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Thought for the Day: MIscellany Regarding The Obligation to Drink Four Cups of Wine at the Seder

I don't really rely on signs, wonders, and s'gulos; but I sure do believe in them.  I had the wonderful opportunity to learn with my five year old grandson Avos u'Banim this past Shabbos.  He chose the s'farim: the Art Scroll Children's brachos book (lots of pictures!) and a children's biography of R' Yehuda Assad.  The brachos I knew, but I had never heard of R' Assad and even thought to myself that he must be S'fardi (given the name and the fact that I had never heard of him).  As it turns out, my ignorance knows few bounds; R' Yehuda Assad was a gadol in Hungary, served as the Rav of Szerdahely for more than a decade (1853 - 1866), and was one of the leaders of Hungarian Jewry.

R' Assad is also known as המהר''י אסאד and is an author of a sefer of responsa.  That I know because it he is quoted in the Dirshu Edition Mishna Brura (Note 42 on Siman 472).  Given that I had never heard of המהר''י אסאד before yesterday (except, I suppose, in the womb), I felt this was a clear sign from Above that I should write up some miscellany regarding the ארבע כוסות.  Any port in a storm, you know.

There is always a discussion about whether one needs to drink specifically wine (that is, containing alcohol) for the ארבע כוסות, or if grape juice will do just as it does for all other ceremonies where the Sages required wine.  R' Moshe is of the opinion that once should use specifically wine, as the drinking here is to demonstrate with an action that we are not beholden to any mortal; aka דרך חירות.  The poskim that I have seen all lean (you better believe pun intended) in that direction, and even that you should push yourself even if you don't like wine so much and even if are are likely to suffer a minor headache.  On the other hand, everyone takes it as an obvious that one should not push so hard as to actually become sick; as the Sha'arei Tziun mentions in sk 52, that can't be called דרך חירות.  The המהר''י אסאד (there he is!) goes so far as to call it a מצווה הבא בעבירה/a mitzvah founded upon sin.  The מהר''ם שיק goes further and says it is just plain בעבירה and not even leading to a מצווה.

What about leaning?  Generally speaking, men are required to lean for all four cups, while women do not.  That basis of that custom is the m'chaber says that only נשים חשובות/women of stature lean.  The Rema argues and says that while all of our women are נשים חשובות, none the less, they do not lean because they rely on the ראבי''ה (who holds that no one needs to lean nowadays).  I have heard two explanations of this machklokes.  For one, you'll have to come to the Chicago Vasikin minyan and listen carefully as the halacha is explained.  (It won't be hard to listen carefully, as we are all silent and attentive when the halacha is being learned before or after davening.)  This year, though, I heard another explanation from Rabbi Doniel Lehrfeld, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Beis Yisrael.  Namely, the m'chaber (being S'fardi) holds that one can have more than one wife; there will clearly be one whom the husband holds as the main wife/אשה חשובה.  The Rema (being Ashkenazi) holds that one may have only one wife; clearly, therefore, all of our woman are נשים חשובות.

I look forward to learning lots more Torah with my grandchildren, בזרת השם.


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