Fundamentally, these two laws are parallel. Because of the great importance of bread, which is the “staff of life” (Yishayahu 3:1), other foods eaten in a meal are considered subordinate to it; because of the great importance of wine, other drinks are subordinate to it. Furthermore, the blessing on bread does not exempt wine because of the wine’s special importance, as it “causes its own blessing” (Berakhot 42a).
Even so, the rules are not perfectly symmetrical; bread still remains the more important food. For example:
Bread exempts drinks as well as foods, but wine exempts only drinks.
The final blessing on bread, the grace after meals, exempts wine, but the blessing on wine does not exempt anything besides wine and other drinks taken together with it.
One way of explaining the difference between bread and wine is to state that the way in which other foods are made subordinate to them is completely different.
Bread is the foundation of the meal. More than it is important in itself, it adds importance to other foods by complementing and complimenting them. A piece of cheese or a slice of salami eaten alone is a snack; eaten with bread it is promoted to a meal.
Wine, by contrast, is the star of the show. Anything drunk together with wine is outshined by the wine’s great importance: its sparkle, its flavor, and its intoxication. It makes other drinks subordinate by diminishing them, unlike bread which makes other foods subordinate by augmenting them.
Which of these two kinds of importance is ultimately dominant? That of bread. In Judaism, we do acknowledge the importance of the star, the charismatic leader who sparkles and intoxicates, who dominates and excels by out- shining others. But the greatest impor- tance is that achieved through modesty, through using our talentsto augment, to complement, and to compliment others.
For this reason, the greatest leader who ever lived was Moshe, who was also the most modest individual who ever lived (Bamidbar 12:3). And Moshe himself prayed to HaShem to provide a successor who would bear up each individual according to his or her own qualities (Bamidbar 27:16 and Rashi’s commentary).
Rabbi Meir's book Meaning in Mitzvot is now available as an e-book through Amazon, ibooks, Google Play and B&N.