Friday, November 25, 2016

The 5th Cup

Derasha for the 2nd day of Pesach, תשע"ה

Most of us have heard of the four cups, but very few of us have heard of the much less famous fifth cup. This is probably for a few very good reasons: 1. the Mishna mentions four cups, not five; 2. the printed text of the Talmud does not say anything about a fifth cup; 3. we all learned in day school that the four expressions of redemption from the beginning of Parashat Vaeraוהוצאתי, והצלתי, וגאלתי, ולקחתי—I will take out; I will save; I will redeem; and I will take—teach us that we need four cups, not five.

But as one ventures toward the fringes of the pages of the Talmud, one discovers that there was an alternative text possessed by many of our medieval sages which stated: “Rabbi Tarfon says, “[On] the fifth [cup], we recite the Hallel Hagadol.” Hallel haGadol refers to the 136th chapter of Tehillim, which consists of 26 verses, each beginning with an exclamation of gratitude and each concluding with the same phrase:  כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃for his loving-kindness endures forever.[1]

Rambam codifies Rabbi Tarfon’s dictum in the following words:

…he pours the fourth cup and completes hallel upon it…and he may not taste anything else the rest of the night—except for water.
One may pour a fifth cup, and say hallel haGadol upon it. This cup is not a requirement like the four cups.

This is a very peculiar halakha. Either it’s good to say hallel haGadol or it’s not—why is it tied to this optional fifth cup!? Why is this cup not a requirement? Is it merely a halakhic mechanism permitting someone to drink just one more cup? Basically, what is the purpose of this fifth cup?

And furthermore, if, according to the Rambam, drinking the four cups is a fulfillment of the obligation for a person “to present himself as if he himself went out at that moment from the bondage of Egypt”[2] what does the fifth cup represent?

On Pesach we are presented with a basic problem: on one hand, we are supposed to rejoice in our freedom—but on the other hand, we are still (even after the establishment of Medinat Yisrael) in the bondage of the exile.

This tension is most palpable in the blessing said on the completion of the Maggid.[3] At the moment we should be experiencing the greatest joy, the tone of our prayers shifts as we pray for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash and express our yearning for the day on which we will give thanks to God with, and I quote:

“a new song for our redemption and the saving of our souls.”

Though while in exile each of our festivals is tinged with a degree of grief and bitterness, perhaps on Pesach more than any other festival we feel this anguish most acutely. As we sing hallel haMitzri, rejoicing in our redemption from Egypt, how can we not be reminded of the redemption that is yet to come? How do we deal with this tension between reality and vision?
I believe that the fifth cup comes to provide a kind of resolution to this problem. To understand how this is so, let us take a closer look at the text of the hallel haGadol.

The most striking feature of this chapter of Tehillim is the 26 time repeated phrase, כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃for His loving-kindness endures forever. Why is it repeated so many times in the hallel haGadol? What is its significance?

The answer, I believe, can be found in the words of our prophets. This refrain just happens to be identical with the joyful cry of the final redemption expressed by Yirmiyahu:

So said the Lord: There shall again be heard in this place, concerning which you say, "It is desolate without man and without beast," in the cities of Yehudah and in the streets of Yerushalayim that are desolate without a man and without an inhabitant and without a beast, the sound of joy and the sound of happiness, the voice of a bridegroom and the voice of a bride, the sound of those saying,  הוֹדוּ֩ אֶת־ה' צְבָא֜וֹת כִּי־ט֤וֹב ה֙ כִּֽי־לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּ֔וֹ "Thank the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for His loving-kindness endures forever," bringing a thanksgiving offering to the House of the Lord, for I will restore the captivity of the land as at first, said the Lord. (33:10-11)
Hallel haGadol is, in fact, a song of redemption!
With this in mind, I am ready to offer an interpretation.
“The fifth cup is not a requirement like the four cups.” What this means is that the fifth cup is not like the other four, which represent our redemption from Egypt. The fifth cup recognizes our state of exile and represents the possibility of a personal redemption that echoes the ultimate redemption—it cannot be a requirement like the four cups, but it must be there as a possibility.
This, of course, begs the question: how do we achieve this personal redemption? The secret is revealed by taking an even closer look at the text of the hallel haGadol. After a litany of gratitude for the wondrous creation and the numerous salvations God has wrought for us time and again—including the exodus, the splitting of the Yam Suf, the defeat of the mighty kings, Sichon and Og, and the inheritance of the Promised Land—we end with the following two verses:
נֹתֵ֣ן לֶ֭חֶם לְכָל־בָּשָׂ֑ר    כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃
ה֭וֹדוּ לְאֵ֣ל הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם    כִּ֖י לְעוֹלָ֣ם חַסְדּֽוֹ׃
He provides sustenance to all flesh; for his loving-kindness endures forever.
Give gratitude to the God of Heaven; for his loving-kindness endures forever.
This, according to R’ Yochanan, is the reason it is called hallel haGadol, the Great Hallel. “Because the Holy One, blessed is He, resides at the height of the world and distributes sustenance to every creature.” (Pesachim 118a) God’s greatness is ultimately demonstrated in His everyday sustenance of the world!
The tension between exile and redemption is resolved by a shift in focus: from the political to the personal. The fifth cup embodies the idea that when we are able to recognize the true chesed that God does for us at every moment—providing us with our daily sustenance—we can experience a redemption that can transcend the limitations of our exile.

It is my b’rakhah to all of you that, even in the midst of our exile, each of you be able to experience this personal redemption. May we all merit to say l’chaim on the fifth cup, speedily in our days!

[1] More precisely, it begins with three calls to give praise using the word הודו, followed by 22 exclamations of praise and capped with a final call of הודו.
[2] In every generation a person is obligated to present himself as if he himself went out at that moment from the bondage of Egypt, as it says, "and us—He took out from there..."(Deuteronomy, 6:23).  And concerning this matter the Torah commands, "And remember, that you were a slave" (Deuteronomy, 5:14; 15:15; 16:12; 24:18; 24:22), meaning, it is as if you yourself were a slave and you went out to freedom and were redeemed.

Therefore, when a person dines on this night, he must eat and drink while he is reclining in the way of freedom. And every single person, male and female, is obligated to drink on this night, four cups of wine, no less; and even a poor person who is supported by charity, they should not give him less than four cups….

[3] Blessed are you Hashem our God, King of the Universe, who redeemed us and redeemed our forefathers from Egypt, and enabled us to reach this night to eat matza and marror. So Hashem our God and the God of our forefathers should enable us to reach other convocations and festivals that are coming to greet us in peace, happy in the building of Your city and joyful (sasim), in your service, and we shall eat there from the sacrifices and from the paschal offering that their blood should reach the wall of Your altar for favor, and we shall give thanks to You [with] a new song for our redemption and for the saving of our souls. Blessed are you Hashem, Redeemer of Israel.