Why do we drink four cups of wine at the seder?

The number four is a recurring theme in the Haggadah; we have four questions, four children, and the blessing we're about to recite is the first of four cups of wine. What's the deal with four? It's not a common number in the Jewish tradition. Our important numbers are one, as in one God; seven, as in the days of the week; 40 as in the years of wandering in the desert, or the time Moses spent on the mountain. Why four?

The standard answer is it's a reference to the four mentions of redemption in the Torah. When God is talking to the people before bringing them out of Egypt he says if in four different ways: 1 I shall take you out, 2 I shall rescue you, 3 I shall redeem you, and 4 I shall bring you.

But there's a cooler reason given in the Talmud. We're told that pairs are unlucky. You shouldn't do things in pairs. You should have one glass of wine, or three, but not two. But Passover is special; it's called a ליל שמורים a guarded or protected night, so we're not worried about those superstitions, and to prove it we're not only going to have a pair of glasses of wine, we're going to have a pair of pairs! God is protecting us tonight!

Dave Barry says there's another for four cups of wine at the seder - it's so damn long the only way to get through it is, as the ancient Hebrews said, שיכור כמו גוי ביום המשכורת "as drunk as a Gentile on payday."

haggadah Section: Kadesh