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A Holiday of Fives

Friday, 14 April, 2017 - 5:28 pm

I hope that everyone has been enjoying a wonderful and meaningful Passover so far. We often regard Passover as a holiday of "fours." There are four cups of wine at the seder. There are the four sons, the four questions, the four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative. The number four is significant in Kabbala as it reflects many "fours" in the way the ancients categorized existence - including the four elements of air, fire, earth and water, as well as the four aspects of human, animal, botanical and inanimate (silent).

During our Seder this year we were discussing this idea with our children and one of my daughters pointed out that in actuality Passover is a holiday of "fives" rather than "fours." And she began to enumerate the fives by drawing on the mystical and chassidic interpretation of many of those "fours." In addition to the four cups of wine there is a fifth cup - the cup of Elijah. In addition to the four sons mentioned in the Haggadah there is the fifth one the Rebbe talked about, the son who, sadly does not intend to even come to the Seder table. In addition to the four questions, there is the fifth one mentioned by Maimonides that they used to ask in Temple times about why the meat on "this night" must be roasted. In addition to the four expressions of redemption that G-d declares to the children of Israel - "I will take you out, I will save you, I will liberate you, I will take you as a nation" - there is also the fifth expression, "I will bring you to the land that I have promised." She went on to point out it is also the Chabad custom to break the middle Matzah (used later for the afikoman) into five pieces. 

So what's the deal? What indeed is the difference between four and five and why is there this fifth element underlying the well known four? To appreciate the answer let us first touch on an English word that can shed some light on the matter - Quintessence. The dictionary tells us that this word means either the pure or most concentrated essence of a substance or the most prefect embodiment of something. But both of these definitions would be served with just the word "essence." Why the need to add the prefix "quint" meaning five or fifth? In ancient philosophy they used this term to refer to the fifth and highest element that permeates all of nature (see above regarding the four elements). In Kabbala the fifth dimension or element is also used as a reference to the highest and purest essence. Case in point: the Zohar describes the soul as having five names or levels - Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and Yechida. The first three levels refer to the soul as we experience it. The fourth is the transcendant element of the soul, which hovers above the body and connects it to the ethrereal realms. The fifth - Yechida - is the essence or quintessence of the soul, which is one with its Source, the Infinite One. 

Now we can understand how the fours of Passover morph into fives. Each of the fours has a fifth element that is the essence of that category. Let us examine each of them in that light.

The fifth cup is the cup of Elijah. While the four cups refer primarily to the first redemption - the exodus from Egypt, Elijah's cup calls forth the future redemption, the ultimate, and indeed, the quintessence of all redemptions.

The fifth son is the one who does not intend to come to the Seder. Yet this son too posseses a Yechida soul element through which can and must awaken his essential connection to G-d and Judaism. This reveals that at the core every Jew is connected to Hashem.  

On a deeper level, the four questions refer to the "night" of exile. Each of them questions another aspect of our bitter and long displacement from our "Father's home." The fifth question is an allusion to the time when the Temple will be rebuilt after Moshiach comes, when once again we will be welcome back at our "Father's table."

The four expressions of redemption in the Exodus narrative speak of the redemption from Egypt but fall short of bringing them to promised land. The fifth expression speaks of the Jews being brought to the Promised land, again an allsuion to the final redemption. 

The five pieces of the Afikoman allude to the five levels of the soul, most prominently the quintessence - the Yechida.

This is the beauty of an education that is informed by the teachings of Chassidus. A child is capable of picking up the subtle nuance of the underlying qunitessence of Passover and indeed all of Judaism. May we each merit to access our personal quintessence, which will ultimately bring the universe and even the cosmos, to experience the complete and final redemption through Moshiach, the individual to whom Kabbala refers as the general Yechida of the universe. 

Speaking of Moshiach, the last day of Pesach was designated by our sages as the day on which the aura of Moshiach is prevelant. As such the Baal Shemtov instituted the special celebration of faith - meal of Moshiach during the closing moments of Pesach. Please join us at Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie for this celebration (details above).

At Chabad Uptown this celebration is dedicated by Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin and family in loving memory of Rabbi Sholom Gordon, whose Yahrtzeit is the last day of Pesach.  

Wishing you a wonderful and meaningful rest of Pesach!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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