Thirteen Questions and Answers About the Festive Meal of Mashiach
Why was it specifically the Baal Shem Tov who initiated this custom?
The entire mission of the Baal Shem Tov is bound up with the revelation of Mashiach, for two reasons:
(a) It was in response to the Baal Shem Tov's question, "Master, when are you coming?" that Mashiach replied, "When the wellsprings [of your teachings] will be disseminated outward."
(b) One of the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov is that one should serve G-d with the body, refining and purifying it so that it will become a fit receptacle for the light of the soul, and not crush it through fasts and self- mortification.
This mode of divine service foreshadows the forthcoming Redemption, when the most sublime levels of Divinity will be revealed specifically in this physical world, in the spirit of the verse, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d...."
Why did this custom come to light specifically in these latter generations?
(a) As the darkness of the exile grows denser, a more intense revelation of light and holiness enables us to overpower it. (b) As we draw nearer to the forthcoming Redemption, a foretaste of its delights is revealed to us.
This recalls the phrase from the Mussaf prayer of Shabbos, "Those who savor it will merit eternal life." This is the phrase that underlies the Friday afternoon custom of tasting something of the delicacies that have been prepared for Shabbos.
Why was Pesach chosen for this seudah, and why specifically its Last Day?
(a) As is well known, the concept of redemption came into being with the Exodus from Egypt, and it was then too that a conduit was opened for the coming of the future Redemption. Since the same downward flow [of Divine energy] is aroused afresh every Pesach as it was at the time of the Exodus, it is obvious that every Pesach the radiance of Mashiach is aroused and revealed afresh. And since every such flow of Divine light illuminates most intensely at its conclusion, it is self-evident that the radiance of the light of Mashiach is revealed most intensely on the Last Day of Pesach, and, more specifically, as that day draws to its close. (b) This revelation foreshadowing the future Redemption takes place specifically on the Last Day of Pesach, because this day is a Yom-Tov Sheni shel Galuyot, one of the days which only in the Diaspora is appended to each of the pilgrim festivals.
The essence of each of these days is that in the Diaspora and in the time of exile, the Jewish people capture 24 mundane weekday hours, and transform them into a day of Yom-Tov and holiness. In our case, more specifically, this means transforming them into a festival of freedom and redemption. And this process of transformation is the essence of the forthcoming Redemption - converting the very exile itself into redemption, so that G-dliness is revealed even at the very lowest levels of creation.
What is the point of eating an actual physical meal that relates to the subject of Mashiach?
This festive meal causes the image and the feeling of the future Redemption to penetrate not only all the faculties of a man's soul, including his capacity for action, but his physical body as well - by means of the physical food that becomes part of his very flesh and blood.
Understanding this enables us to distinguish between "the revelation of the radiance of Mashiach" (a) through partaking of seudas Mashiach and (b) through reading this day's haftorah, which speaks of the future Redemption. For the reading influences one's faculties of thought and speech alone, whereas the meal involves the physical body.
Partaking of this festive meal is intended to draw down the radiance of Mashiach into every aspect of one's daily life throughout the year. This simply means - as an anticipatory echo of how the world will appear after the Redemption - that holiness should permeate all of a man's activities, including his physical activities, to the point that he is prepared to sacrifice the innermost core of his soul.
This is the yechidah within his soul, the element of Mashiach in his soul.
Does the revealed plane of the Torah offer any hint or support to the concept that on the Last Day of Pesach the radiance of Mashiach is openly revealed?
The haftorah that is read on this day is the passage from Yeshayahu that begins "This very day he will halt at Nov," because the downfall of Sancheriv (Sennacherib) which is here predicted took place on the first night of Pesach.
It will be noted, however, that the downfall [of this Assyrian invader] took place on the first night of Pesach, not on the Last Day.
Likewise problematic is the fact that only the opening verses speak of this subject, while the bulk of the haftorah speaks of Mashiach.
It would therefore appear that this haftorah is connected with the Last Day of Pesach (partly) because this day is connected with Mashiach.
Indeed, even the opening verses - which foretell the downfall of Sancheriv and the victory of King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) - are connected with Mashiach, for as the Sages teach, "The Holy One, blessed be He, had desired to make Chizkiyahu the Mashiach."
Would it not seem appropriate that seudas Mashiach is a custom to be observed by select men of stature, rather than by any Jew, no matter what his spiritual standing?
(a) Mashiach is going to redeem every single Jew, regardless of his spiritual attainments. Every single Jew is therefore obligated to prepare himself for the Redemption, and this includes participating in such a seudah. Moreover, since "one mitzvah brings another in its train," it is certain that observing this custom will encourage people to undertake further activities which will hasten the coming of the future Redemption. (b) Within every Jew there resides a spark of Mashiach. There is thus no Jew who does not have a connection with the revelation of the radiance of Mashiach and with the festive meal held in his honor.
Why was it specifically a Chabad Rebbe who added the custom of drinking four cups of wine at this seudah?
The Chabad school of Chassidus explains the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov in rationally comprehensible terms, thereby making them palatable and pleasurable.
Herein lies the distinction between matzah and wine: Matzah is the poor bread of affliction, that does not have the taste of leavened bread; wine not only has a taste, but moreover leads to joy and pleasure.
Why was it in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim that this custom was first introduced?
The Rebbe Rashab, who founded the Yeshivah [in Lubavitch in 1897], referred to its students as "soldiers of the House of David"; i.e., their task is to bring about the coming of Mashiach, the scion of the House of David, through their labors in disseminating the wellsprings of Chassidus to the outermost limits. It is thus appropriate that the custom of drinking four cups of wine was first added to the observance of the seudah of Mashiach in the very place that was founded in order to expedite his coming.
Why was the time for drinking these four cups of wine not fixed for the beginning of the Last Day of Pesach, as with the four cups that are drunk at the Seder, which takes place at the beginning of the eve of the first [two] days of the festival.
(a) The first days of Pesach echo the redemption from Egypt. The accent in this redemption is on the beginning of a new period, a period during which the world was granted permanence and fulfillment through the Giving of the Torah. For the Exodus itself was a preparation for the Giving of the Torah; as G-d told Moshe Rabbeinu at Mount Horev (Sinai) when He first sent him on his mission, "When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain."
This is why the four cups related to this redemption are drunk at the beginning of the day(s) in question.
The Last Day of Pesach, by contrast, foreshadows the future Redemption. Here the accent (as seen from our present perspective, before its arrival) is on the close of a period, the period of exile with its distinctive mode of divine service.
The four cups relating to the future Redemption are therefore drunk at the end of the day in question.
(b) In the time of the future Redemption, the initial letters of Mashiach, Adam and David will be arranged with the letter mem of Mashiach first, so as to form the word me-od, signifying the transcendent powers of the soul.
During the present time of exile, however, these initials are arranged with the letter mem of Mashiach last, so as to form the word Adam. Hence the four cups of the seudah of Mashiach (as celebrated during the present exile) are drunk at the end of the day.
Does the custom of drinking four cups of wine at this seudah have a source in nigleh, the revealed plane of the Torah?
One of the reasons for drinking four cups of wine at the Seder is that they correspond to the "four cups of retribution" which G-d will cause the nations of the world to drink in future time, and corresponding to these, G-d will then cause the Jewish people to drink "four cups of consolation."
Accordingly, we drink four cups - on the Last Day of Pesach, at its close, at the seudah of Mashiach - in order to bring about the revelation of the four cups of future time.
A festive meal is usually based on "meat and fish and all kinds of delicacies." Why does this festive meal (apart from its basic component, matzah) focus on wine?
Our Sages taught that in time to come "the Holy One, blessed be He, will make a festive meal for the righteous.... After they have eaten and drunk they will offer Avraham Avinu a cup of wine over which to recite the Grace After Meals, but he will reply, `I will not lead the Grace....' ...He will say to David HaMelech, `Take the cup of wine and lead the Grace.' And David HaMelech will reply, `I shall lead the blessing, and it is fitting that I lead the blessing, for it is written, I raise the cup of deliverance and call upon the Name of G-d.'"
From this we see that what distinguishes David, the King Mashiach, from the other tzaddikim named, is related to wine. Significantly, it is our righteous Mashiach, a scion of the House of David, who will reveal and explain the Torah's secrets - and wine alludes to this inner, mystical dimension of the Torah. As our Sages taught, "When wine enters, the secret comes out."
Is there a connection between the number four and the future Redemption?
(a) Our Sages teach that "the world resembles a portico whose
northern side is not enclosed." It is Israel's task to
enclose the fourth side, too, and thereby bring completeness
to the world. In this context the number four thus indicates
the perfection which the world will attain in the time of the
(b) In its prophecy of the Redemption, the haftorah of this day
promises that G-d "will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and
gather together the dispersed people of Judah from the four
corners of the earth."
What is the difference between the seudah of Mashiach which is held on the Last Day of Pesach, and the seudah of Melaveh Malkah which is held after the close of every Shabbos to escort the departing Sabbath Queen? For the latter meal, too, is known as "the festive meal of David, the King Mashiach."
The Melaveh Malkah is mainly connected with the activity of David in his role as King of Israel (as is apparent from this meal's above- quoted name). His monarchy was conducted within the bounds of nature, its central goal being to refine and elevate the nature of the material world, and to transform it into a holy level of nature.
The seudah of Mashiach, by contrast, as is apparent from its very name, is connected with the activity of the King Mashiach, who functions on a supernatural level, thereby renewing the whole of creation.
This distinction also explains why a Melaveh Malkah is held every week: it is part of the nature of the world, part of the pattern of divine service of the present period in which we live. The seudah of Mashiach, by contrast, is a novel experience that occurs only once a year, alluding to the miraculous renewal of the world in the time of the future Redemption.
This also explains why a Melaveh Malkah comes after one has already undergone the spiritual preparation of the preceding three Shabbos meals: since it is part of a natural pattern of divine service, it follows due preparation.
The seudah of Mashiach, by contrast, is a seudah in its own right, unconnected with the meals that precede it, for it belongs to a pattern of divine service that transcends the natural order.
Assembled from Likkutei Sichos, Vols. IV and VII (Appendices), as well as from talks of the Rebbe Shlita on Acharon shel Pesach in the years 5712 , 5743 , 5744 , 5748  and 5749