Celebrating freedom in challenging times

April 18, 2024 / 5 mins read
Celebrating freedom in challenging times

By Head of School, Dr. Jonathan Levy

The primary purpose of the Passover seder is to celebrate freedom, specifically from being slaves in Egypt. We tell the story of the Exodus, recline like free people, eat a festive meal, drink four cups of wine and eat matzah. While the reason for the matzah is fairly clear – it reminds us of the bread that did not have time to rise when the Israelites left Egypt – the origin of the wine is more obscure. The mishna in tractate Pesachim (10:1) states


On the eve of Passover, adjacent to minḥa time, a person may not eat until dark. Even the poorest of Jews should not eat until he reclines. And the distributors of charity should not give a poor person fewer than four cups of wine. (Translation from Sefaria)

Rashi, the classic medieval commentator, states that the four cups represent the four terms of salvation used by God to describe the deliverance (Exodus 6:6-7). The Tosafists (12th to 14th centuries, France) stated that the wine helps elevate the importance of various mitzvot at the seder, such as telling the story and reciting Hallel. Others propose that the wine is because of the four references to the word “cup” in the dream the butler reports to Joseph while in prison (Genesis, ch. 40).

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, a 16th century Polish rabbi also known as the Kli Yakar, builds on this. In his commentary to Genesis 40:11, he suggests that the drinking of the wine is part of a redemption from suffering. Furthermore he writes that anyone who is released from prison should drink their ‘four cups of salvation,’ as a sign of freedom.

The past six months have been a challenge for Israel as well as for Jews worldwide. We have seen unspeakable pain and sorrow, and seen heroes and heard their stories. I cannot think of anyone in our community who has not been impacted in some way. At TanenbaumCHAT, we continue to stress the centrality of Israel, and strive for ways to build connections with the people of Israel, whether it be through events, speakers, programming, plays, trips, videos, discussions, lessons or video conferences.

As we prepare for Passover this year, the idea of freedom, the central theme of the seder, has become more and more important. At a time when we pray for miracles for our brethren in Israel, we also remain cognizant of those who continue to be displaced, as well as the many individuals who remain held hostage. May they soon be able to drink their four cups, as free people, reunited with their loved ones.