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Why do we pour wine out of the cup at the Seder?

by Rabbi Yosef Resnick and Rabbi Simcha Bart

  

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When reading the Haggdah during the Passover Seder we spill1 wine from our cups into a broken bowl three times:

1) At the mention of “blood, smoke, and pillars of fire.”
2) At the mention of the Ten Plagues
3) At the mention of the simanim, the mnemonic devices given by Rabbi Judah.2

Altogether we spill sixteen times.3 

Here are some of the symbolisms for this practice:

A. Just as the Egyptians became less in number with each plague, so, too, it is appropriate to lessen the amount of wine in our cups.

B. The Torah says4 "all the sicknesses that I have visited upon Egypt I will not visit upon you", so when we mention the plagues, we "pour" them out of our cups.

C. Wine symbolizes our rejoicing, and pouring some wine out of the cup demonstrates that our rejoicing is not perfect, because other people suffered in the process of our liberation. True they were evil and deserved to be punished, but the Torah tell us5 "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice".6

we are ridding ourselves of any anger and indignation we may harbor
These are reasons on the level of “drash,” a homiletic explanation. There is also a deeper Kabbalistic reason given, which can serve to enhance and enrich our kavanah (intention/meditation) when we perform this part of the seder.

This kavanah and its reasoning are brought down in the Haggadah of the Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the “Chabad Haggadah,” where he explains as follows (this is deep kabalistic stuff; brace yourself):

One should have in mind that the broken cup represents sod hamalchut  (the secret of sovereignty), and the wine that is being poured into the broken vessel represents the secret of anger and indignation, that comes through the power of binah (understanding) into the broken vessel, the secret of klipah, which is called “arur,” accursed.

The wine left in the cup is called the “secret of the wine that makes one rejoice.” Therefore, we do not pour out this wine, but rather add to it.

What this seemingly complicated, and undeniably deep kavanah means, is that as we pour out the wine, we are ridding ourselves of any anger and indignation we may harbor, utilizing our intellect. This is in accordance with the basic principle espoused by Chassidut Chabad, that the mind rules over the heart.

Every single action we do at the seder has deep import and significance, and no part of the seder should seem insignificant to us. How lucky we are, that through such a seemingly simple act as pouring out wine into a bowl, the Torah affords us the opportunity to become changed people, to elevate ourselves, and to scale new heights of holiness.

Footnotes

  • 1. Some have the custom to take drops out with their finger, and some spill directly from the cup.
  • 2. Rabbi Judah took the first letter of the Hebrew name each of the ten plagues, and created a three word “symbol” – “detzach adash b’achav” -- to easier remember the plagues and their order.
  • 3. Rama on Shulchan Aruch 473:7. See Magen Avraham SK 29 for the symbolism of 16.
  • 4. Exodus 15:26
  • 5. Proverbs 24:17
  • 6. Source: Rabbi Yitzchok Abarbanel in his Passover commentary Zevach Pesach.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Haggadah
Holidays » Passover » Seder » The Wine
Holidays » Passover » Seder » Laws and Rituals

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Passover
A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Haggadah
Text read at the Passover Eve feasts. The Haggadah recounts in great detail the story of our Exodus from Egypt.
Seder
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.
Kabbalistic
(adj.) Pertaining to Kabbalah—Jewish mysticism.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.