Parashat Vaera: The Exodus and Matan Torah
Toward the beginning of Parashat Vaera, we read the prophecy known as the "Arba Leshonot Ge’ula" – "four expressions of redemption." G-d tells Moshe to convey to Beneh Yisrael His promise to bring them out of Egypt, and employs four different expressions in presenting this promise:
1) "I shall take you out [Ve’hoseti Etchem] from underneath the suffering of Egypt";
2) "I shall rescue you [Ve’hisalti Etchem] from their labor";
3) "I shall redeem you [Ve’ga’alti Etchem] with a mighty hand";
4) "I shall take you [Ve’lakahti Etchem] for me as a nation."
These four expressions have been understood as referring to the four distinct stages in which Beneh Yisrael were freed. First, they were excused from painful, backbreaking labor ("the suffering of Egypt"), but they were still forced to work as slaves. The second stage marked their exemption from slave labor altogether ("I shall rescue you from their labor"), and the third stage was the actual Exodus, when the nation was "redeemed" and finally allowed to leave Egypt. The fourth and final stage came when G-d formally "took" Beneh Yisrael as a nation at Mount Sinai, at the time when we received the Torah.
The four cups of wine which we drink at the Seder were instituted to commemorate these four expressions. Just as wine causes a change in a person, affecting the way he thinks and conducts himself, each stage of redemption brought about a significant change in Beneh Yisrael’s condition, and we therefore drink wine to commemorate these various stages of redemption.
With this in mind, it is worth exploring a curious Halacha relevant to the four cups of wine at the Seder. If a person wishes, he is allowed to drink in between the various cups of wine. For example, if a person feels thirsty and wants to drink some wine after Karpas – which is in between the first and second cups – he may do so. The exception to this rule is the period between the third and fourth cups – from after Birkat Ha’mazon until after Hallel. It is forbidden to drink any wine in between these two cups. Apparently, the Rabbis wanted to emphasize the strong connection between the third and fourth cups, and they therefore issued a prohibition against making an "interruption" by drinking in between.
The idea behind this connection becomes clear in light of the analysis presented above. The third cup of wine, which corresponds to the third expression of redemption, represents the Exodus, our departure from Egypt, the moment we became a free, independent nation. The fourth cup, which corresponds to G-d’s promise to "take" us as His nation, represents Matan Torah. Our Sages sought to teach us that there can be no "interruption" between these two events; we must not sever the Exodus from Matan Torah.
We did not become truly "free" when we left Egypt. At that time, we still did not have a clear direction for how to live. And such an existence can hardly be called "freedom." True freedom is the freedom to pursue a goal, to achieve, to live the way we are meant to live. And this kind of freedom became possible only once we received the Torah, when we were given the laws and guidelines for how to live a meaningful life. If we had not received the Torah, we would not have been free; we would not have had any clear direction or sense of purpose. And thus there must not be any break between the third and fourth cups. We must understand that the redemption that we experienced on the night of the Exodus was not complete until we stood at Mount Sinai seven weeks later and received the Torah. It was only then, when G-d gave us a clear path to follow to achieve greatness, that we became truly free.