108b - Last bit of Wine

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            We are going to finish, with God's help, the sugya of the four cups of wine today. Last week, we managed only two lines of gemara (together with a lot more of Tosafot), but this week, we shall pick up the pace.


            We are on 108b, line 9, "meitivei."


            The accompanying webpage is at:





            For the past two weeks, we have been analyzing the statement of Rav Yehuda that appears in the first line of this page. The opening part of his statement is:


Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel: These four cups must contain the amount of the pouring of a fine cup.


            This not altogether clear statement serves as the background for our initial study today. The EXACT meaning of Rav Yehuda's statement is disputed by Rashi and the Rashbam. However, we can already agree on the meaning of the words.


"A fine cup" means, as we already saw last week, the amount in the standard halakhic drinking cup, which is a "revi'it."


"Pouring" ("meziga") carries with it in halakhic parlance the implication that the wine is mixed with water. As Rashi (s.v. "k'dei"; based on a gemara in Shabbat 77a) explains:


The amount of the pouring of a fine cup - the measure is a quarter of a revi'it, so that he mix it and it reach a revi'it, for "wine that is not mixed in the proportion of one part to three parts water is not wine."


            The gemara (line 9) now continues:



A question is brought: These four cups must contain the amount of a revi'it, whether unmixed or mixed, whether old or new.

R. Yehuda said: It must have the taste and the appearance of wine.


In any event, it is written "the amount of a revi'it," and you have said "the amount of the pouring of a fine cup"?


Let us say: Both of these are the same amount. What did it mean "the amount of the pouring of a fine cup"? - for each and every cup, so that each one is a revi'it.


            The answer of the gemara is clear. Each cup must have a revi'it, which, if the cup is mixed in the usual manner, means that there is a quarter revi'it of pure wine in the cup. It is not completely clear what the gemara thought Rav Yehuda's statement meant before it gave this answer. According to Rashi, the gemara thought that Rav Yehuda required a revi'it for all four cups together, and the answer is that EACH cup requires a revi'it. According to the Rashbam, the gemara did not know that "a fine cup" was the equivalent of a revi'it, and that is the "chiddush" of the answer.


            In any event, the conclusion is undisputed. Each cup of the four must have a revi'it of wine. Let us continue with the gemara, which discusses the statement of R. Yehuda in the latter quote and his disagreement with the first opinion in the beraita.


R. Yehuda said: It must have the taste and the appearance of wine.

Rava said: What is the reason for R. Yehuda?

It is written (Mishlei 23): "Do not look at wine when it is red."


            The original opinion in the beraita had been that the wine could be, "whether old or new." The Rashbam explains the two types of wine as follows:


Ve-echad yashan

Whether old - which does not have much of a taste of wine, as it has been weakened. Or, alternatively, new wine does not have the taste of wine.


            The Rashbam offers two contradictory explanations of the terms of the beraita, but the basic meaning of the statement is the same. However, from the second definition of "new wine" as lacking the taste of wine, it is clear that the reference is to the alcoholic nature of the wine. The distinctive taste of wine is the alcoholic content in mature wine. This becomes clear from the Rashbam's explanation of the disagreement of R. Yehuda, which Rava explained as deriving from the verse in Mishlei, "Do not look at wine when it is red."


Al teireh yayin

Do not look at wine - Do not desire to consume it regularly when it is red, which implies that wine must have a particular appearance (red); and it must also have taste, since the verse warns not to become inebriated by it.


            Wine has a special status in halakha, and its use is to enhance certain recitations, as we saw last week. R. Yehuda insists that the ceremonial importance of wine is restricted to red wine, and also to "real" wine; i.e., not grape juice.




            The gemara continues with a new quote:


Tanu Rabbanan:

The Rabbis taught: All are obligated in the mitzva of the four cups, males, females, and children.

R. Yehuda said: What good is there in wine for children? Rather, we distribute nuts and toasted grains to them on Pesach eve, so that they should not sleep, but rather ask.

It was told about R. Akiva that he would distribute nuts and toasted grains to them on Pesach eve, so that they should not sleep, but rather ask.


            Question: What was the point of R. Yehuda's query, "What good is there in wine for children?" To what is he objecting?




            I imagine that not a few of you answered, as I originally did myself, that R. Yehuda is claiming that children are too young to drink. Wine, as a symbol of freedom, is meaningless for small children. However, the Rashbam does not endorse that explanation. He writes (s.v. "ve-chi"): What good is there in wine for children? - for they are exempt from mitzvot!"


            In other words, despite the explicit reference to "wine" in R. Yehuda's question, the Rashbam explains that R. Yehuda is objecting to any mitzva being applied to children, who are below the age of obligation. The question means, "what is the point in applying this mitzva (or any other) to children, who are exempt."


            Now, we know that there is an obligation to "educate" children in mitzvot, which practically means that they are obligated to perform those mitzvot of which they are capable. This is called the mitzva of "chinuch" (education). The Rashbam apparently feels that even so, the language "all are obligated in the four cups" is inappropriate for children, who are not obligated in the mitzva itself.


            Other commentators do interpret in the manner we suggested. For instance, the Ran writes:


What good is there in wine for children? - In other words, it is not applicable to educate them in mitzvot in this case, for since they do not enjoy it and are not happy with it, it is not "in the way of freedom."


            The Ran is pointing out the difference between the physical performance of a mitzva ("maase hamitzva") and the inherent fulfillment, what is accomplished by a mitzva ("kiyum hamitzva"). Drinking four cups of wine can be performed by a child; however, the Ran is claiming that the fulfillment of the mitzva is not in the drinking itself but in the experience of freedom that it expresses. This is not experienced by children with wine, and therefore the Ran says that they are not obligated, even under the rubric of "education."


The alternative suggested by R. Yehuda is not actually an alternative at all. There is no substitute for the four cups of wine for children. However, since we have raised the subject of children's participation, R. Yehuda mentions that there is something that is given to them, though for a totally different purpose. The idea is to keep them awake. As we have seen in the past, there is a special role played in the seder by children, who pose questions to the adults in order to elicit the story of the exodus as an answer. It is therefore necessary to make sure they are awake and take part. R. Yehuda, seconded by R. Akiva, suggests nuts and popcorn as an expedient.


            R. Yehuda's statement about nuts for children has changed the topic in the gemara. We have completed the sugya of drinking wine - in an unusual manner, the sugya has ended in the middle of a sentence. The gemara continues with statements related to the theme of how to keep the children awake and alert during the seder.


Tanya, R. Eliezer

It was taught: R. Eliezer says: We seize matza on the eves of Pesach, because of the children, that they should not sleep.


            What does "seizing matza" mean? It is tempting to interpret it as the custom of "stealing" the afikomen, but in fact none of the classical commentaries were familiar with that custom.


            Rashi explains:


Chotfin matza

We seize matza - We raise the plate because of the children, that they should ask. There are those who explain "seizing matza" to mean that we eat quickly, and this explanation is the correct one.


            Rashi's first explanation simply takes a known example of an action designed to arouse the children, and reads it into the verb "seizing" used here. We have previously seen the custom of "removing the table" (115b), and of raising the matza and the maror (116b). Rashi here "borrows" the same idea to explain our gemara.


            Rashi's second explanation interprets the word seize ("chotfin") metaphorically. When you grab something, you act quickly, so that to quickly read the haggada could be considered a "text grab." Accordingly, the purpose of the action is not to arouse the children, but simply to prevent them from falling asleep by not dragging out the reading of the haggada for too long a time.


            Neither of these two explanations is very close to the literal meaning of the word "seize." The Rashbam has some other interpretations.


Chotfin matza

We seize matza - We raise the plate because of the children, that they should ask. There are those who explain "seizing matza" to mean that we eat quickly. These two interpretations were advanced by our teacher (Rashi). There are those who read in the text "mitzvot" (rather than "matza"), (explaining) that we raise the plate that holds matza and maror and two cooked foods. But my opinion is that "chotfin" means we remove the bread (matza) from the hands of the children so that they not sleep from too much food, as children do after they eat, and then they will no longer ask. But now that we grab from them they will not sleep, but ask; i.e., they will not sleep since they did not eat to satiation, and they will ask when the see the changes that we make for the children as is explained later (in the gemara).


            The Rashbam's own interpretation presented a difficulty not present in the two explanations of Rashi, which the Rashbam solves in the last line of the citation above. What was that difficulty?




            The gemara says that we seize the matza so "that they should not sleep." Previously, in the statements of R. Yehuda and R. Akiva about distributing nuts, the reason was "that they should not sleep, and ask." Rashi's explanations clarify the link between "seizing" and asking. The Rashbam's explanation does not. Seizing the matza promotes wakefulness, but, unlike according to Rashi, it does not encourage questioning. Therefore the Rashbam explains, at some length, that the statement should be read to mean that seizing encourages wakefulness, which in turn allows questioning, whose direct stimuli are not mentioned here but will be explained later in the gemara.


            It seems that the Rashbam's girsa (text version) in the statement of R. Eliezer also read "so that they not sleep and ask," like the previous cases, and not "so that they sleep," as in our printed gemarot. It is also possible that his girsa was "so that they ask," which appears in a margin note on the printed gemara. (Look carefully in the right margin opposite line six). Based on his explanation though, it seems that he had the first girsa.


            Although the Rashbam's explanation is closer to the literal meaning of the verb "seize," it still bears no resemblance to the modern custom of matza larceny.


The Meiri cites an explanation that is close to the modern custom. He writes:


We seize matza, in other words, we play with in the manner of excitement and  seizing one from the other, so that the children be amused thereby and not fall asleep, but they will be aroused to what they see and ask and investigate how this night is different, etc. and we will recount the story.


In any event, the basic idea is clear - you are supposed to keep the children awake and alert, for they have an important part in the seder.


            As an aside, in Israel a political battle has been fought concerning the imposition of a summer clock (Daylight saving time) over precisely this issue. The clocks were set ahead one hour this year on the night FOLLOWING the seder. The reason was so as not to have the seder one hour later, which would have had the effect of putting many children to sleep before they fulfilled their role.