“Parsha and Purpose” – Pesach 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Our Challenging Pesach:
The Circuitous Route to Redemption”
Our Challenging Pesach: The Circuitous Route to Redemption
The Jerusalem Talmud asks a question that we all are familiar with: Minayin l’Arba Kosot? How do we know that there are four cups of wine on the Seder night?
The Jerusalem Talmud gives the following answer: “ke’neged arba Geulot,” to mark the ‘four redemptions’ that happen to the Jewish people in Egypt: v’hotzeiti, ve’hitzalti, ve’ga’alti, ve’lakachti (I will take you out, save you, redeem you, take you). That God slowly takes us out of Egypt in four linear, progressive steps.
But the Jerusalem Talmud gives three other answers as well. Rabbi Levi says, ke’neged arba malchuyot – because of the four diaspora experiences that we’ll have, and the fact that God will redeem us from those diaspora experiences.
“VeRabbanan amri” – and the Rabbis say – “ke’neged dalet kosot shel poraniyot,” because of the four types of punishments that God will visit on the nations of the world, because they abused us during the diaspora experience.
But in addition to these explanations there’s one more which seems somewhat challenging. And that’s the answer of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, Do you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? “Ke’neged arba kosot shel Par’o,” because of the four cups of wine that are discussed in the dialogue and in the experience between Pharaoh and Joseph.
Now, I understand all the other reasons given by the Jerusalem Talmud. Four redemptions that happened in Egypt, or, a larger narrative, of the redemptions of the Jewish people from the entire diaspora experience. After all, the Haggada doesn’t just focus on the Egyptian experience; the second half of the Haggada, the post-meal Haggada, focuses on the final redemption of the Jewish people.
I also understand the comment that suggests that it’s focusing on the four statements of punishment that God says he will visit on all of those who abused us.
But what exactly is the connection between the redemptive experiences and the whole saga of Joseph and Pharaoh, and their four cups of wine?
Indeed, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is trying to teach us another paradigm of redemption, one that is so relevant to us in this time. And that is that there’s another story of redemption, a story of redemption in which the path of redemption is not linear but rather circuitous. A story that has its ups and downs; a story of the Joseph saga. Where he’s given a garment by his father to show his stature. But the minute that he gets that garment, then there’s trouble. He is sold into slavery and he begins to live a life of anonymity. Until then, he is chosen by the Egyptian minister Potiphar, to be in charge of his home, only to be in trouble with Potiphar’s wife, and then to sit in jail – again in anonymity – until he answers dreams of those in the jail with him. He’s promised that he’ll be remembered, only to be forgotten. But eventually he is chosen to answer the dreams of Pharaoh, which leads to his becoming the viceroy to the king.
A circuitous journey, one with ups and downs.
And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? Because life sometimes has its ups and downs! That even when we are talking about redemption, sometimes we go through challenging times. Even on an upward trajectory there can be ups and downs, there can be challenges.
And so therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, these four cups of wine don’t just focus on miraculous redemptions; they focus on redemptions that sometimes happen with ups and downs – much like the challenges that we’re facing now.
Thank God, even though we’re facing so many challenges, and so many of us have lost loved ones, we have to remember that the message of Pesach is that we move towards a redemptive experience. That even though this is a Pesach in my lifetime and so many of my friends’ lifetimes, in my siblings’ lifetimes, that has been unprecedented with challenges, that, please God, we will be committed to the four cups of wine and realize that we can find redemptive moments even in the time of challenge.
Says Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, look at the Joseph saga. It has its ups and downs, it has its dire death moments, but it also has redemptive moments. It’s all in our outlook, it’s all in our perspective.
Please God, as we sing about the [Cup] of Elijah, the Kos of Eliyahu, we will be reminded that Eliyahu is there to teach us that even in the most challenging of times, he is there to escort us, and to remind us that “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker”, the eternality of the Jewish people is guaranteed, and so is the future of humankind.
Chag Kasher veSameach, may it be a healthy holiday for all of us.