Passover arrives this Friday night. Around Burlington and around the world people will be sitting down to a festive Passover meal. The Seder meal has many important elements: the Four Questions, the search for the afikoman, the Seder plate, the eating of maror (horseradish root) and not to be forgotten, the four cups of wine.
The four cups correspond to the four times God promises, in the Torah, redemption of the Hebrew people from Egypt.
The First Cup: The Cup of Sanctification
“I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians.” Exodus 6:6
The Second Cup: The Cup of Redemption
“I will deliver you from their bondage…” Exodus 6:6
The Third Cup: The Cup of Blessing
“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” Exodus 6:6
The Fourth Cup: The Cup of Acceptance
“And I will take you to be my people.” Exodus 6:7
Yet in the Torah there is a further promise of redemption. “I shall bring you to the land…” Exodus 6:8
For many Jews this fifth promise of redemption, the bringing of our ancient ancestors to Israel, constitutes a fifth cup of wine. The fifth cup is also known as the Cup of Elijah, the one who heralds the coming of the Messianic Age. This cup of wine symbolizes the redemption for an enslavement still waiting to be realized. When I was very young we dedicated the fifth cup to the realization of civil rights. A little later on the fifth cup was dedicated to Russian Jewry yearning to be free. Over the years the fifth cup came to represent a host of different causes and concerns that kept redemption from being realized: women’s rights, the cure from disease, refugees, AIDS patients, freedom for Tibetans and freedom for Ethiopian Jews.
When you plan your Seder this year consider what human tragedy desperately needs to be addressed. Hunger? The plight of Syrian refugees? The homeless? It’s your choice. Consider also the opinions of family members or ask the guests to your Seder in advance. It’s not enough to celebrate our wondrous redemption when there are still others who are suffering. Passover’s message of hope is a universal message. We were slaves in Egypt and God with an outstretched arm freed us from Egyptian bondage. Now let all humankind be free.
“When will redemption come?” asks our prayer book. It responds, “When the broken fragments of our world are made whole again (Tikun Olam).”
May your Passover season be filled with health, happiness and love.
Rabbi James Scott Glazier
Suggested Fifth Cup Readings: