The Shot Glass Heard ‘Round the World

The amazing 2.81

How big is the goblet you use for the seder? Chances are that it is much larger than it has to be. The size requirement for each of the cups is shockingly less than three ounces – tiny!

This determination comes from a fascinating discussion in the Gemara and the poskim. The size of a cup needed for the four cups is called a reviis – which means “a quarter.” In our currency we use the term quarter as a shortened form of “a quarter of a dollar” and we refer to a quart which is a condensed form of “a quarter of a gallon.” Similarly, halacha uses the term reviis, a quarter, for volume. It means a quarter of a larger volume called a lug. A lug is the volume of six eggs.  That means that a reviis or quarter lug is the volume of 1 ½ eggs. (¼ of 6 is 1 ½.)

How much is the volume of an egg? Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner, author of Halachos of K’zayis, describes that he investigated the size of eggs with the United States Department of Agriculture. An average egg has the volume of 1.87 fluid ounces. If so, 1 ½ eggs is approximately 2.81 fluid ounces. That means that a reviis is just that – 2.81 fluid ounces.  Accordingly, the amount of wine you need to drink for each of the four cups is virtually negligible – less than 3 ounces. It is such a small amount that even people concerned with getting headaches or stomachaches can usually manage to drink such little wine. Furthermore, the halacha is that you ideally should drink the whole cup, but strictly speaking it is only necessary to drink more than half. That means that a person can get away with drinking less than an ounce and a half of wine for each of the four cups. That’s like drinking a shot glass worth of wine!

There is a catch. Halacha demands that you drink the whole or most of the cup that you are using, regardless of its size. If you use a standard sized Kiddush cup that hold around 6 or 7 ounces, you need to drink a lot more than if you use a smaller cup. You can only take advantage of this very small volume requirement if your cup is around that size. If your cup is bigger, you need to drink more.

Consequently, it might be worthwhile to get smaller cups for you to use at the seder. Some special silver Kiddush cups are pretty small. If you can’t find those, perhaps consider using demitasse espresso cups. They are usually approximately 3 ounces (demi=half, tasse=cup).

Exploring how big the cups for the seder need to be can be representative of the true meaning of cheirus – the freedom we celebrate on Pesach. Halacha mandates that the seder table demonstrate grandeur and magnificence. Yet, that is exceedingly more meaningful if the external splendor of the Pesach experience penetrates one’s mind, enriches his own existence and fosters a deeper connection to Hashem. Sometimes it is easy to delegate one’s own feeling of freedom and personal majesty to the mere performance of ritual and use of grandiose objects. It can be easier to procure a larger cup for the seder than to internalize the words of redemption that each cup represents.

As we approach Pesach, may we be privileged to  savor the liberating complexity of freedom and allow ourselves to be who we dream to be, regardless of the size of our seder cups.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

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