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THE FOURS AND THE FIVES OF THE PESACH SEDER

By: Yissachar Dror



Many commentators – most notably, the Vilna Gaon – have drawn attention to the significance of the number four in the Haggadah.

There are four well-known sets of four associated with the seder:

·         The four questions

·         The four sons

·         The four cups of wine

·         The four expressions of redemption (Shemot 6:6-7): 1) I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians 2) and free you from their slavery. 3)I will deliver you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 4) I will take you for Me as a nation.

In truth, however, the Haggadahfeatures also a fifth set of four – the four verses from Parashat Ki Tavo (Devarim 26:5-8) which we read and explain as part of the maggid section of the seder:

·         An Aramean tried to destroy my father. . .

·         And the Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us. . .

·         And we cried to the Hashem, the Gd of our fathers. . .

·         And Hashem brought us out of Egypt. . .

Seemingly, then, there are five sets of four, and not just four.

Additionally, the Gemara in one context (Pesahim 118a) makes mention of a fifth cup of wine at the seder: “Rabbi Tarfon says, over the fifth cup of wine one should recite Hallel Hagadol.” Many commentators wondered why Rabbi Tarfon is speaking of a fifth cup of wine, when, as we know, the requirement is to drink just four.

Rashi and the Rashbam answer, simply, that the word “five” in Rabbi Tarfon’s remark is the result of a printer’s error, and should be amended accordingly. The Rambam (Hilchot Hametz Umatzah 8:10), by contrast, writes that, indeed, there should be a fifth cup of wine at the seder, but, unlike the first four, this fifth cup is voluntary, and not mandatory. Several other commentators understood that there is a mitzvah to drink five cups.

Often, when the Gemara leaves a halachic question unresolved, it states, “Teyku” – which literally means, “Let it stand,” but is also an acrostic for the words, “Tishbi yetaretz kushyot ve’ibbayot” – “The Tishbi (Eliyahu Hanavi) will resolve difficulties and questions.” Therefore, given the uncertainty surrounding the possible requirement of a fifth cup, it is customary to pour a fifth cup at the sederbut not to drink it, and to refer to this cup as kos shel Eliyahu – “Eliyahu’s cup,” as we are waiting for Eliyahu to teach us whether this cup is required.

However, there might be deeper significance to this custom – one which touches upon a mysterious pattern of five sets of five that lies beneath the surface of the Haggadah.

The Missing Fifths

Aside from the fifth cup, there are also a number of other “missing fifths.”

The Fifth Expression of Redemption

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi, the four cups of wine correspond to the four expressions of redemption which we cited above. Rabbi Tarfon, however, indicates that we drink five cups of wine – because, in truth, there is also a fifth expression: “And I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov…

The Fifth Son

The opposite of the rasha – the wicked son – is the tzadik– the righteous son. However, this son is not mentioned in the Haggadah – because there is no child born a complete tzadik. One needs to spend years yearning and working to reach the stature of a tzadik.

The Fifth Question

Besides the questions in the Haggadah, the Mishnah states that a child should ask, “On all other nights, we eat meat that is cooked, boiled or roasted; but on this night, only roasted meat.” (This text can still be found in the early manuscripts of the Haggadah discovered in the Cairo Genizah.) This question was asked in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, when the seder included the meat of the korban pesach, which had to be roasted and could not be prepared in any other way. After the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed, we no longer bring this sacrifice, and so this question was dropped and replaced by a different question (why we recline at the seder).

The Fifth Verse

Another missing fifth is the fifth verse in the aforementioned section from Parashat Ki Tavo, which we do not include in the citation of this section at the seder: “He (Hashem) brought us to this place (Israel) and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Although the Mishnah (Pesahim 10:4) states that we must “complete the entire passage,” we stop before the final verse.

What is the meaning of all these “missing fifths” at the seder?

The answer might be found in the Torah’s description of Beneh Yisrael’s condition at the time they left Egypt, saying that they left “hamushim” (Shemot 13:18). This word is commonly understood to mean “armed,” but the word “hamushim” might also be read as a derivative of the word “hamesh” – “five.”  This perhaps alludes to the fact that when Beneh Yisrael left Egypt, they were “armed” with the ability to reach a very special level – the fifth level, the level of completion, of living as Gd’s nation in the Land of Israel.

Thus, the missing fifths represent the missing element of redemption, which, unfortunately, has yet to unfold.

We might wonder, how can we possibly celebrate our freedom, our arrival in the Land of Israel, when we are still in exile? How can we drink the last cup of redemption after having declared at the beginning of the seder, “This year, [we are] slaves, next year, [we will be] free; this year [we are] here, next year [we will be] in the Land of Israel”?

 The fifth cup, the kos shel Eliyahu, serves to remind us we are still in exile. Let us hope and pray that we can and will very soon drink a fifth cup of wine at the seder night, “Leshanah haba’ah BiYerushalayim – next year in Jerusalem!”