Arba Kosot

On Seder night we drink four cups of wine and eat three matzoth. Why four cups and not three? Why three matzoth and not four? The same numerical relationship exists among our forefathers. We have the patriarchs – Avraham (Abraham), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Yaakov (Jacob). But we have four matriarchs – Sarah, Rivkah (Rebeca) Rachel, and Leah. This dynamics also manifests itself in the holiest name of G‑d – Tetragrammaton – Y‑H‑W‑H. Why does the four-letter Name have only three unique letters, Yud, Heh, and Vav?

According to Sefer Yetzirah – a classic text of Kabbalah attributed to Abraham or to Rabbi Akiva – there are three letters of Hebrew Alef Bet called mothers: Alef, Mem, and Shin, which are considered to be “primary” letters. The three mothers represent the basic logical triad – thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.

These three letters correspond to the three letters of the Tetragrammaton. The proper Name of G‑d, Tetragrammaton is spelled with the letters Yud, Heh and Vav in the Olam HaTikun – the World or Reparation. These letters do not exist in the Olam HaTohu – the World of Chaos. These letters are derived from the Mothers – Alef, Mem and Shin, which operate in Olam HaTikun.

In the esoteric world of Kabbalah, everything is comprised of four primary elements – Water, Fire, Air and Earth. Needless to say, these spiritual “proto-elements” are not to be confused with physical water, fire, air or earth. The first three elements correspond to the three Mothers – the tree primary letters of the Alef Bet.

Mem Yud Water Chochmah
Shin Heh Fire Binah
Alef Vav Air Zeer Anpin (Six Midot)

Four Elements may be said to correspond to four fundamental forces in physics. Fire corresponds to the electromagnetic force, Water represents the nuclear force, Air corresponds to the weak force, and Earth corresponds to the gravity.

We can’t help but notice that the fourth element – Earth – is conspicuously missing in the table above. This is because the Element of Earth is not truly primary element, as it is made of other three Elements. Similarly, in the four-letter Name, Tetragrammaton, we have only three unique letters, but the fourth letter (Heh) is a repetition of the letter Heh, which is the second letter of Tetragrammaton. According to Einstein’s General Relativity Theory, gravity is not really a “force” but merely curvature of spacetime due to the presence of matter.

Going back to our original question, why four cups and not three, the Gemara asks the same question in a different context. The Gemara says that one should not eat zugim – even number of food items (which belong to the chitzonim – external forces). Thus, one should not put on his plate two eggs or four potatoes. Instead, one should take an odd number of items – 1, 3, etc. The question Gemara asks, how then do we drink four cups of wine during Pesach Seder. The Gemara answers, the four cups are not really four, there are three cups; the fourth cup is separate as it is the traditional cup of benediction over which we recite grace after meal.

In physics, we also have the tension between four and three. Four is the number of dimensions of spacetime continuum. Three is the number of fundamental units describing all physical quantities – kilogram, meter and second. Nobody yet figured out why there are three fundamental units and why there are four dimensions. However, interestingly, the last number, four, neatly decomposes into 3+1 because spacetime continuum is made of three-dimensional space plus one-dimensional time. Just as with four cups of Passover Seder, which are three plus one, the four dimensions of our world is also three plus one.

It all now comes together:

1st Cup 1st Matzah Mem Yud Water Strong Force Chochmah
2nd Cup 2nd Matzah Shin Heh Fire Weak Force Binah
3rd Cup 3rd Matzah Alef Vav Air Electromagnetic Force Zeer Anpin (Six Midot)
4th Cup (Separate Cup of benediction) Heh (not unique) Earth (Not primary) Gravity (According to Einstein, not a force) Malchut (has nothing of its own)



Three Matzoth