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Dear ~2~,
In our parsha, there appear two verses from which we learn to drink four cups of wine on Pesach. The phrases say, “And therefore I say to the Jews, ‘I am the Lord and I took you out of the slavery of Egypt and I rescued you from your servitude and redeemed you…And I took you to me as a nationŔ (Ex. 6:6-7). From the four words, “I took you…I rescued you…I redeemed you…and I took you as a nation,” the sages concluded that we should drink four cups of wine on Pesach.

Among the commentators, there is one who asks, “Why not require four loaves of bread [matza]?” That is, the important biblical commandment associated with Pesach is not wine, but matza, so why shouldn’t the four terms above refer to matza, rather than to wine? In answer, the commentator (the Mordecai) says that the four phrases correspond to the “four cups of salvation,” and therefore it is inappropriate to tie them to matza, but only to wine. However, this response only applies to one opinion (that the cups correspond to the four terms of salvation from Egypt), while the question was asked according to all of the opinions (including the halachic opinion, that the cups correspond to the four terms of redemption). So, we’re back to the original question: Why do the four terms apply to wine, and not to matza?

Regarding matza, Jewish law requires us to take three matzot for the Pesach seder. Two are needed to fulfill the requirement of the holiday (just as on any other festival and Shabbat, we take lechem mishne – “double portion”). A third is required to remind us that matza is lechem oni – the “bread of the poor” – which we consumed in haste while quickly exiting Egypt. However, since everything in Torah is precise and meaningful, it is logical that the number three also has an intrinsic correspondence with matza, in addition to the reason mentioned above. If so, there are two themes associated with Pesach, one of which is divided into three details (and it comes into expression by eating matza). And the other is divided into four details, expressed by drinking wine.

We know that the Jews did not emerge from slavery in Egypt of their own accord. They were “sunk” in the “forty-nine gates of spiritual impurity,” and had they remained another moment in Egypt, they would not have been able to get out. It was only with help from Above that the Jews exited Egypt. As the verse said, “The King, King of all Kings revealed himself to them and redeemed them.” The Jews themselves were not yet prepared for redemption; it was only an act from Above that took them out of Egypt.

For that reason, we might say that the true completion of the exodus only occurred later, as the Jews received the Torah. That is, while the exodus from Egypt occurred on the fifteenth day of the month of Nissan, it was only partialially completed. Only when the Jews took upon themselves to receive the Torah and do all that they were commanded (which took place seven weeks later), was the process complete. We can actually see this in the terminology of the Torah. The last of the four terms mentioned above, “And I took them to Me as a nation” (Ex. 6:7) applies to the giving of the Torah. The purpose of redemption from Egypt was to emerge from all the impurity that stuck to them while they were in Egypt. This process took time, as the Jews approached Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah. It only reached its completion when they accepted the Torah, becoming G-d’s “nation.”

And that explains the difference between matza and wine. Matza symbolizes the redemption as it occurred from G-d above, rather than of the initiative of the Jews below. As the language of the Pesach hagada indicates, we eat matza Ӆbecause the dough of our fathers failed to achieve a leavened state before the King, King of all Kings was revealed and redeemed them.” So, matza symbolizes the haste and chaos that prevailed as the Jews were redeemed from Above by G-d. That is why it is called “bread of the poor” – here “poor” indicates a state of mind, not necessarily physical poorness. This was our state when we didn’t have enough self-awareness to exit Egypt of our own volition, and had to be led out by the One above. We were in a state of psychological dependence, and we were poor in that we didn’t know why we were being redeemed or for what purpose. We only knew that He revealed Himself that night and took us out of Egypt.

This state of affairs is represented by matza, which is tasteless, unleavened bread. Since we had no “taste” (meaning understanding of what was happening or feeling for what we were undergoing that night), we eat matza, which has little or no taste. “Taste” represents that which has some sort of intellectual or emotional content, lending it character. But since the redemption came from Above, from G-d, the Jews had no sense of logic or reasoning behind their redemption. This state of affairs was symbolized by the tasteless matza that we are commanded to eat on Pesach night.

Wine, on the other hand, possesses both taste and color. It has character and content, and it elicits a response from the one who drinks it. Wine is a “reminder of redemption and freedom,” and eventually (by the time of the giving of the Torah), the Jews also grasped and understood the nature of their redemption from Egypt.

Now, we may also understand the reason why we eat three matzot, while drinking four cups of wine. Looking closely at the scripture alluding to the four cups of wine, we see that the first three terms all appear in one verse (Ex. 6:6). They all appear to emphasize G-d’s action from Above to redeem the Jews, from Above to below. They are: “I took you out…I rescued you…and I redeemed youŔ None of these terms refer to any initiative or will of the Jews below to go out from Egypt. They all refer to the events as they unfolded at the very time of the exodus, and they came “from Above.” It is only the fourth term of redemption, “I took you to be my nation,” that implies any kind of partnership from the Jews below. In order to become G-d’s “nation,” there had to be a willingness and desire of the Jews to receive the Torah and accept its directives.

That is the reason why there are three matzot. They correspond to the first three terms of redemption appearing in the verse (Ex. 6:6), that emphasize how the redemption occurred from Above, from G-d’s providence, without active participation from below. The wine, though, since it symbolizes how the Jews also participated of their own volition, is expressed in the number four (since it includes the fourth term, “I took you as a nation” – in Ex. 6:7). And that is the reason, as well, that the main Biblical command applies to matza, since the exodus itself was an action that took place of G-d’s initiative, as indicated in the first three terms of redemption (in Ex. 6:6).

There is deep Torah significance to the numbers three and four that goes beyond the specific issues of matza and wine on Pesach. The sages (in tractate Shabbat 104A) said that the letters gimel and dalet (representing the numbers three and four, respectively) are related by the phrase gomel dalim (“giving to the poor”). That is, the letter gimel comes from the word gomel, meaning “to give,” while the letter dalet means “poor.” So, immediately we become aware that the number three is associated with giving and influencing, while the number four is associated with receiving (as a poor person receives). In intellectual terms, the process of giving involves three steps, while the actual reception is a fourth step. The three steps are the following; first, the concept appears in its most pristine form in the mind of the giver. Then, he makes a decision to teach, or give over whatever he is thinking. And finally, he arranges the appropriate details and decides how to teach or give them over. These are the three steps that take place in the mind of the giver, before they are actually received by the receiver. And this is the relationship between the letters gimmel and dalet (and the numbers three and four); there are three steps in preparation to give, and one step of reception.

This is also one explanation of why there were three forefathers, and four “fore-mothers” of the Jewish people. Both the forefathers and “foremothers” were involved in propagating the Jewish people. But while, their descendents (the tribes, and after them the entire Jewish people) existed within the forefathers in a very hidden and concealed way (as in the three steps sited above), their children became real physical human beings when the fore-mothers gave birth. What existed in potential and in the realm of possibility by the forefathers became concrete as a result of the fore-mothers. So, again, the three and the four are associated with the steps and preparation of “giving,” while the fourth is the actual deed itself.

Coming back to the subject of Pesach: Within the exodus from Egypt was to be found the entire process of redemption, including the later full acceptance of the Torah at Sinai. It was just that on the night of the exodus, as the redemption occurred from Above, the full details were hidden from view. And that is where we find the difference between matza and wine. The command to commemorate and relive the exodus as it exists in the written Torah (also called musar avicha – “the directives of the father”) emphasizes the redemption as it occurred from the perspective of G-d. That is why the Torah tells us to eat matza, meaning three rather tasteless pieces of unleavened bread, because “giving” is symbolized by the number three.

But, the sages, who gave us the decree to drink four cups of wine, were part of the oral Torah (also called torat imecha - “the teachings of your mother”). As such, their decree to commemorate and relive the exodus came with the number four, reminding us that the redemption took place not only from Above, but also from below, from the perspective of the receiver. And therefore, their decree applied to wine, which has taste and color, and also is associated with the number four.

The final step in our redemption, with the advent of the meshiach and the third and final Temple, will come when an arousal from Above meets sufficient demand from below, and that will usher in the Jewish messianic age.

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 26, pp. 43-48 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem