A few weeks ago, in Parshat Vayeshev (Breisheet 40:11) we read Pharaoh’s butler’s description of his dream which mentioned Pharaoh’s cup three times: “Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand. I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup. I then placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
What is the significance of the cup?
One interpretation, as found in Yishayahu 51:17, is that a cup can be used as a metaphor for punishment:
“Awaken yourself! Awaken yourself! Arise O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of God the cup of his fury. You have drunk from and drained the sediments of the cup of bewilderment.”
In the Talmud, Sotah 9a, Rava asks: Why are three cups stated regarding Egypt? One that is drank during the days of Moshe (when the Egyptians were punished at the time of the Exodus), one that is drank in the days of Pharaoh Necho (who was defeated by Nevuchadnezer the king of Babylon, mentioned in Yirmiyahu 46) and one that it will drink in the future with its fellows, in the days of the Mashiach (when the Egyptians along with the other nations will once again be defeated).
In the Torah reading for Parshat Vaera we read the story of the Exodus where Moshe and Aaron ask Pharaoh to let B’nei Yisrael out and are refused over and over again eventually leading to the redemption of B’nei Yisrael and the downfall of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (the first part of the butler’s prophecy).
This week’s Haftara from Yechezkel, speaks about Egypt’s downfall centuries later and next week’s Haftara from Yirmiyahu continues with the same theme of the Babylonian defeat of Egypt (the second part of the butler’s prophecy).
The prophecies in Yechezkel and Yirmiyahu emphasize that unlike Egypt, Israel will endure forever. Those who relied on Egypt rather than on God saw that they were mistaken.
Rashi comments on the Talmud, Sotah 108a that three of the four cups which we drink at the Passover seder correspond to the three cups from the butler’s dream, but with a positive spin (the fourth cup is not unique to the seder night as a cup of wine is usually part of Birkat HaMazon, Grace After Meals).
According to Rav Yaakov Homnick, the cups of wine at the seder show that we are now kings in our own right. We are no longer slaves. When we sit at the seder, we are like Pharaoh with the cup of majesty being placed in our hands.
Rav Homnick adds that the wine cup which was placed in the butler’s hands represented the fact that he was once again a free person as he was released from jail and was restored to his position in the palace.
At the seder, we too rejoice as free people, celebrating the past redemptions and the hope that the future redemption is upon us.