Sheva Berachos at the Seder

Although most people grimace at the thought of attending a wedding the week before Pesach, much less making one, scheduling a wedding that week also includes the possibility of making sheva brachos at the Seder. Certainly for those who relish long, drawn-out sheva brachos, what could be more exciting than combining sheva brachos with the Seder! And, in addition to the time-honored question whether a choson wears a kittel at the Seder, this Seder has an additional question: Over which kos does one recite the first six brachos of the sheva brachos? Although this question may seem trite, many responsa and dozens of pages of halachic dialogue discuss it. In order to explain what the commotion is about, we need to understand its halachic basis.

Ordinarily, after a sheva brachos meal we take out three cups and fill two of them with wine. The person leading the bensching holds one of the full cups, while the second cup remains on the table until bensching is completed. The second cup is then handed consecutively to six honorees who recite the first six sheva brachos. (Although many authorities oppose dividing the blessings among six different honorees, this approach is commonly followed.) The person who led bensching then recites the last of the sheva brachos, borei pri hagafen while holding the first cup. He then drinks from his cup, the wine in the two cups is mixed together (using the third cup for this purpose), and finally the wine of the second and this cups are presented to the choson and the kallah.

(This is the prevalent custom, the basis of which is recorded by Derisha [Even HaEzer 62:4] and Nishmas Odom [68:2]. Some poskim recommend that the honoree leading the bensching hold the kos to be used for the sheva brachos while reciting the prayer dvei hoseir [which is inserted before bensching at a sheva brachos meal] and then put that kos down and pick up the first kos for bensching [Taz, Even HaEzer 62:7]. I have never seen anyone follow this practice. According to a third opinion, the second kos should not be filled until after bensching is completed [Magen Avraham 147:11 and Be’er Heiteiv, Even HaEzer 62:11].)

Why do we use two different kosos? Why not use the same cup for both bensching and sheva brachos? Actually, the poskim dispute this issue, as I will explain.

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) teaches that if (for some unusual reason) someone bensches and recites Kiddush at the same time, he should not recite both of them over the same cup. Rather, he should recite Kiddush while holding one cup of wine and bensch while holding a different one. The Gemara then queries why it is necessary to take two different cups, to which it answers: “We do not recite two kedushos over the same cup. Why not? Because we do not bundle together several mitzvos, ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos.” Using the same kos for both mitzvos gives the impression that we view these mitzvos as a burden, rather than treating each mitzvah with due respect by designating for it its own cup of wine. This concept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos is often simply referred to as the problem of “chavilos chavilos.”

BUT DON’T WE RECITE KIDDUSH AND HAVDALAH OVER ONE CUP?

When Yom Tov falls on a Sunday, we recite Kiddush for Yom Tov and Havdalah for Shabbos as part of the same ceremony, all while holding the same cup. Why is this not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since it “bundles together” the two mitzvos of Kiddush and Havdalah?

The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) explains that Kiddush and Havdalah are considered one mitzvah – thus, reciting them over one cup is not considered bundling mitzvos together.

I can now explain why we recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups. Tosafos quotes a dispute whether one recites sheva brachos on the same cup that one recites bensching or over a different cup. Rabbeinu Meshulam maintains that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup of wine is not a problem of chavilos chavilos, since we do not recite the sheva brachos without bensching. Thus, since bensching causes the recital of the sheva brachos, this is not bundling separate mitzvos together. According to Rabbeinu Meshulam, we fill one cup with wine and hand it to the person leading the bensching. When he finishes bensching, he hands that kos to the honoree who recites the first of the sheva brachos, who then hands it to the next honoree and so on until the kos returns to the person who led the bensching, so that he may hold the kos while reciting the borei pri hagafen. However, Tosafos quotes a differing opinion that contends that one should recite bensching and sheva brachos over separate cups, since they are, essentially, two separate mitzvos.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 62:9) quotes both opinions in this dispute, and mentions that the custom is to use only one cup for both bensching and sheva brachos, following Rabbeinu Meshulam. (One should note that Sefardim recite all seven of the sheva brachos only when the meal is celebrated in the hall at which the wedding took place. The reason for this practice is beyond the scope of our current discussion, but see Tosafos Sukkah 25b s.v. ein simcha and Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 62:10.) The Rama notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is to use two different cups. The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47), who was the posek hador of his generation among the Sefardim, notes that, although at the time of the Shulchan Aruch the custom among the Edot Hamizrach (the Sefardim) was to recite the sheva brachos on the same cup as the bensching, in his day (the Chida’s) a separate cup was used for sheva brachos. Thus, the minhag had changed among the Sefardim. It is also worthwhile to note that the Chida, who lived most of his life in Eretz Yisroel, traveled extensively through Northern Africa and Europe and was very familiar with the customs of many places. (As an aside, wherever the Chida visited he researched whatever seforim, both published and in manuscript, were available and recorded his findings. He later published his discoveries in an encyclopedic work, Shem HaGedolim, which is a monumental bibliography of seforim and authors.) Other Sefardic authors of the last several hundred years record two customs, some following Rabbeinu Meshulam (like the Shulchan Aruch recorded) and others using separate cups for the two mitzvos (like the Chida) (Otzar HaPoskim 62:9:53). The predominant custom today is to use two separate kosos.

WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER NIGHTS?

If, on all other nights, we use separate cups for bensching and sheva brachos, why should we entertain the thought that on this night of Pesach we should use only one cup?

The background behind this question requires an additional introduction:

Chazal instituted that every individual should drink four cups of wine at the Seder in order to commemorate the four terms used by Hashem in the Torah to prophesy the redemption from Egypt: vihotzeisi, I will take you out of Mitzrayim; vihitzalti, I will save you; viga’alti, I will redeem you; vilakachti, I will take you to me as a nation (Rashi and Rashbam, Pesachim 99b, quoting Midrash Rabbah; cf. Rashi ibid. 108a, who provides a different reason). “The Rabbis instituted four cups as a means of demonstrating that we gained freedom – each one of them should be used for a mitzvah” (Pesachim 117b). Therefore, we use the first cup for Kiddush; on the second we recite the bracha, asher ga’alanu; we recite the bensching while holding the third cup of wine, and Hallel while reciting the fourth.

When celebrating a sheva brachos at a Seder, we are faced with the following dilemma:

If we drink an extra cup of wine at the Seder for sheva brachos, it gives the impression that we are drinking five cups of wine at the Seder, when Chazal instituted that one should drink only four special cups. This is referred to as “adding to the cups,” mosif al hakosos, which is a rabbinic violation. On the other hand, if we do not add a cup, we are bundling together the mitzvah of sheva brachos with the mitzvah of bensching. Thus, the principle of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, which is the reason why we use separate cups for bensching and for sheva brachos; has now become the basis for a difficulty.

Furthermore, there is another problem, in that once one drinks the third cup of wine one is prohibited from drinking another cup until after the fourth cup has been drunk (Mishnah Pesachim 117b).

The shaylah what to do in this predicament is discussed by many prominent poskim, with the earliest published discussion on the issue going back six hundred years and responsa on the question continuing up to our time.

I am aware of at least five different approaches mentioned by poskim to resolve this issue.

(1) The Chida (Shu’t Yosef Ometz #47) quotes a very creative approach to resolve this problem, although he does not approve of it: Prior to bensching, one should fill two minimum-shiur cups. The person leading the bensching holds one of these cups, while the other is held by the honorees while they recite the sheva brachos. Following the completion of the sheva brachos, one pours the two cups into one large cup, and one of the participants drinks the large kos as the third kos. Thus, since each kos was initially separate, one used two cups for the two mitzvos and did not violate the precept of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, while at the same time one did not add an extra kos, since only one cup was drunk.

The Chida disapproves of this solution, although he does not explain why. Presumably, he contends that one violates the prohibition of adding to the kosos by using a separate cup for the sheva brachos, even if it is later poured together with the bensching cup. Thus, there is no advantage to this approach.

(2) Another approach to resolve this problem is to recite the sheva brachos on a cup that is then set aside for someone to use for the fourth kos. (The Yaavetz, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 62:18, mentions this approach.) This opinion holds that since this kos is ultimately used for one of the four cups of the Seder, one cannot say that it is “adding to the cups.” And to avoid violating the prohibition against drinking between the third kos and the fourth, the cup is drunk as the fourth kos.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:95) writes that he does not understand this opinion. Simply put, the cup of sheva brachos in this case is serving two different purposes, the sheva brachos and the fourth cup. Thus, it is directly violating the prohibition of making mitzvos into bundles (ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos), without the advantage of Rabbeinu Meshulam’s opinion that the sheva brachos cup and the bensching cup may overlap. Thus, one is doing mitzvos chavilos chavilos in a worse way than if he had simply used the sheva brachos kos for bensching. (Shu’t Igros Moshe suggests an approach how this opinion may have addressed this question.) Presumably because of this criticism, the later poskim abandon this suggestion.

(3) The Chida cites another approach, which is to leave everyone’s cup a bit empty, and then fill each one with the wine from the sheva brachos kos. He does not like this approach, because he says it makes the mitzvah look like a joke, although he does not explain why. Presumably, the concern is that this approach does not treat the kos of sheva brachos with proper kavod.

(4) Other solutions are suggested. Many contend that one should recite both the sheva brachos and the bensching over the same kos (Yaavetz; Chida). Their reason is that, although we usually assume that this violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, Rabbeinu Meshulam held that reciting sheva brachos and bensching over one cup does not violate this rule. Therefore, on Seder night, when the alternative is to create a problem of adding an extra kos to the Seder, it is preferable to combine the two kosos of sheva brachos and bensching together. According to this opinion, one should recite the sheva brachos over the cup used by the person leading the bensching, and then each individual should drink from his own kos.

(5) The Rama (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 473:4) cites a different resolution to this dilemma. He rules that the person leading the bensching should hold his kos while reciting the bensching, and that those reciting the sheva brachos should hold the kos of the choson while reciting these brachos. Rama does not discuss who drinks the respective kosos, but I presume that the person who led the bensching drinks the first kos and the choson drinks the second.

There is an obvious problem with this approach. Since each person holds his kos for bensching at the Seder, the kos of the choson is also a kos of bensching. Therefore, what have we gained by having the sheva brachos recited over a different kos from the bensching? There are still two mitzvos being performed over this kos — bensching and sheva brachos — and we have the problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. This is why several of the above-mentioned poskim reject this approach.

Evidently, this opinion contends that, although all of the assembled hold their cups during the bensching, their cups are not considered the bensching cup. Only the kos of the person who leads the bensching has the halachic status of performing this mitzvah. The other cups are in fulfillment of Chazal’s having instituted the four kosos, preferring that we use each cup for a mitzvah. Therefore, it is not osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos when one uses this cup for sheva brachos. (As noted before, in this instance the choson and kallah do not drink from that cup, but drink from their own cups.)

Those who disagree with this approach contend that, at the Seder, each person’s kos is indeed a kos of bensching. Thus, there is no advantage to reciting the sheva brachos over the choson’s kos.

There is a historical curiosity about this debate. Two very prominent early poskim, the Yaavetz and the Chida, discuss this issue and conclude (#4, above) that one should rely on Rabbeinu Meshulam when celebrating sheva brachos at the Seder, and recite the sheva brachos and bensching over the same cup. The Chida published two different responsa on this shaylah, reaching the same conclusion both times; but, in his earlier responsum, he does not mention that the Rama cites the opposite conclusion. In his later responsum, the Chida mentions that someone had criticized him for having previously written a responsum on the subject and ignoring the Rama’s comments on the subject. In his later responsum, he explains that since he had quoted Rav Yaakov Emden, who in turn quoted the Rama’s source and disagreed with it, he saw no need to point out that the Rama had quoted these comments.

It is also interesting that Rav Moshe also disagreed with the Rama, yet felt bound to follow Rama’s approach because of the Rama’s greatness, whereas both Rav Yaakov Emden (the Yaavetz) and the Chida decided not to follow Rama’s approach, but to rule that one should use one kos for both bensching and sheva brachos.

In conclusion, those privileged to celebrate a sheva brachos for a newlywed couple at their Seder could either have all the brachos recited over one kos, or have the sheva brachos recited over the kos of one of the other celebrants. In any case, the practice of mixing wine from the two kosos together should not be followed at the Seder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *