Torah Weekly

For the week ending 16 January 2010 / 29 Tevet 5770

Parshat Vaera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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G-d tells Moshe to inform the Jewish People that He is going to take them out of Egypt. However, the Jewish People do not listen. G-d commands Moshe to go to Pharaoh and ask him to free the Jewish People. Although Aharon shows Pharaoh a sign by turning a staff into a snake, Pharaoh's magicians copy the sign, emboldening Pharaoh to refuse the request. G-d punishes the Egyptians and sends plagues of blood and frogs, but the magicians copy these miracles on a smaller scale, again encouraging Pharaoh to be obstinate. After the plague of lice, Pharaoh's magicians concede that only G-d could be performing these miracles. Only the Egyptians, and not the Jews in Goshen, suffer during the plagues. The onslaught continues with wild animals, pestilence, boils and fiery hail. However, despite Moshe's offers to end the plagues if Pharaoh will let the Jewish People leave, Pharaoh continues to harden his heart and refuses.


To Drink Or Not To Drink?

“And I shall bring you to the Land…” (6:8)

One of my childhood's magical moments at the Pesach Seder was when I was dispatched to open the front door for Eliyahu HaNavi – Elijah the Prophet.

I would stand there gazing into the somewhat unpromising night air of Hampstead Garden Suburb hoping to catch a glimpse of our illustrious and elusive guest.

Not too long ago here in our house in Jerusalem at the Yom Tov meal on the first day of Pesach, I took the cup of Eliyahu — that had been covered from the previous night — to use it for the morning Kiddush. As I removed the plate we all saw that the cup was barely three quarters full, far below its level at the Seder.

My younger son offered this as proof positive that Eliyahu had indeed visited us the previous night.

Why is this cup of wine — that we pour but don't drink — called the cup of Eliyahu?

Rabbi Yochanan explains that the four cups of wine that we drink at the Seder correspond to the four “redemptions” of which the Torah speaks: "I shall take you out …" "I will rescue you…" "I will redeem you…" and "I shall take you to me…" (Talmud Yerushalmi Pesachim 9:1)

However, there is a fifth redemption written in the Torah, "I shall bring you to the Land…"

Why then don't we drink five cups at the Seder?

In fact, there is a dispute amongst the early commentators, if indeed we should drink a fifth cup or not.

Thus our custom is to pour the cup but not to drink it.

But why is this called the cup of Eliyahu HaNavi?

In the time of the Mashiach, Eliyahu will return to us. It is he who will reconcile all previously unresolved halachic questions, and he will also resolve the question of the fifth cup: To drink or not to drink?

  • Sources – The Vilna Gaon, Talmud Bavli Pesachim 118

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