Exodus 6:6-8 is the basis upon which the rabbis determined that 4 cups of wine are to be consumed during the Passover Seder. Each cup corresponds to one of the 4 verbs that describes how God freed the Israelite slaves from Egyptian bondage:
“… I will free you (ho-tzei-ti et’chem) from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you (v’hi-tzal’ti et’chem) from their bondage. I will redeem you (v’ga-al-ti et’chem) with an outstretched arm … And I will take you (v’la-kach’ti et’chem) to be My people, … I will bring you (v’hei-vei-ti et’chem) into the land…”
Wait! There are 5 verbs, not 4, and so we have to wonder why we don’t drink 5 cups of wine.
Some explain that Elijah’s cup is the 5th cup and is the most important of all because it symbolizes the future messianic era when justice, compassion, and peace will characterize all human affairs.
Others say that since the Haggadah is a Diaspora text (the first Seder was held in the middle of the night in Egypt), from the perspective of the Haggadah the 5th verb points to a state of being that has not yet occurred because the people have not as yet entered the land of Israel.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, some Israelis identify the 5th cup of wine as the “Zionist cup” representing the fulfillment of the Zionist project in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Rabbi Josh Weinberg (President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America – ARZA) suggests that perhaps there ought to be an additional cup of wine, a 6th cup symbolizing the need of every Jew to understand, acknowledge and reconcile the differences that characterize Diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews, political right-wing and political left-wing Jews, young Jews and old Jews.
A 6th cup of wine can be a reminder that the unity of the Jewish people must be a principle goal for us all. The concluding verses in the Prophetic Book of Malachi, the Haftarah portion read on this Shabbat Tzav, present both the challenge and the consequences of failure in stark terms:
“Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord. He [Elijah] shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.” (3:23-24)
May your Seders be filled with understanding and light, renewal and optimism, meaning and significance, good food and wine, loving family and friends, joy and hope.
Shabbat shalom and Chag Pesach sameach!