– Author: Rav Otniel Fendel

We are all familiar with the minhag to fill a fifth cup, commonly known as the cup of Eliyahu. What is the source for this minhag? Does it have any halachic significance, and how does it relate to the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine at the Seder?

The Mishna in Masechet Pesachim[1] concludes the order of the drinking of the four cups as follows:

מזגו לו כוס שלישי מברך על מזונו רביעי גומר עליו את הלל ואומר עליו ברכת השיר בין הכוסות הללו אם רוצה לשתות ישתה בין שלישי לרביעי לא ישתה.

“They pour for him the third cup, and he recites over it Grace after Meals. [They pour] the fourth cup, he concludes Hallel over it and says Bircat Hashir. Between the [first two] cups, if one wishes to drink he may drink, but between the third and the fourth he may not drink.”

The Mishna makes no mention of a fifth cup. However, the ensuing Gemara[2] quotes a beraita as follows:

“The Rabbis taught: The fifth cup – one concludes Hallel Hagadol (the great Hallel) over it; this is the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon. And others say, “G-d is my shepherd.” The beraita brings both the opinion of Rabbi Tarfon and other Tanaim who hold that there is a fifth cup; they only argue as to what is recited over it.

Although the beraita as we have quoted it is not the version that appears in the printed version of the text, it is the version quoted by the overwhelming majority of Rishonim (Rif, Rambam, Ran, Baal Hamaor, Rosh). How can we reconcile this beraita that states that there is a fifth cup with the Mishna mentioned above that only mentions four? Is this a machloket Tanaim? If so, surely the Gemara should have pointed this out, as it often does: “Mani matnitin, d’lo K’Rabbi Tarfon,” who is the author of the Mishna? It is surely not Rabbi Tarfon.”[3]

Rashbam’s Understanding of the Mishna and Beraita

The Yerushalmi[4] explains that the reason one may not drink between the third and fourth cup is that one might become drunk, “for drinking during the meal (i.e., the preceding cups) doesn’t cause drunkenness, but after the meal does cause drunkenness.”

The Rashbam,[5] commenting on the Mishna, brings the Yerushalmi and explains that the concern for drunkenness is that one won’t be able to complete the Hallel. From the Mishna it is clear that there is no mention of a fifth cup, and based on the Yerushalmi and Rashbam, perhaps there is even a prohibition of reciting Hallel Hagadol over the fifth cup because it will turn out that one has drunk an intoxicating cup of wine (the fourth cup) before the conclusion of Hallel.

The Rashbam reconciles the beraita with the Mishna by stating that the correct version of the beraita is “the fourth cup” (and not “the fifth cup”). However, many Rishonim retain the version of the beraita citing a fifth cup, and the disparity between the Mishna and beraita therefore must be addressed.


Other Opinions of the Rishonim

The Baal Hamaor[6] and Raavad hold that the beraita indeed argues with the Mishna that stipulated four cups, but the halacha follows the Mishna, and not the beraita.[7] The Baal Hamaor does add though that if one wants to drink the fifth cup (even without reciting Hallel Hagadol), we cannot rebuke him, as it is permitted in principle.

The Ramban[8] understands that the beraita is not arguing with the Mishna. Rabbi Tarfon is merely adding that if one wants to drink a fifth cup, he needs to recite the Hallel Hagadol over it. The Ramban explains that if one wants to drink wine after the four cups it is prohibited, as it looks like one is starting a second Seder (which would be prohibited from the Torah in the times of the Beit Hamikdash, for one cannot eat from two separate Korban Pesachs) unless he says Hallel Hagadol with it (which would show that this is actually an extension of the first Seder). The Ramban concludes, though, that the minhag of all of Israel is not to drink after concluding Bircat HaShir.

The Ran[9] suggests two ways to reconcile the Mishna and beraita. The first is similar to the Ramban: If one wants to drink more wine, one must recite Hallel Hagadol over it. His second answer is that it is actually a mitzvah min hamuvchar – the best way to perform the mitzvah – to drink the fifth cup and recite Hallel Hagadol over it. The Ran states that the opinion of the Rambam leans towards his second answer.

The Rosh[10] quotes Rabbeinu Yonah who prohibits drinking after the four cups of wine, as one has an obligation to learn the halachot of Pesach and tell the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim the entire night, and we are concerned that one might fall asleep due to the consumption of alcohol. Rabbeinu Yonah bases this on the Tosefta[11] that states: “One is obligated to occupy himself with the laws of Pesach the entire night.”

In summary, some Rishonim hold that it is permitted (Baal Hamaor; Hasagot HaRaavad on the Rif) or even a mitzvah (Ran and possibly Rambam) to drink the fifth cup, while others hold that it prohibited to drink the fifth cup either according to the strict letter of the law (Rabbeinu Yonah and perhaps the Rashbam) or due to the accepted minhag (Ramban, Rosh).

What is the underlying argument between the Rishonim as to whether the fifth cup is foribidden, permitted, or recommended?


The Nature of the Mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim

Perhaps we can explain that this argument hinges on the very nature of the Torah obligation of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. One could posit that those Rishonim who prohibit drinking the fifth cup hold that the nature of the mitzvah is not just to tell the story and praise Hashem, but also to focus on the halachot of Pesach, and in order to do this, one has to have lucidness and cannot be inebriated in any way (more than the four cups that the Sages instituted).

The Griz[12] explains that the Torah speaks to us in two different fashions: One is by way of story and narrative, and the other is by way of mitzvot, chukim and halachot. He parallels these two elements with the makeup of the Haggada and concludes explicitly that the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim on the Seder night includes both aspects: There is an obligation to tell the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim as well as an obligation to explain the practical mitzvot of the night.

On the other hand, the Rishonim who permit drinking the fifth cup understand that the focus of the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim is transmitting the story in any form, and if one wants to drink and tell it while inebriated, one still fulfills the obligation.[13]


The Scope of the Mitzvah

Another understanding of the machloket is that it revolves around the scope of the mitzvah. According to those who permit drinking, the mitzvah is only until the latest possible time one can partake of the matza and maror.[14] However, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, the obligation exists the entire night until the morning, as mentioned in the Gemara and Haggada regarding Rabbi Akiva and the other Tanaim in Bnei Brak.[15]

From Rabbeinu Yonah’s words[16] it seems that he holds that both elements are true, namely that the nature of the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim includes learning the halachot of Pesach as well as the story, and the scope extends until the morning, and does not apply only during the meal. Accordingly, even if one has completed the meal, we are still concerned that a person should not become drunk, as the obligation of learning hilchot Pesach is still incumbent upon him until dawn.

When clarifying the opinion of the Rashbam we are left slightly in the dark. As mentioned previously, he states that the reason for not drinking between the cups is lest one becomes inebriated and is unable to recite Hallel. Arguably, after Hallel is recited on the fourth cup, he might not have a problem of adding a fifth cup. This is how the Baal Hamaor understood his opinion. On the other hand, the Rashbam earlier in his commentary brings another reason for not drinking in between the third and fourth cup[17] that it looks as if one is adding onto the cups instituted by the Sages. This reason might apply even after the end of the Seder. Alternatively, there might not be a problem of adding once the Seder has ended. Yet another possibility is that the Rashbam would actually agree with Rabbeinu Yonah as we have explained him above.


The Opinion of the Ran and Rambam Revisited

As mentioned, according to the Ran’s second answer, it is actually a mitzvah min hamuvchar to drink the fifth cup over Hallel Hagadol. The Ran states that the words of the Rambam lean toward this understanding as well. However, the actual words of the Rambam are somewhat ambiguous, as he states as follows:[18]

“And afterwards, he recites the Birkat Hamazon over a third cup and drinks it. And afterwards, he pours a fourth cup and finishes the Hallel over it. And he recites the Birkat HaShir and that is: May all of your creatures praise you, etc. And he recites the blessing Borei Pri Hagefen and does not taste anything afterwards the entire night, except for water. And he should pour a fifth cup and say upon it the Hallel Hagadol (Tehilim 136)… And this cup is not obligatory like the other four cups.

The Ran understands that the word limzog (to pour) means to drink. The fact that the Rambam used this language regarding the other cups as well might support this as well. Furthermore, he states that this fifth cup isn’t an obligation similar to the four cups, implying that it may be drunk, just that the level of obligation is different.[19]

What is the logic behind the opinion of the Ran (and possibly Rambam)? The opinions which forbid a fifth cup seem logical because the nature or timeframe (or both) of the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim do not allow for excessive drunkenness.  However, the opinions of the Rambam and Ran seem puzzling: If the mitzvah of Sippur can co-exist with (and perhaps even be enhanced by) drunkenness, why, then, is the fifth cup only recommended and not obligatory like the other four?

The Netziv[20] explains the distinction of the Rambam and Ran between the obligatory four cups of wine and the fifth cup, which is only a mitzvah min hamuvchar, in the following way. The first four cups parallel the four expressions of redemption. The fifth cup parallels the expression “Veyadatem et Hashem – And you will know Hashem,”[21] which expresses a certain level of knowing Hashem through Ruach Hakodesh and prophecy which was not accessible to all. Hence, it was never instituted as an obligation. He states further that since today we no longer have prophecy until Eliyahu Hanavi will return, the minhag arose that no one drinks the fifth cup. This is the reason that we now refer to the fifth cup as the cup of Eliyahu.


A Second Explanation of the Rambam and Ran

Rav Elyashiv[22] explained that in relation to the Afikoman and the drinking of the four cups of wine, according to Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya the four cups of wine are also only until midnight, for the telling of Yetziat Mitzrayim must be “at the time when matza and maror are placed in front of you.” If so, the chiyuv of telling the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim extends specifically until midnight. However, if one started beforehand, one can continue as an extension of the original obligation. Accordingly, this could be another explanation for the distinction of the Rambam and Ran. According to the Rambam and Ran there is no independent obligation to tell the story the entire night, rather it is an extension of the original mitzvah and has a special geder of mitzvah min hamuvchar, and one who does so is praised. However, it is not an independent obligation and hence, the Sages never instituted the fifth cup as an obligation, for this would imply a new and independent obligation. Furthermore, we now understand why Rabbi Tarfon stated that one must recite Hallel Hagadol over the fifth cup. This is not a new obligation, but an extension of Hallel Hamitzri and Nishmat.  Drinking the fifth cup without reciting Hallel Hagadol would signify some independent obligation which doesn’t exist.

This is in contrast to Rabbeinu Yonah and possibly the Rashbam who held that the obligation continues the entire night.


The Fifth Cup in Halacha

The poskim also have differing opinions regarding the fifth cup, which are based on many of the different principles and approaches outlined by the Rishonim, as we will see.

The Shulchan Aruch[23] does not mention a fifth cup at all, and the Rema[24] only mentions that someone who has a great need to drink may drink a fifth cup provided that he recites Hallel Hagadol on the cup. However the Chok Yaakov[25] states one should fill (limzog) one extra cup, and this is called the cup of Eliyahu Hanavi.[26] This is also mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch Harav.[27]

The simple understanding of the Chok Yaakov is that we only pour the fifth cup,[28] not drink it, and other Acharonim do not mention drinking it either. At the very least though, we have a later source that records the custom of adopting the notion of the fifth cup in some manner.

The Chok Yaakov also adds a novelty that this cup connects us to concepts of faith in the final redemption. This is in fact the first record of classifying this cup as the cup of Eliyahu. It seems that the Netziv quoted above adopted this position and elucidated it further.

The Aruch Hashulchan[29] brings the minhag of the Geonim that only one who is very thirsty or sick can drink the fifth cup (as the Rema ruled),  but concludes as follows: “However, we have never heard or seen such a thing that people act in such a manner.” He then brings the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah brought in the Tur and Rosh, that one is obligated to delve into the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim the entire night and tell of the wonders and miracles that Hashem did for us, and that if one drinks wine, he will fall asleep shortly thereafter. From the Aruch Hashulchan’s formulation, it seems that he holds like Rabbeinu Yonah that not only is there no mitzvah to drink the fifth cup, but there is also a prohibition.


Drinking from the Fifth Cup

Up to this point we havn’t seen any of the Acharonim who states that one should drink the fifth cup. The Tzitz Eliezer[30] in his responsa quotes the following in the name of the Yaavetz: “We prepare a big cup and we call it the cup of Eliyahu, but to drink from it, who ever mentioned that?” He continues that the Yaavetz said that when he was with the Chatam Sofer, the cup for Eliyahu stood raised above all the other cups, but no one ever drank from it. The Yaavetz’s custom was to leave it out covered over the entire night, and in the morning to make Kiddush over it to fulfill the dictum of the Sages that since we have fulfilled one mitzvah with it, we should use it for another.

Evidently, the Chatam Sofer never drank the fifth cup at all, while the Yaavetz would only drink from it in the morning after reciting Kiddush over it. Perhaps the Chatam Sofer held like the Netziv that the fifth cup represents the final redemption and prophecy, and therefore would not drink from the cup at all, until the arrival of Eliyahu Hanavi and the renewal of prophecy.

However, the Divrei Yetziv[31] states in the name of the Rokeach[32] that we pour the fifth cup, recite Hallel Hagadol, and drink the fifth cup without leaning. He adds in the name of the Manhig[33] that the fifth cup is parallel to the expression “and I will bring you into the land” and is connected to the land.[34] The Divrei Yetziv concludes with the words of the Raavad[35] that “there is definitely what to rely on concerning this custom from the words of Rabbi Tarfon, and it is a mitzvah to do as he says, and they have already connected this cup to the expression of v’heveiti. And even the Tanna Kamma stated that one cannot drink less than four cups but regarding adding a cup, he did not say that it is prohibited.” It seems that the Divrei Yetziv holds that one can and even should drink the fifth cup.


Concluding Thoughts

The Maharal[36] explains that the fifth cup focuses on parnasa (sustenance), which is an even higher level of redemption than Yetziat Mitzrayim. For although Hashem is above the Heavens, He still cares for each creature, giving them the sustenance they need. This care for each individual, explains the Maharal, is a more complete redemption and is signified by the fifth cup. This is also the theme of Hallel Hagadol, which on the one hand describes G-d’s loftiness, yet also states, “He gives bread to all his creatures.” The final redemption according to the Maharal will remove any deficiencies that we have.

Rav Shaar Yashuv Hakohen in his introduction to the sefer zikaron for his father, Rav David Hakohen (known as “The Nazir”),[37] recalls that his father, who waited for the return of prophecy all his life, said that this is the secret of the fifth cup, and when prophecy returns, we will once again have the custom to drink the fift

[1]  Mishna, Pesachim 10:7

[2]Pesachim 118a

[3] This question is raised by the Milchamot Hashem, Rosh, and Ran, among others.

[4] Yerushalmi, Pesachim 10:6

[5]  Rashbam, Masechet Pesachim 118a s.v. bein gimmel l’dalet lo yishteh

[6] Baal Hamaor on the Rif, 26b s.v. katav HaRif

[7] The Ramban argues vehemently with the Baal Hamaor on this point.

[8] Milchamot Hashem on the Rif

[9] Ran on the Rif, 26b s.v. chamishi

[10]  Rosh, Pesachim 10:33

[11]  Tosefta, Pesachim 10:8

[12]  Chidushei HaGriz Hachadashim, siman 37

[13] See for example Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvot 157, where he stresses telling the story and singing and praising Hashem.

[14] According to this approach, the deadline would be chatzot, in accordance with those opinions that give this as the deadline for consuming the korban pesach as well as the afikoman.

[15] Rabbeinu Yonah himself in his Seder Leil Pesach paskened like Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah that one has to finish eating by chatzot. This seems to contradict how we have explained Rabbeinu Yonah here. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Yonah only mentioned the obligation of learning hilchot Pesach and doesn’t refer to continuing with Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim until dawn. One could argue that this is an independent obligation not connected to the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. However, the Tur and Rosh quote him as including discussing Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim together with the obligation to study hilchot Pesach; accordingly, it sounds like both are included within the mitzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim. In the body of the article we have stated Rabbeinu Yonah’s opinion based on how the Tur understood him. However, this matter requires further analysis.

[16] Tur quoting Rabbeinu Yonah. See previous note.

[17]  Rashbam, Pesachim 108a, s.v. bein shelishi

[18] Rambam, Hilchot Chametz Umatza 8:10

[19] On the other hand, one could argue that the Rambam only mentioned pouring and did not state that one drinks or says a beracha, something that he stated regarding the other cups. This implies that here he only pours but does not actually drink it. In addition, the Rambam’s formulation “and does not taste anything afterwards the entire night, except for water,” which clearly refers to liquids, also implies that the fifth cup is not drunk. If it were drunk, the Rambam probably would have mentioned it before giving this general principle that nothing may be consumed after the cups.

[20] Meromei Hasadeh, Pesachim 118a

[21] Shemot 6:7

[22] He’arot Rav Elyashiv, Masechet Pesachim 120b

[23] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 480

[24] 481:1

[25]  Chok Yaakov O.C. 480:6

[26]  The Chok Yaakov also brings the minhag that in many places, people do not lock their rooms that they sleep in on the Seder night, so that if Eliyahu Hanavi comes, he will find the door open and we will run out to greet him. He noted that there is support for this custom from the Talmud Yerushalmi.

[27] Shulchan Aruch Harav 480:45

[28] Although the Ran argued that when the Rambam used the word limzog, he meant to drink it; here it seems more difficult to say that this is the intention of the Chok Yaakov: The Rambam used that language for the other cups as well, and also compared the fifth cup to the other four cups, which the Chok Yaakov does not do. Hence, we have presented the simple reading of his position as just pouring without drinking.

[29] Aruch Hashulchan, O.C. 481:1-3

[30]  Responsa Tzitz Eliezer 2:28

[31]  Responsa Divrei Yetziv, O.C. 207 and 212

[32]  Rokeach, siman 283

[33]  Sefer HaManhig, siman 51

[34] This is also the opinion of the Raavad in his Hasagot on the Rif, as opposed to the Netziv who connected it to prophecy.

[35]  Ibid.

[36] Maharal, Sefer Gevurot Hashem, siman 65

[37]  Inroduction to the book “Ish ki Yafli

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