The Vilna Gaon writes that the four cups of wine that we drink at the night of the Seder corresponds to the four people who are required to say the beracha of Birkas Hagomel. One who was in jail חבוש and was freed, one who crossed an ocean which was very dangerous during those times ים, one who was seriously sick and was cured יסורים, and one who crossed a desert מדבר. The geulah from Mitzrayim involved all four. AmYisrael were imprisoned in Mitzrayim as slaves, they crossed the Yam Suf, they were inflicted with pain and suffering, and they went into the desert. Therefore, we drink these four cups of wine as a toast of gratitude to Hashem for giving us life when it was endangered.
The Mefarshim explain that the acronym of these four saving of one’s life is hinted in our daily ShemonehEsrai when we say וכל החיים יודך סלה. The word חיים spells חבוש ים יסורים מדבר. We can expand this concept into our daily lives – חיים. The word חבוש we find by Avraham Avinu when he saddled his donkey to start the journey to take Yitzchak and slaughter him at the destination of Hashem’s choice. The sefarim say that חמור has the same root as the word חומר physicality. To be willing for Avraham to shecht his son who was destined to be the future of AmYisrael took tremendous avodah of “saddling” his body, his emotions, and his fatherly instincts, in order to succeed in this test of devotion to Hashem. The gematriah of חמר is 248 which corresponds to the 248 limbs of a person. ויחבוש את חמורו conveys that every limb of Avraham was on board in the sacrificing of Yitzchak. The word חבש also spells the letters שבח praise. When a person is willing to discipline his physical cravings for the higher purpose of serving Hashem, that alone is praise to Hashem.
Not only do we have the most incredible ability to serve the Almighty, but to boot we get rewarded for it. חבש is the gematriah of יש, matter 310. The are 310 worlds that await the tzadik in the next world to repay him for serving Hashem in this world of יש. The letter of ches which symbolizes theחבוש of חיים tells us that the mission of living in this world is about subjecting one’s yetzerharah to his yetzertov in order to listen to Hashem’s will. Thank you Hashem for giving us this opportunity to be born and serve You.
The second part of living properly and authentically is ים the crossing of the ocean. The ocean symbolizes the power of teshuvah as the passuk says שפכי כמים לבך נכח פני ה’ pour forth your heart like water opposite Hashem. On the passuk ורוח אלקים מרחפת על פני המים the Medrash interprets this to mean the power of teshuvah which is compared to water which cleanses. In creation we find that water originally filled the earth all the way up to the heavens. Only when Hashem said Let there be a firmament to separate the upper and lower waters, the latter complained why were they distanced from Hashem. Constantly they yearn to once again be reconnected before Hashem. Their yearning is reflected by the waves which are always rising and jumping heavenwards. Dovid Hamelech is suggesting that no matter how far one has strayed from before Hashem he should strive to come once again נכח פני ה’. One must always believe that this power lies in his hands and he can always do teshuva and return to his former relationship with Him.
Thank you Hashem for creating the most powerful tool in life, this power of teshuvah. In the physical world it is impossible to erase an action from history even though he can correct and replace it. However, Hashem gave to Yidden the ability to not only fix the aveirah, but with teshuvah originating from the love of Hashem, one can transform this negative force into a mitzvah which is a positive energy leaving no trace of the aveirah behind.
The third element of life is יסורים pain and affliction. It has the root of מוסרwhich means chastisement and מסורה which means tradition. When one begins to leave the mesorah handed down from Sinai, Hashem begins to set him back on track with light indications that will arouse him to start thinking about his lost direction. The LashonHakodesh word for pain which accompanies יסוריםisכאב which can be read as ke’av, like a father. The passuk says כאשר ייסר איש את בנו ה’ אלקיך מיסרך as a father afflicts his son so too Hashem Your G-d afflicts you. As a functional parent you don’t punish out of revenge, a display of power or aggression ch”v but rather out of motivation to correct certain dysfunctional behavior, to make a mentch of your child with middostovos and become virtuous. Hashem also punishes us who are called בנים אתם לה’ in the same fashion with the same intention. Dovid says in Tehillim חסד אשירה משפט אשירה I will sing even if I receive strictness from Hashem because that is what I need in order to make me straight. Must successful people who went through hardships in life beforehand, will tell you “I became who I am because of my hardships and hurdles and not despite them”. Thank you Hashem for making me aware of my shortcomings, for as the saying goes “no pain no gain”.
The fourth element of life for which we should be thankful to Hashem is מדברthe crossing of the desert. Chazal state that we received the Torah in the desert to demonstrate that just like the desert does not belong to anyone in particular, so too the Torah cannot be claimed as an exclusive possession of a person or a group for it belongs to everyone מורשה קהילת יעקב . The term הפקר translates as ownerless. Its gematriah of 385 equals שכינה. The presence of Hashem is available for everyone to claim if he makes for Hashem a suitable place to dwell in.
The desert lacks vegetation and natural growth. One would never dream of flourishing orchards and fields of produce from such an area. Yet the Yid was given the special power to start to build again from the ashes and make the world of Hashem vibrant and beautiful. “You have to look Palestine as it was then. It was a desert, a mosquito-infested swamp. The Palestinians on the whole were looking after their goats and sheep.”
To prove this point just take the neighboring letters that come after the word מדבר are נהגש which are the same letters placed on the four sides of the dreidle and that spell נס גדול היה שם. In Jewish hands we merit to have aנס גדול happen שם which is short for שממה a place of desolation. Professor Toynbee, the famous historian who wrote volumes on the Rise and Fall of Nations makes a statement the bold statement that there is only nation which is the exception to this rule and projection and explanation why still remains an enigma. After every rise of a nation and then its fall, in a very short time there are no remnants at all of that nation. However, the Jewish people after so many rises and falls are nevertheless still here as a nation excelling and flourishing in all areas of culture and society, education, intelligence, Nobel Prize winners, inventors, literature, medicine, sports, business etc. Only Am Yisrael knows the answer to the why.
This Hashgachas Hashem demonstrates that we are the “Adam” that Hashem intended to be His ambassador of the Tzelem Elokim and that is why He preserves our existence until today so we do not become an extinct species like so many others. Of the four categories in creation, inanimate, vegetative, animal, and “medabair” (Man), it is the desert, מדבר (midbar), that share same letters as medabeir. This teaches that the מדבר medabeir can be in a midbar and still receive there the most precious revelation of Hashem, His Torah. It is not the place that makes man but rather the man who makes the place.
The night of the Seder as we make four toasts of wine to Hashem for redeeming us out of bondage, we also give a לחיים to Him with deep gratitude for taking us through these four elements, both physically and spiritually. We all have our personal Mitzrayims but Hashem has already taken us out from the source of all personal Mitzrayims and therefore we have the power over all the elements to continue growing and come closer to Him. At the night of the Seder we must renew our elements and believe that Hashem can help us overcome them just as he did during Yetzias Mitzrayim.
– Rav Brazil