One of the requirements on the night of Pesach is drinking of four cups of wine. There are many reasons for this requirement. One of the more famous ones being that they represent the four expressions of redemption in the Torah by God of the Jewish people from Egypt: V’Hotzesi - I will take you out; V’Hitzalti – I will save you; V’Goalti – I will redeem you; and V’Lakachti – I will take you (for Me as a people).
Both men and women are required by rabbinic law to drink 4 cups of wine. Even though this is a positive time bound Mitzvah that women are generally exempt from, there is a rabbinic exception in cases where women were involved in the miracle. Which of course they were in Egypt.
The Rishonim raise the following question. Why do we not make a Bracha on this Mitzvah the way we do on other Mitzvos mandated by rabbinic law? Like the lighting the Menorah on Chanukah for example.
There are several answers for this question. For one thing - it is in impossible to do it in this case. The first cup is the one we make Kiddush on. That is a standing requirement on every Shabbos and Yom Tov. And since the requirement is to drink 4 cups of wine, we don’t make a Bracha on the remaining 3 cups.
Another reason is that we only make Brachos on Mitzvos that are done immediately after the Bracha. But in the case if the 4 cups of wine, only one would be drunk immediately. The other 3 cups are spread out throughout the evening. That would make it a Hesfek – an interruption between the Bracha and the completion of the Mitzva. One is not allowed to make a Hefsek between the Bracha and the completion of the Mitzvah. Drinking them in immediate succession is not an option either. One cannot fulfill the Mitzvah of the 4 cups unless they are drunk interspersed at the appropriate times during the Seder.
What about making the required Bracha before anything we eat or drink? For wine that would be “Borei Pri HaGofen’. Since each cup is considered an independent Mitzvah and is done at separate times during the Seder, should we make a separate Bracha each time? Or do we just make it once knowing that we will be drinking cups of wine later on in the Seder?
There is a debate about that. Many Gaonim (cited in the Tur Shulchan Aruch: OC - 474) and Rishonim hold that we must make a separate Bracha on each cup – precisely because each one is considered an independent Mitzvah. The Rishonim that agree include the Rif, the Rambam, Tosephos, and many more.
The Vilna Goan (Gra) adds that since once we start saying the Hagadah, we are forbidden to drink any additional wine between the cups. Thus creating a Hefsek which requires making a new Bracha on each cup anyway.
On the other hand there are Rishonim (among them the Rosh, the Tur, the Baal Ha’Meor and Rabbenu Yonah) that argue we may not make any unnecessary additional Brachos. We make the Bracha on the first cup only and rely on it for the 2nd cup. The 3rd cup does require a Bracha since it is drunk after Brichas Hamazon which is certainly a Hefsek. But for the 2nd and 4th cup - one may not make a Bracha.
They reason as follows. Even though each cup is an independent Mitzvah, there is no Hesech HaDaas (interruption of thought about drinking the upcoming 2nd and 4th cup) in that we say the Hagaddah - knowing that part of it will be drinking wine -there is no real Hefsek. Therefore no separate Bracha should be made on the 2nd and 4th cup.
Knowing that others disagree and do require a Bracha on each cup, the Rosh adds that since we are dealing with the possibility of a Bracha L’Vatalah (making a Bracha in vein which is forbidden by Halacha since God’s name would be mentioned in vein), it is best to not make a Bracha. The Mitzvah is completely fulfilled even without Brachos.
The Shulchan Aruch (Mechaber) Paskins like the Rosh. We do not make Brachos on the 2nd and 4th cup. But the Rema Paskins like the Rif and Rambam. The Minhag for Askenazim (Jews of European ancestry) is that we make a separate Bracha on each cup.
The Drisha ( a commentary on the Tur) points out an apparent contradiction. We do not make another Bracha over food at a Seudah (e.g. a wedding banquet)when we come back after leaving the table to Daven – Paskening like the Rosh. And yet at the Seder we Paskin like the Rambam and do make separate Brachos even though there is less of a Hefsek .
But there is a difference which is explaned by the Drisha . Even though we Paskin like the Rosh when a Seudah is interrupted by prayer, there is are no independent mitzvos before and after the prayer at a regular Seudah like there is with the four cups of wine at the Seder. As such they each require a separate Bracha.
Additional Divrei Torah for the Seder can be found at the following links:
Chag Kosher V’Sameach to all of my readers and to all of Klal Yisroel
*Dvar Torah taken from Torah L’Daas by Rabbi Matis Blum.