The Wine and the Cup
1. Why do we drink four cups of wine?
This is a Rabbinic mitzvah that demonstrates our freedom, since wine is the drink of free men and nobility. The four cups correspond to the four terms of redemption used by Hashem when He promised to redeem the Jewish people from the bondage in Egypt (Shemos 6: 6-7).
2. Are red and white wines equally acceptable?
Red wine is preferred for two reasons:
- The red color indicates the wine’s superiority.
- It is a reminder of the Jewish blood that was shed.
If the white wine is of better quality one may use it, but it is preferable to mix it with a little red wine to give it a red color. One should preferably pour the white wine into the red wine when mixing on Yom Tov.
3. May one use carbonated (sparkling) wine?
If it tastes like wine it is acceptable.
4. What if a person does not like wine?
A person who has difficulty drinking wine may use one that has a low alcohol content. Alternatively, he may mix wine and grape juice, taking care that there is still a taste of wine. One should be wary about diluting wine with water, since such a mixture may be invalid. Whoever exerts himself to drink the four cups of wine and eat the correct quantities of matzo even if he finds it difficult, will be spared from having to eat and drink bitter medicines. However, a person is not required to drink wine if it will make him ill.
5. May one use pure grape juice?
A person who cannot tolerate even weak wine, may use grape juice. Nevertheless, it is better to use a small cup of weak wine than a large cup of grape juice (see question 8).
6. May one use different wines for the four cups?
One should avoid switching wines during the seder, since a change from an inferior wine to a superior one may require a special b’racha (hatov vehameitiv). Therefore, a person should select the type of wine that he will enjoy drinking, and use it for all four cups. Alternatively, all the different wines should be placed on the table at the start of the seder. This mitigates the need for the special b’racha.
7. What if a person cannot tolerate either wine or grape juice?
He should use a drink that is considered to be the national beverage. A rav should be consulted to ascertain which drinks qualify for this purpose.
8. How large should the cup be?
According to the two main opinions, the cup must hold at least 86cc (approx. 3 fl. oz) or 150cc (approx. 5 fl. oz). Since the mitzva of drinking four cups of wine is rabbinic, one may be lenient to use the smaller quantity. When the seder is on Friday night, the first cup (Kiddush) is a Torah mitzvah and one is recommended to use the larger quantity. In any event, one should use a cup that holds slightly more than the minimum quantity, since wine often spills when holding the cup and when reclining.
9. How much of the cup should one drink?
Ideally, one should drink the entire cup, even if it contains more than the required amount. If this is not possible, it is sufficient to drink the majority of the cup. Therefore, it is better to use a small cup containing the minimum quantity that can be finished, than a large cup that cannot be finished.
10. How quickly should one drink the cup?
- Ideally, one should drink the cup without pausing.
- If this is not possible, one may stop once for a short pause during the drinking.
- If this too is not possible, one fulfills his obligation if he drinks the required quantity within four minutes.
11.May one use shmittah wine or grape juice?
It is preferable not to use this at the seder for two reasons:
- Wine usually spills during the seder and it is forbidden to cause shmittah wine to be wasted.
- The custom is not to drink the wine that is spilled at the ten plagues, and this would also be wasted.
12. Who should pour the wine?
The leader of the seder should not pour his own cup, but another person should pour for him, since being served is a sign of freedom and nobility. Some have the custom that no one pours his own cup.
13. What is the difference between shmura matzo and regular matzo?
The Torah commands that matzo must be prepared under constant supervision to prevent it from becoming chometz. Matzo is called shmura if, in addition, it is made with the intention that it will be used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzo on the seder night (לשם מצות מצוה). Non-shmura matzo is not made with this additional intention.
14. Are both types of matzo acceptable for the seder?
No. Only shmura matzo is acceptable.
15. Is shmura machine matzo acceptable for the seder?
There is much controversy about this. According to some opinions, it is sufficient for the person who switches on the machine to have the correct intention. According to other opinions, this is not sufficient and machine matzos are invalid. One should follow the traditional custom to use handmade matzos, unless one has great difficulty in obtaining or eating such matzos.
16. Is there any advantage in using matzos made from hand-ground flour?
Shmura hand matzos are available in two types – those made from flour that is ground by hand and those made from flour ground by machine. Although some opinions disqualify the use of machinery for baking (see above), most opinions allow machinery to be used to grind the flour. The custom is to consider the machine-ground type just as acceptable, but it is praiseworthy to use matzos made from hand-ground flour.
17. Is there any advantage in eating only shmura matzos for the entire Pesach?
It is praiseworthy to do so, for two reasons:
18. Some opinions require that the matzos for the entire Pesach be prepared with the same intention as those made for the seder (לשם מצות מצוה).
- Shmura matzo is usually supervised from the time that the grain is harvested. This is a higher degree of supervision than for regular matzo, which is supervised only from the time of grinding.
19. How much matzo must one eat to fulfill the mitzvah?
The quantity required for the mitzvah of eating matzo is a volume measure called a kezayis. The two widely accepted opinions regarding this measure are 30cc. and 50cc. When these figures are converted into weights, the measurements for a kezayis of matzo are approximately 15 grams and 25 grams. There is little difference between hand matzo and machine matzo.
20. Which opinion should one follow?
When performing a Torah obligation, one should preferably follow the stricter opinion (25 grams) and for a rabbinic obligation one may follow the lenient opinion (15 grams). In extenuating circumstances, one may be lenient to use smaller figures – 17 grams for a Torah obligation and 10 grams for a rabbinic obligation, e.g. for a sick or elderly person who finds it difficult to eat matzo.
21. At the seder, what is a Torah obligation and what is rabbinic?
There is a mitzvah to eat matzo three times during the seder:
- The first kezayis of hamotzi. This is a Torah obligation.
- For korech (the sandwich). This is a rabbinic obligation.
- For afikoman. This is rabbinic, but some opinions require a person to eat two kezaysim.
In chutz la’aretz, at the second seder, the first kezayis is also rabbinic.
22. How much matzo in total is a person required to eat?
The following chart should assist in making the calculations:
|In case of difficulty or extenuating circumstances
|17g (10g at the 2nd seder)
|37g (30g at the 2nd seder)
It is advisable to eat slightly more than these quantities for two reasons:
- The figures are approximate and matzos vary in thickness.
- Some matzo is not eaten but falls to the floor or remains between the teeth, and this cannot be included in the quantity.
23. How much does an average matzo weigh?
- The weight of an average hand matzo is usually between 50 and 80 grams. To calculate the approximate weight of one’s matzos one should divide the weight of the box by the number of matzos in the box.
- Machine matzos weigh approx. 30 grams.
24. Is it permitted to weigh the matzos on Yom Tov?
Although weighing is usually forbidden on Shabbos and Yom Tov, it is permitted for a mitzvah. Regular (spring) scales may be used, but not digital (battery or electric) scales. However, it is recommended that one weigh the matzos before Yom Tov in order to save time and frustration during the seder. It is also advisable to prepare in advance pieces of matzo weighing 15 grams and 25 grams in separate bags, that can be distributed during the seder without delay.
25. Should each person make an acquisition on the matzos that he intends to eat at the seder?
According to most opinions this is not necessary.
26. Which foods may be used for maror?
Although the Sages list five types, the tradition has become unclear as to which species are intended. Only two are definitely known – lettuce and horseradish – and according to some opinions, a third is known to be endives. The widespread custom is to use lettuce or horseradish.
27. Which species is the most preferred?
Lettuce is the most preferred. However, there is a major problem that small insects are often found in lettuce and an experienced person must check the leaves. Today, insect-free lettuce is grown in greenhouses under special conditions, and this is obviously the best choice. (It should be rinsed well and checked minimally.) If a person can obtain only regular lettuce and he is afraid that it will not be checked meticulously, he should use the stems and/or hearts. Alternatively, he should use horseradish, which is the second best species.
28. How can lettuce be used for maror if it is not bitter?
Although lettuce is usually sweet in taste, if it is left in the ground for a long time it becomes bitter. This resembles the way in which the Jewish people were treated in Egypt. When they first arrived they were settled in the best part of the land and were accorded the greatest honor and respect. Later, they were forced into slavery and their lives became bitter and miserable. According to most opinions, one may use lettuce even if it has no bitterness.
29. May the lettuce be left in water to keep it fresh?
Yes, but not for a continuous period of twenty-four hours. Lettuce will remain fresh for several days if kept in the fridge.
30. Should horseradish be eaten whole or grated?
It must not be eaten whole since this is dangerous. It should be grated on erev Pesach in order to release some of its sharpness and kept in a closed container until the seder. Grated horseradish that is mixed with beetroot juice (commonly called chrain) may not be used for maror.
31. What if one forgot to grate it on erev Pesach?
- If Pesach is a weekday, one may grate it in an unusual way. Either one should hold the grater upside-down while grating onto a plate, or one may hold the grater in the usual way but grate the horseradish onto a cloth or tabletop.
- If Pesach is on Shabbos, it is forbidden to grate even in an unusual way. The horseradish should be cut into small pieces with a knife just before the meal begins. The pieces should not be very small and certainly not chopped finely.
32. What if a person cannot obtain lettuce or horseradish?
He should use endives. However, a rav should be consulted since there are several varieties of this vegetable (e.g. escarole, chicory), and it is not clear which is the correct species. If this too is unavailable, he should use any bitter vegetable, but the special b’racha for the maror (al achilas maror) is not recited.
The Seder Plate
33. Which items should be placed on the seder plate?
There are seven items:
1. Three whole matzos.
2. A piece of roast meat or poultry.
3. A hard-boiled or roasted egg.
4. – 5. Two portions of maror.
In addition, salt water should be prepared, but the custom is not to place it on the seder plate.
34. What if a person has only two whole matzos (besides broken ones)?
He should use a broken one for the middle matzo, since this is anyway broken at yachatz.
35. How should the items be arranged?
Although there are several customs, the most widespread one is according to the Arizal. The arrangement is as follows:
36. Where should the matzos be placed?
- If one owns a purpose-built seder plate, the three matzos should be placed beneath these items.
- If not, the matzos should be placed on one plate and the remaining items on another plate nearby.
37. Must everyone have his own seder plate?
No, only the head of the household requires a seder plate.
38. Why are two portions of maror required?
The far portion is used when the maror is eaten the first time. The near portion is used when eating it the second time together with matzo (korech), and is usually referred to as chazeres. The same species of maror may be used for both portions.
39. Why do we use roast meat?
This is to remind us of the korban Pesach that was eaten roasted. This special piece is known as the ze’roa (arm) to recall the outstretched arm of Hashem that was displayed during the redemption from Egypt. It is not eaten at the seder.
40. Which portion of meat should be used?
The shankbone, which is from the foreleg of the animal. If poultry is used, the custom is to use the wing or neck. If these are not available, any portion of roast meat or poultry may be used.
41. What if one forgot to roast it before Yom Tov?
It may be roasted on Yom Tov in the evening, but extra care must be taken to ensure that it is eaten during the day of Yom Tov. If Yom Tov is on Shabbos, it may not be roasted in the evening.
42. Why do we use an egg?
This is to remind us of the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice). An egg is chosen for two reasons:
- The Aramaic word for an egg (bai’yah) also means to desire. This alludes to the fact that Hashem desired to redeem us.
- Eggs are eaten by mourners. This reminds us that we are unable to bring sacrifices due to the destruction of the Temple. (This is also alluded to in the calendar, which is arranged so that the first day of Pesach always occurs on the same day of the week as the following Tisha b’Av.)
43. Should the egg be roasted?
The main custom is to roast it, although a hard-boiled egg is also suitable. Some boil it and then roast it partially.
44. Should the egg be shelled before placing it on the seder plate?
The custom is to leave it in its shell.
45. When is the egg eaten?
The custom is to eat it during the seder . Although it is forbidden to eat roast meat or poultry during the seder, it is permitted to eat roasted eggs.
46. What is charoses?
It is a mixture of finely chopped fruits, spices, and red wine. Traditionally, the fruits used are sour apples and nuts (particularly almonds) and the spices are cinnamon and ginger.
47. Why do we use charoses?
It is to remind us of the mortar used by the Jewish slaves in Egypt, and it should therefore be made to a thick consistency. Ideally, the spices should be fine strands to resemble the straw used to make the mortar. The sour apples remind us of the bitter slavery, and the wine reminds us of the Jewish blood that was spilled copiously during the years of hard labor.
48. What if one forgot to prepare it before Yom Tov?
It may be made in the evening in the normal manner. However, if Yom Tov is on Shabbos, it must be made with the following changes:
- The fruits should be cut into pieces with a knife. The pieces should not be very small and certainly not chopped finely.
- The wine should be put first into the mixing bowl, and the cut fruits added to it.
- The ingredients should be mixed with one’s finger and not with a spoon or fork.
49. What is karpas?
It is a vegetable, preferably one that is eaten raw. The most commonly used are celery, sweet radish, cabbage, and parsley. Some use potato, although it is eaten only cooked. (Celery, cabbage, and parsley should be checked for insects.) Lettuce should not be used, since one may not use a vegetable that qualifies as maror.
50. Why do we recline at the seder?
This is actually one of the four questions asked by the child (ma nishtana). The answer is that every person is required to feel on the night of Pesach as though he personally was a slave in Egypt and has just been granted his freedom. This mitzvah is one of the greatest challenges of the evening. While reciting the Haggadah and describing the extreme misery and sufferings of the Jewish people, a person must use his imagination to visualize himself in Egypt enduring the harsh slavery. When the discussion turns to the miraculous events leading to the Exodus, he must picture himself actually leaving Egypt to become a free man. When he eats and drinks on this night, he is required to recline, in order to demonstrate his newly gained freedom.
51. Should women recline?
The custom is that women do not recline. However, in order to demonstrate their feelings of freedom, they should sit in an armchair or a very comfortable chair.
52. Should children recline?
Boys aged nine or ten should be trained to recline. According to some opinions, they should be trained from the age of six.
53. Should a mourner recline?
Yes, but in a more modest fashion.
54. May a student recline in the presence of his Rebbe?
Since a student must respect and fear his Rebbe, he may not recline in his presence unless his Rebbe gives explicit permission. The custom is for the student to ask permission and for the Rebbe to grant it.
55. May a person recline in the presence of an outstanding Torah authority?
No one may recline in the presence of an outstanding Torah authority unless he receives explicit permission.
56. How should a person recline?
Ideally, he should sit in an armchair or on a chair with armrests, and lean to the left side. Preferably, a pillow or cushion should also be placed on the left side of the chair to support the body while reclining. This adds to the feeling of comfort and freedom.
57. What if he has only a regular chair?
He should recline on the table or on a second chair placed to his left. Alternatively, he may sit sideways and recline on the back of the chair. If possible, he should use a pillow or cushion to create a comfortable position. A person does not fulfill the mitzvah by leaning to the left in midair without supporting his body on anything, since this is not the way of free men.
58. May he lean on his left leg?
No, since he would appear to be worried rather than reclining in happiness. In extenuating circumstances, he may lean on another person’s leg.
59. May a person recline on his back or to the right side?
No, since neither of these is the way of free men.
60. Why does reclining to the left demonstrate freedom more than to the right?
There are two reasons:
- The right hand must be free to hold the food.
- The food may ח”ו enter the wind-pipe when leaning to the right.
61. Should a left-handed person also recline on his left side?
Yes. Although this makes it difficult for him to eat, the danger of choking is the overriding consideration.
62. What if a person mistakenly reclined on his right side?
A right-handed person has not fulfilled his obligation, but a left-handed person has.
63. What if it is painful to recline on the left due to a wound etc.?
He is not required to recline.
64. When is one required to recline?
The minimum requirement is the following:
- When drinking the four cups of wine.
- When eating the first kezayis of matzo, the korech, and the afikoman.
It is praiseworthy to recline during the entire meal.
65. Should one recline while reciting the Haggadah?
No, one should sit upright with awe and respect.
66. May any type of food be served at the seder meal?
One must not eat poultry or meat that is prepared without any liquid. This includes roasted, barbecued, and broiled. The reason is that one should not mistakenly think that this is the actual korban Pesach.
67. May one eat pot roast?
- One may not eat poultry or meat that is roasted in a pot without any liquid. This applies even if it is first cooked with liquid.
- One may eat poultry or meat that is roasted in a pot with some liquid. This is permitted even if it is first roasted.
68. Why do some men wear a kittel at the seder?
- It is a garment of elevation reminding one of the angels. This enhances the feelings of freedom and royalty.
- It is garment of mourning, reminding one of the day of death. This has a subduing effect to prevent the feelings of royalty from leading to haughtiness.
69. Who should wear a kittel?
The main custom is that the person who leads the seder wears a kittel. In some communities all married men do so.
70. Should a mourner wear a kittel?
A mourner does not wear a kittel according to the main opinion.
71. Should a newly wed wear a kittel?
The main custom is that a newly wed (in his first year) does wear a kittel. (In any case, a newly wed usually celebrates the seder with his parents or parents-in-law and rarely leads the seder.)
72. How should the table be set for the seder?
The table should be covered with a white tablecloth. One should place on the table the most exquisite items of silver etc. that he possesses, in order to arouse feelings of freedom and royalty. Seating arrangements and preparations for reclining should be organized before Yom Tov, so that the seder can begin as soon as the men arrive home from shul after ma’ariv. Some have the custom to adorn the table with fragrant flowers. The word ריח (fragrance) has the same numerical value (218) as ליל פסח (the evening of Pesach).
73. What other preparations should be made before Yom Tov?
- Open all bottles of wine and grape juice, and boxes of matzo.
- Rinse all wine cups.
- Prepare a large and elegant cup for Eliyahu Hanavi.
- Prepare nuts and treats to give to the children before Kiddush and during the seder.
- People who bake their own matzos should verify that challah has been separated.
- In chutz la’aretz, eiruv tavshilin must be made when the first day of Pesach is a Thursday.