. In the case of wine, it is the exact opposite: with each glass one’s joy increases. So, too with Israel’s redemption; thus with each of the four verbs illustrating redemption each stage is succeedingly higher: "I will bring you out" is the first stage, and this will be followed by "I will deliver you." That will be followed by "I will redeem you," and finally, "I will take you" – whereupon we are enveloped beneath the wings of the Divine Presence.

This, however, needs clarification. The Nation of Israel is generally opposed to the drinking wine. It is true that we drink a glass of wine for kiddush, but drinking four glasses seems to be a bit excessive. Is it appropriate for us to use a symbol that would seem to imply drunkenness, and at the Seder of all times? (Even on Purim, there are guidelines for how much one ought to drink!).

The answer is that the drinking wine on the Seder night expresses our freedom, our ability to use the material for a higher purpose. Wine, alcohol, is one of the most dangerous threats to a person's sense of control, one of the most widely abused substances in humanity's history.

Rather than abusing wine for lowly matters, we harness the potency of it through kiddush and use it to achieve spiritual elevation and holiness. Freedom signifies control! A free person knows how to control his passions and his body. The freedom of the Seder night teaches us to be free people throughout the year, by not losing control even though we are indulging in drinking wine.

However, on the Seder night itself we drink four glasses. On the Seder night our souls are free, and, therefore, four glasses of wine will not disturb our freedom. Rather, the four glasses allow us to channel our spirituality towards expressing our joy and gratitude to God.

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