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Third and Fourth Cup

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            For the last few weeks we have been learning the seder-related sugyot on 108a-109b. The two major topics were heseiba (reclining) and the arba kosot (four cups). We shall now return, for the remaining time left in this year, to the actual order of the seder. We are turning to 117b, the sixth mishna of this chapter, "mazgu lo."


            The webpage for today's shiur is found at



            If you look back to the previous mishna (116a-b), you see that it ended at the blessing of "ga'al yisrael," which completed the first half of the seder. Looking in the haggada, we see that now there should come the eating of the matza and maror, followed by the meal. This is not mentioned in the mishna as part of the order. Apparently, our mishnayot are dealing only with recitations and their relationship with the four cups of wine. Our mishna therefore begins from AFTER the completion of the meal.


Mazgu lo kos shlishi

They poured for him the third cup, and he recites the blessing for his meal.

The fourth (cup), he finishes over it the Hallel and recites over it the birkat hashir ("blessing of the song").

Between these cups, if he wishes to drink he may drink.

Between the third and the fourth he may not drink.


            You are probably wondering what is "birkat hashir." The Rashbam is ready for your question (s.v. "birkat"), "it will be explained in the gemara."


            The second part of this mishna, about drinking between the four cups, is not explained in the mishna and is not discussed at all in the gemara. Therefore, before we begin the gemara's discussion of this mishna, we will take a brief look at what the commentaries state about this law.


            On the prohibition to drink between the third and fourth cup, the Rashbam comments:


Bein shlishi

Between the third and the fourth he may not drink - I found in the Talmud Yerushalmi, "why should he not drink, so that he not become drunk," and then he would not be able to recite the Hallel. And it is asked there, but "is he not already drunk?" - for he has already drunk a lot during his meal. And it is answered, "wine in the meal does not cause drunkenness; wine after the meal causes drunkenness."  And the same is true of wine before the meal, that it does not cause drunkenness. (Hence), if he wants to drink between the first and second cup he may, as the Tanna (author of the mishna) excludes only between the third and fourth.


[Note: The Rashbam quotes the Yerushalmi and interposes his commentary. In the original of the Rashbam, there are no quotation marks, of course. In my translation, I added them so as to clearly distinguish between the explicit statements of the Yerushalmi and the Rashbam's commentary. Specifically, the reasoning that drunkenness is bad because it will interfere with the recitation of the Hallel is the Rashbam's addition, not the statement of the Yerushalmi.]


[Note: There are two talmuds. The one we are learning is the Talmud Bavli, written in Babylonia in the fifth century. The Talmud Yerushalmi was written in the Land of Israel (though not in Jerusalem) about a hundred years earlier, and naturally reflects the discussions of the academies of the Land of Israel rather than those of the academies of Babylonia. Both are based on the Mishna, which was written in the Land of Israel in the second century, and there is a great deal of cross-discussion between the sages of Babylonia and the Land of Israel reflected in both talmuds. Although the Babylonian Talmud is the authoritative source for the Oral Law for all Israel, the Yerushalmi is used by the commentators to supplement and clarify the Bavli. The Rashbam in our case, who is following the Rif, is a classic example of such a use.]


            The Rashbam finds in the Yerushalmi the reason for the prohibition on drinking between the third and fourth cup. Since one has finished eating, drinking now presents a greater risk of leading to inebriation, which will interfere with the completion of the haggada, the recitation of the Hallel. Based on the explicit prohibition only between the third and fourth cup, the Rashbam extends the reasoning of the Yerushalmi to claim that wine drunk before the meal will also not be as likely to lead to inebriation; hence, there is no problem to drink between the first and second cup.


            An immediate inference of this reasoning is that the prohibition to drink between the third and fourth cup applies only to WINE. There would be no problem at all in drinking water. (This becomes important in light of the prohibition that appears in a later mishna on eating after the afikomen, after the last piece of matza eaten at the end of the meal. Does this prohibition preclude DRINKING, or only eating? Many commentators derive from the specific prohibition on wine between the third and fourth cups, and this only because of the danger of inebriation, that there is no general prohibition on drinking at this time, and surely not water.)


            Now that we have clarified the mishna, we can begin the gemara.


Rav Chanan said to Rava: From this we can derive that birkat hamazon (the blessing after eating a meal) requires a cup.

He said to him: The Rabbis enacted four cups in the manner of freedom; we perform a mitzva over each one.


            A word of explanation. Certain blessings are recited over wine. The most common one is kiddush on Shabbat and festivals. Other examples are the blessings on betrothal and marriage. The mishna in no place explicitly lists birkat hamazon as one of those blessings, and this issue is debated in the gemara.


            The third cup of the seder is poured before birkat hamazon, which is then recited. It appears that this particular blessing is indeed recited over wine. Rav Chanan therefore deduced from this that birkat hamazon is one of those blessings which should be recited over wine. Rava rejected this inference.


            What is Rava's rejoinder?




Rava is saying that we do not pour the third cup because we have to recite birkat hamazon. We pour the third cup because we need to have four cups altogether. Once the necessity of four cups during the seder is established, the cups were distributed in such a way that they should be associated with different stages - mitzvot - of the seder. Since birkat hamazon is a mitzva that is being recited in any event, and we have this cup of wine that will be poured and drunk somewhere in the seder, why not combine the two. The implication is that in general birkat hamazon does not require a cup, but on the seder night it is associated with the third cup which exists in any event.


            The Rashbam explains:



The Rabbis enacted four cups in the manner of freedom; we perform a mitzva over each one - In other words, it is proper that a mitzva be performed over each one, but during the rest of the year a cup is not required; for even here, the cup does not come because of birkat hamazon.


            This relates to an issue we discussed in previous shiurim. Are the four cups essentially a mitzva to drink on Pesach night, or are they basically "kosot shel beracha," cups associated with various recitations, of which there are more on Pesach night than on most nights. We saw three weeks ago that Tosafot essentially views the four cups as kosot shel beracha. Our gemara is the most important source that implies the opposite - that they are not essentially kosot shel beracha at all, but only are associated with blessings after the fact.


            As we shall see in the shiur of Rav Kahn that I will append to this mailing, there is an alternative way to read the statement of Rava.




            Back to the gemara.


The fourth (cup), he finishes over it the Hallel and recites over it the birkat hashir ("blessing of the song").

What is "birkat hashir"?

Rav Yehuda said: "Yehallelucha HaShem Elokeinu" (the blessing which concludes the Hallel all year).

Rav Yochanan said: "Nishmat kol chai" (The blessing which concludes the morning psalms on Shabbat).

Tanu Rabbanan, The Rabbis taught:

The fourth, he finishes over it the Hallel, and he recites the Hallel Hagadol ("the great Hallel") - the words of R. Tarfon. But others say, "HaShem ro'i lo echsar" ("HaShem is my shepherd, I shall not want).


            We shall discuss what is the blessing after Hallel and what is Hallel Hagadol next week. At this point, I wish to discuss a problem raised by the different girsa (text-version) here.


            Our version of R. Tarfon's statement is "The fourth, he finishes over it the Hallel, and he recites the Hallel Hagadol." In other words, R. Tarfon is citing the mishna about the fourth cup and adding Hallel Hagadol to the regular Hallel.


            The Rif's girsa for R. Tarfon is, "The FIFTH, he recites the Hallel Hagadol." R. Tarfon disagrees with the mishna that lists only four cups and says that there are five cups altogether on Pesach. The fourth cup is used for Hallel and the fifth cup for Hallel Hagadol.


            The existence of a fifth cup comes as a surprise, since the mishna, and especially the first mishna of the chapter (99b), speaks only of four cups. There is a consequence for the haggada as well. The Baal HaMaor argues that since the halakha is not like R. Tarfon (since the mishna requires only four cups), there is also no source for reciting Hallel Hagadol. He argues that Hallel Hagadol was introduced only to provide a framework for the fifth cup; if there is no fifth cup, there is no need for Hallel Hagadol. According to our girsa, R. Tarfon is not arguing with the mishna, and therefore there is no reason to reject the recitation of Hallel Hagadol.


            Tosafot (s.v. "revi'i") emphasizes that there are only four cups. He rejects the girsa that had R. Tarfon speaking of a fifth cup. He then quotes an opinion of R. Yosef Tov Elem ("Bonfils") who introduced a fifth cup as a non-mandatory option.


If he is ill or sensitive, he may drink a little water;

And if he wishes to drink wine out of necessity, he should recite Hallel Hagadol with a fifth.


            Tosafot asks a simple question. If it is prohibited to drink, how can there be permission to drink a fifth cup. Since the obligation is to drink four cups, the fifth cup is voluntary, and there is no reason to permit it any more than water.


            It is clear that R. Yosef Tov Elem maintains that by reciting Hallel Hagadol over the fifth cup, it becomes a kos shel beracha, even though it is optional. Whatever the prohibition of drinking is, it apparently does not include drinking from a kos shel beracha. Only "secular" drinking is prohibited, not mitzva (even optional mitzva) wine.


            There are a number of different opinions concerning the fifth cup, and these are discussed (below) by Rav Kahn.


Rav Yair Kahn


Kol Chad Ve-chad Na'avid Bei Mitzva

            Based on this mishna, the gemara initially assumes that a cup of wine is generally required for birkat ha-mazon. However, the gemara concludes that this point cannot be proven from our mishna. It is possible that a cup is necessary for birkat ha-mazon only on the seder night, due to the halakha of the arba kosot. Accordingly, there is no inherent connection between the arba kosot and birkat ha-mazon: Four cups were instituted as a demonstration of freedom; yet Chazal preferred to introduce a halakhic framework for these cups. Therefore, each cup was attached to a specific berakha, and was thereby awarded the status of kos shel berakha. Accordingly, the halakha of arba kosot is independent of their status as a kos shel berakha.  

Rav Soloveitchik however, developed an alternate understanding of our gemara. According to him, the berakhot to which the arba kosot were attached are all connected in some specific way to the seder night. This is clearly the case with respect to the second cup, which is attached to the berakha of "ga'al Yisrael" - he who redeemed Yisrael, and possibly, the entire recitation of the exodus which preceded "ga'al yisrael." The fourth cup, which is recited over Hallel, can also be seen as relating specifically to the seder night. This is obvious if Hallel is an integral part of sippur yetziat mitzrayim. However, it is also the case if the Hallel results from the unique personal involvement specific to the seder night, based on the obligation of "bekhol dor va-dor."

However, the first cup, recited over kiddush, appears to be the regular obligation of kiddush, standard for every Shabbat and Yom Tov. Rav Soloveitchik suggested that kiddush of the seder night contains two elements. It is both a regular kiddush as well as a statement specific to the seder night. After all, kiddush specifically includes a mention of yetziat mitzrayim. This contention is supported by the opinion of the Chida. He argues that normal kiddush does not require a mention of yetziat mitzrayim; the halakha requiring such a mention, is specific to kiddush of the seder night. Furthermore, kiddush discusses the chosenness of Yisrael, a theme that is also specific to the seder night. In addition, kiddush in general is praise and glorification of the day. Hence, kiddush on the seder night, contains specific glorification of the uniqueness of this night. This goes to the heart of sippur yetziat mitzrayim, which accentuates the singularity of the seder night (cf. ma nishtana). [Based on this, Rav Soloveitchik explained why, according to the Taz (OC 402:1), it is necessary to wait until nightfall to recite kiddush, although on a normal Yom Tov kiddush can be recited earlier.

We can make a parallel claim regarding the third cup. This cup, which was instituted within the context of birkat ha-mazon, also relates specifically to yetziat mitzrayim. The content of the second berakha of birkat ha-mazon is hoda'a (gratitude) to HaShem for having taken us out of Egypt, presenting us with the Torah and then giving us Eretz Yisrael. On the seder night, thanking HaShem for taking us out of Egypt has special significance. Moreover, the third cup is not recited only over the birkat hamazon, but also relates to the entire meal. The meal, as a celebration of the holiday, clearly reflects the singularity of the seder night. Furthermore, this uniqueness is expressed by the menu, which includes matza, maror, korekh and afikoman.

According to this explanation, our gemara concludes that instituting a cup for birkat ha-mazon does not indicate that birkat ha-mazon usually demands wine. Rather, it could be that as one of the arba kosot, this cup also finds specific expression related to yetziat mitzrayim within the context of birkat ha-mazon. Therefore, birkat ha-mazon only requires a cup within the narrow context of the seder night. (See Shiurim Le-zekher Abba Mari vol. 2 pg. 154-5, and Siakh Hagrid pg. 8-11.)


The Fifth Cup

            According to Tosafot, there is no mention whatsoever of the possibility of a fifth cup . However, Tosafot quote the opinion of Rav Yosef Tov-Elem, who allows for a fifth cup under certain circumstances. If a person must drink an additional cup of wine, because of physical or even psychological reasons, he is permitted to do so, as long as he recites Hallel Hagadol (see 118a) over this cup . This opinion stems from a version of the beraita quoted later (118a), according to which Hallel Hagadol is recited over a fifth (not fourth) cup . Since all the mishnayot and gemarot only mention four cups, the surprising introduction of a fifth was interpreted by Rav Yosef Tov-Elem as a "heter" (allowance), limited to extenuating circumstances.

Taking a more liberal approach, the Ramban interpreted the beraita that introduced the fifth cup as an option. Accordingly, anyone who wished to drink more wine merely had to recite Hallel Hagadol over this cup . The sources that referred to only four cups were dealing with the amount of wine that is obligatory.

Rav Zerachya Halevi, the Ba'al Ha-ma'or, argued that the beraita (118a), ascribed to R. Tarfon, disagrees with our mishnayot. According to R. Tarfon, all five cups are mandatory, in contrast to the accepted opinion that obligates only four. Therefore, he claimed that there is no place for a fifth cup (or Hallel Hagadol) in halakha.

All the opinions mentioned above agree that basically one is not allowed to drink wine after the first four cups of wine. They disagree whether a fifth cup can be permitted by transforming it into an additional kos shel berakha related to the seder night. Some connect this prohibition to the halakha "ein maftirin achar ha-pesach afikoman" - it is forbidden to consume anything following the eating of the korban pesach (or final matza). According to them, this halakha excludes drinking as well as eating.

Others claim that the prohibition of drinking a fifth cup is an extension of the prohibition of drinking between the third and fourth cups. The common understanding is that this halakha was instituted in order to avoid drunkenness that could impede the remainder of the seder. The Ramban suggests the additional possibility that one should not appear to be adding to the arba kosot.

The Ra'avad, on the other hand, explains that although the OBLIGATION is limited to four cups, there is a (optional) mitzva to add a fifth cup recited over Hallel Hagadol. The first four cups reflect the famous four terms of redemption, which describe freedom from the Egyptian bondage. The fifth cup was added to represent the fifth term, "ve-heveti," which refers to eventual destination of Eretz Yisrael. According to this, Hallel Hagadol is not introduced in order to permit a fifth cup (otherwise forbidden), but in order to add an additional dimension to the seder night, the ultimate realization of Jewish destiny.