In our parsha (Va’era), there appear two verses from which we learn to drink four cups of wine on Pesach. The phrases say, “And therefore I say to the Jews, ‘I am the Lord and I took you out of the slavery of Egypt and I rescued you from your servitude and redeemed you…And I took you to me as a nationŔ (Ex. 6:6-7). From the four words, “I took you…I rescued you…I redeemed you…and I took you as a nation,” the sages concluded that we should drink four cups of wine on Pesach.

Among the commentators, there is one who asks, “Why not require four loaves of bread [matza]?” That is, the important biblical commandment associated with Pesach is not wine, but matza, so why shouldn’t the four terms above refer to matza, rather than to wine? In answer, the commentator (the Mordecai) suggests that the four phrases correspond to the “four cups of salvation,” and therefore it is inappropriate to associate them with matza, but only with wine. However, this response only applies to the opinion that the four terms of salvation are associated with “cups” of salvation, while the question may be asked according to all of the opinions.  So, we’re back to the original question: Why do the four terms apply to wine, and not to matza?

Regarding matza, Jewish law requires us to take three matzot for the Pesach seder. Two are needed to fulfill the requirement of the holiday (just as on any other festival and Shabbat, we take lechem mishneh – “double portion”). A third is required to remind us that matza is lechem oni – the “bread of the poor” – which we consumed in haste while quickly exiting Egypt. However, since everything in Torah is precise and meaningful, it is logical that the number three also has an intrinsic correspondence with matza, in addition to the reason mentioned above. If so, there are two themes associated with Pesach, one of which is divided into three details (and it comes into expression by eating matza). And the other is divided into four details, expressed by drinking wine.

We know that the Jews did not emerge from slavery in Egypt of their own accord. They were “sunk” in the “forty-nine gates of spiritual impurity,” and had they remained another moment in Egypt, they would not have been able to get out. It was only with help from Above that the Jews exited Egypt. As the verse said, “The King, King of all Kings revealed himself to them and redeemed them.” The Jews themselves were not yet prepared for redemption; it was only an act from Above that took them out of Egypt.

For that reason, we might say that the true completion of the exodus only occurred later, as the Jews received the Torah. That is, while the exodus from Egypt occurred on the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan, it was only partially completed. Only when the Jews took upon themselves to receive the Torah and do all that they were commanded (which took place seven weeks later), was the process complete. We can actually see this in the terminology of the Torah. The last of the four terms mentioned above, “And I took them to Me as a nation” (Ex. 6:7) applies to the giving of the Torah. The purpose of redemption from Egypt was to emerge from all the impurity that stuck to them while they were in Egypt. This process took time, as the Jews approached Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. It only reached its completion when they accepted the Torah, becoming God’s “nation.”

And that explains the difference between matza and wine. Matza symbolizes the redemption as it occurred from God above, rather than of the initiative of the Jews below. As the language of the Pesach hagada indicates, we eat matza because the dough of our fathers failed to achieve a leavened state before the “King, King of all Kings was revealed and redeemed them.” So, matza symbolizes the haste and chaos that prevailed as the Jews were redeemed from Above by G-d. That is why it is called “bread of the poor” – here “poor” indicates a state of mind, not necessarily physical poorness. This was our state when we didn’t have enough self-awareness to exit Egypt of our own volition, and had to be led out by the One above. We were in a state of psychological dependence, and we were poor in that we didn’t know why we were being redeemed or for what purpose. We only knew that He revealed Himself that night and took us out of Egypt.

This state of affairs is represented by matza, which is tasteless, unleavened bread. Since we had no “taste” (meaning understanding of what was happening or feeling for what we were undergoing that night), we eat matza, which has little or no taste. “Taste” represents that which has some sort of intellectual or emotional content, lending it character. But since the redemption came from Above, from God, the Jews had no sense of logic or reasoning behind their redemption. This state of affairs was symbolized by the tasteless matza that we are commanded to eat on Pesach night.

Wine, on the other hand, possesses both taste and color. It has character and content, and it elicits a response from the one who drinks it. Wine is a “reminder of redemption and freedom,” and eventually (by the time of the giving of the Torah), the Jews also grasped and understood the nature of their redemption from Egypt.

Now, we may also understand the reason why we eat three matzot, while drinking four cups of wine. Looking closely at the scripture alluding to the four cups of wine, we see that the first three terms all appear in one verse (Ex. 6:6). They all appear to emphasize G-d’s action from Above to redeem the Jews, from Above to below. They are: “I took you out…I rescued you…and I redeemed you. None of these terms refer to any initiative or will of the Jews below to go out from Egypt. They all refer to the events as they unfolded at the very time of the exodus, and they came “from Above.” It is only the fourth term of redemption, “I took you to be my nation,” that implies any kind of partnership from the Jews below. In order to become God’s “nation,” there had to be a willingness and desire of the Jews to receive the Torah and accept its directives.

That is the reason why there are three matzot. They correspond to the first three terms of redemption appearing in the verse (Ex. 6:6), that emphasize how the redemption occurred from Above, from God’s providence, without active participation from below. The wine, though, since it symbolizes how the Jews also participated of their own volition, is expressed in the number four (since it includes the fourth term, “I took you as a nation” – in Ex. 6:7). And that is the reason, as well, that the main Biblical command applies to matza, since the exodus itself was an action that took place of God’s initiative, as indicated in the first three terms of redemption (in Ex. 6:6).

For a longer and more detailed version, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 26, pp 43-48

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