Four and Fifteen


There are two numbers that play a significant role by the Pesach Seder. One number is four, and the other is fifteen. Regarding four, there are four cups of wine, four terms of redemption, the four Matriarchs, four sons mentioned in the Hagadah, four questions posed in the Mah Nishtanah. There are those who say that the Seder is comprised of four components, as we eat matzah, maror, drink wine, and relate the story of the Exodus. Yet, the commentators are perplexed as to the significance of the number four.
I would like to offer an explanation that not only explains the meaning of four by the Seder, but also sheds light on the number four in general. The word four in Hebrew is arba. A similar word is rova, which means to procreate and multiply. The number three is normally understood to mean a connection, as the word for three is shelosha, and the word for chain is shalsheles. Thus, by adding on to three, one is multiplying and increasing the connection. We find that the Gemara (Brachos 16b) states that there are only three Patriarchs, and they are Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Yet, the Ramban writes at the end of the Book of Bereishis that now the Book of the Patriarchs is completed.
My cousin, Reb Heshy Weissman, Shlita, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivas Meshech Chochmah in Jerusalem, once remarked to me that it is implicit from the words of the Ramban that Yosef, who is discussed in the last four parshiyos of Bereishis, is also deemed to be one of the Patriarchs. This does not necessarily contradict the statement of the Gemara that there are only three Patriarchs, as we know that Yaakov is in the category of Shabbos. Yet, the Sfas Emes writes that Yosef, the son of Yaakov, reflects Tosefes Shabbos, adding to Shabbos. Thus, while there are only three Patriarchs, Yosef is deemed to be an extension of Yaakov. When we contemplate the number four, we can safely assume that four is not an exclusive number. Rather, four is an extension of three. Thus, Yosef is an extension of the Patriarchs, as Yosef embodied the principles and lifestyle of the Patriarchs.
Similarly, Sara, Rivka, and Rachel were the three primary Matriarchs, as initially Yaakov was only supposed to marry Rachel. Yet, Hashem saw fit to orchestrate history so that Leah would also be counted as one of the Matriarchs. Hence, Leah is an extension of the three Matriarchs. It is noteworthy that when Leah gave birth to her fourth child, she called him Yehudah, as an expression of her thanksgiving to HaShem that she was allowed to beget more than her share of three children. Three children was the expectation, and bearing a fourth child was considered an extra. Leah called her fourth son Yehudah and his name is comprised of the Name of HaShem and an extra dalet. This symbolizes that from Yehudah would descend Dovid, who was essentially the first Jewish king and he and his descendants were to sit on the throne of HaShem. Yet, Dovid went beyond what was required of him and he praised HaShem in a manner that no other human had done prior to him. Moshiach, a descendant of Dovid, will also rule over the whole world, as did his forebear Shlomo, the son of Dovid. Thus, four is an extension of three, as four involves taking what exists and multiplying it.
Upon examining the four questions of the Mah Nishtanah, we will notice that the question of the matzah, maror, and dippings are all justified questions, as they address the deviations that we perform on this night of Pesach in contrast to the rest of the year. The question regarding the reclining, however, needs to be understood, because in earlier times people would recline all year around. The Vilna Gaon writes that for this reason the Mishna in Pesachim (116a) does not mention the question regarding reclining, because when the Bais HaMikdash was standing, people reclined all year round and the reclining was not considered a deviation. Although nowadays it is not the custom to recline throughout the year, it would seem that the author of the Hagadah introduced this question as an extension of the first three questions. Thus, the question regarding the reclining is to lead into the answer of avadim hayinu, where we state that that we were slaves in Egypt and HaShem redeemed us.
Regarding the four sons, it is obvious that the wise son, the wicked son, and the simple son all pose questions. The son who does not know how to ask, however, does not pose a question. Rather, as an extension of the first three sons, we relate the story to him, and this is in accordance with the law that one who does not have a son should relate the story of the Exodus to himself. We can suggest that it is specifically for this reason that the author of the Hagadah states at pesach lo, you open up to him, and the word at is in the feminine form. The reason that the feminine tense is used is because the male is normally the one who influences the female, whereas the female is on the receiving end. Regarding the story of the Exodus, however, one is required to relate the story to himself, i.e. to delve into the details of the Exodus and to reinforce the lessons of faith and trust in HaShem.
Regarding the four cups of wine, which correspond to the four terms of redemption, we can suggest as follows: The first three cups and the first three terms of redemption correspond to the first three stages of redemption, where HaShem took us out of Egypt, delivered us from the slavery, and redeemed us from our oppressors. The forth term of velakachti, and I will take, refers to the giving of the Torah. The purpose of the exodus was so that the Jewish People would receive the Torah. Thus, the fourth term is merely an extension of the first three terms of redemption. In conclusion, the theme of four that is so dominant in the Hagadah reflects the idea that there are certain premises and then there are extensions of these premises.

The number fifteen is reflected in the stages of the Seder, which are delineated at the onset of the Seder. These fifteen steps are kadeish urchatz etc. The word aviv, spring, equals 15 in gematria, and Pesach is referred to as chag haaviv, the spring festival. There are fifteen Shir Hamaalos, songs of ascent, in Tehillim, and there were fifteen steps that led up to the Azarah, the Courtyard in the Bais HaMikdash.

The idea behind the number fifteen is as follows: kingship is reflected in the number thirty, as the Mishnah states that there are thirty attributes to kingship. The name Yehudah equals in gematria thirty and Yehudah was the king of the tribes and from Yehudah descended the true kings of the Jewish People. The seven middos begin with Gedulah and culminate with Malchus. Yesod, foundation, precedes Malchus. Yesod refers to milah, circumcision, and withstanding immoral temptation. It is said (Yeshaya 26:4) ki bekah HaShem tzur olamim, with the word kah HaShem created the world. The word kah, spelled with a yud and a hey, equals in gematria fifteen. Thus, the world was created with the concept of fifteen. Yet, the word kah only represents half of HaShem’s Name. HaShem’s kingship will only be fully revealed when Moshiach arrives. It is brought in sefarim that the redemption will be predicated on the safeguarding of the bris, i.e. milah and withstanding immoral temptation. Thus, we commence the Seder by stating kadeish urchatz; one must sanctify himself and cleanses himself so he can be prepared for the revelation of HaShem’s kingship.
This can also be the explanation for the fifteen Shir Hamaalos, which are songs of ascent. Dovid HaMelech writes (Tehillim 24:3-4): mi yaaleh vehar HaShem umi yakum bimkom kadsho, niki chapaim uvar leivav, who may ascend the mountain of HaShem and who may ascend in the place of His sanctity? One with clean hands and pure heart… One who wishes to ascend spiritually must sanctify himself and cleanse himself of any spiritual maladies. It is for this reason that the word aviv, spring, equals in gematria 15. Rashi writes that HaShem liberated the Jewish People in a month that is desirable to exit, when it was not too hot and not too cold. This can be interpreted on a spiritual plane. Hashem redeemed us at a time when we were still be to ascend spiritually, as the Kabbalists write that had HaShem waited even a second longer to liberate the Jewish People from Egypt, the Jewish People would have descended into the fiftieth level of contamination, from which there is no return.
HaShem gave the Jewish People the mitzvah of milah to perform as this mitzvah was merit that would allow them to be liberated from Egypt. This also indicates that it is fifteen, i.e. yesod, which is halfway to Malchus, kingship that predicated the redemption. Thus, we declare our praise to HaShem through the number fifteen, because HaShem redeemed us on the fifteenth of the month of Nissan, when we were still able to retain some form of sanctity, and we ascended from the nadir of Egyptian depravity to become Hashem’s Holy Nation and become sanctified through His holy Torah and mitzvos.
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This entry was posted in Bais Yosef, kadeish, malchus, milah, Pesach, Sfas Emes, urchatz, yesod. Bookmark the permalink.

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