From where do we learn that we must drink four cups of wine on Pesach? Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rav BanayahThey correspond to the four words of salvation (Shmot 6:6-7): Therefore, say to the Children of Israel: I am the Eternal. I shall take you out from under the oppressions of Egypt, and I shall rescue you from servitude to them, and I shall redeem you with an outstretched arm and great judgments, and I shall take you to Myself as a nation.’” Rabbi Yehushua ben Levi said, They correspond to the four cups of Pharaoh: And Pharaohs cup was in my hand, and I squeezed them into the cup of Pharaoh, and I placed the cup onto Pharaohs hand… and you will place the cup of Pharaoh (Bereishit 40:11-13) (Talmud YerushalmiPesachim 68b) 

Rabbi Yochanan quotes a verse from this week’s Torah reading to help us assign meaning to the practice of the four cups. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi refers to an episode from the Joseph story. Of the two explanations, it is Rabbi Yochanan’s that has become better-known. We drink four cups of wine corresponding to the four languages of salvation. 

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi comments again regarding the four cups in the Talmud Bavli (Pesachim 108a): 

And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, Women are obligated to drink these four cups, as they too were involved in that same miracle. 

 
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is quoted in the Bavli as saying the same thing regarding Megillah reading on Purim (Megillah 4a) and lighting Chanukah candles (Shabbat 23a). These three acts are acts of pirsumei nisa, or “proclaming the miracle.” 

When we look at the Exodus, the role that women played is clear. Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moshe as a baby. Miriam encouraged her parents not to give up on life in the face of the Egyptian oppression, and to still live as a couple. She watched over her baby brother on his journey up the Nile, and brought her own mother to be her brother’s wet nurse. Shifrah and Pu’ah, the Hebrew midwives, spared the newborn Hebrew boys as an act of civil disobedience. These women were proactive in the ways that they saved Hebrew lives and enabled the Exodus to happen. The proactive, dynamic way of acting stands in contrast to Moshe’s humility, trepidation, and reluctance in the face of a direct Divine command to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. It is appropriate that as we read the parashah in which the Exodus begins, we read an allusion to a mitzvah that is singled out as obligatory for women.  

This week’s parashah stands between Chanukah and Purim; both holidays with acts of pirsumei nisa. It reminds us of the act of pirsumei nisa that we will perform when Pesach comes, a month after Purim. Miriam, Shifrah, Pu’ah, Hannah, Yehudit, and Esther are all remembered at once when we remember the connections between the three holidays of Pesach, Chanukah, and Purim. 

Shabbat shalom! 

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