D’var Torah: April 22, 2016

Dear Friends,

This Erev Shabbat – Pesach’s first Seder – enjoy your five cups of wine. Five cups? Don’t you mean four?

No. Five.

And, no, the fifth cup is not the cup of Elijah, or even having an additional cup of a fine Israeli cabernet sauvignon with dinner. Rather, The Seder has five cups, not the four with which we are commonly accustomed. That is, if one is sharing the Seder with Rabbi Tarfon of the Mishnaic period.

The Seder and the Haggadah, you see, were once, and continue to be, very fluid. Different rabbis of the first century in the early rabbinic period, when the Haggadah was being crafted, followed varying customs. Only later was it fully codified with its core elements which we recognize today – the broken matzah, the four questions, the four children, and more – and even today, many take license and add or adjust elements to enrich or embellish the ancient story. Some add an orange to the Seder Plate to recount disenfranchisement of women in Jewish law; some march about the dinner table flagellating one selves to reenact the experience of Egyptian slavery.

And some drink a fifth cup of wine, a la Rabbi Tarfon. He added the fifth cup to express another biblical prophecy distinct from the four redemption prophecies of the four customary cups, which mark our release from Egyptian slavery. Rabbi Tarfon’s fifth cup heralded another redemption which had not yet occurred. He endeavored to write future into history, and place it as the capstone of the Seder. Ultimately, his fifth cup fell to the cutting room floor, perhaps incorporated into the Cup of Elijah, hoping to hasten the coming of the Messianic period.

This Shabbat, our D’var Torah shifts to a D’var Haggadah, both in this weekly email, and around our Seder tables. What new questions or messages will your Seder include?

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Kasher v’Sameach,

Rabbi Douglas Kohn