Parshat Naso 5761
In this wide world that G-d lovingly created, replete with every imaginable physical delight, wine surely holds a special place of distinction. Look at the enormous industry built around it: vineyards and wine shops, magazines and websites, experts' surveys and professional tastings. Rapturously surveying all of Creation, King David also made mention of it (in Psalm 104, recited after morning prayers each Rosh Chodesh):
Yet, before we break
out the Bordeaux to honor (and sample) the fruit of the vine, we should
remember that our Torah, prophets and sages also sounded a recurrent note of
caution regarding its mixed blessings. In excess, we know, it can
dissolve one's self-control, diminish one's fear of Heaven and lead to the
As to why someone who witnesses the disgrace of a sotah should need to abstain from wine (when presumably the mere impact of seeing her severe punishment should be the only deterrent necessary), our ethical masters give different answers. One has to do with the profound power the slightest of impressions makes on the human imagination (which, remember, is often under the tutelage of the yetzer ha'ra, or evil inclination): just seeing the sotah, and subconsciously registering the fact of her adultery, could bring even the most pure-minded to consider such a transgression as being in the realm of possibility. Hence the necessity of abstention as a safeguard for one's moral purity.
But, in any case, we see that wine can potentially spell trouble. It's surely the world's oldest prescription for loosening up the moral restraints.
On the other hand, to break our bottle of Bordeaux altogether is somehow missing the point…even if we don't need it for Kiddush (for Kedem grape juice will suffice). Remember another famous Rashi from this parsha (6, 11): in a certain respect, the nazir is termed (by R. Elazar Hakappar in the Talmud) as a "sinner," for he is inflicting pain on his body by depriving it of wine's gladdening effects.
The right path, of course, is straight down the middle: in all our ways, we should be proud citizens of the land where Torah moderation reigns supreme. Wine in the proper measure, appreciated as a blessing of G-d and judiciously used to gladden one's heart (and lower one's cholesterol) and to bring an added measure of physical joy to sanctified times in our tradition, like Shabbos. If a person should need a temporary withdrawal from wine (or other physical pleasures) to increase one's connection to G-d, either to compensate for a past excess or to protect against an anticipated one, that is a praiseworthy corrective measure. In general, however, the physical pleasures of the world are to be enjoyed, provided we give G-d the proper thanks (in the form of a blessing). Not deliriously pursued…but not denied.
It reminds me of a beautiful point made by Rabbi Chaim Friedlander, zt'l, in the collection of his lectures, Sifsei Chayim (Volume 3, p. 96). Adam HaRishon, the first man, possessed great spiritual insight: as it states in Genesis, he gave a name to each of the animals that G-d brought before him that (the commentaries state) perfectly expressed the spiritual essence of that creature. And yet, the Midrash states, when the Holy One Blessed be He asked the man what his own name should be, he answered: "I am fit to be called Adam, for I was created from the ground [adamah]." Rabbi Friedlander asks: shouldn't he have named himself for the divine soul which was truly his essence (as it is of all human beings)? Why did he choose to call himself after the transient physical part of his nature--adamah, physical matter?
He answers that Adam, indeed, understood the essence of the human being, and the purpose of his creation. Our purpose is to make use of the physical matter (of our bodies, and of our world) in our service of G-d, to transform the physical into a vessel for holiness and spirituality. That is our challenge, and our glory: to elevate and sanctify everything in our nature and our surroundings.
So make that (kosher) Bordeaux a vessel for reaching new heights of gratitude, and appreciation of G-d's blessings. May we all enjoy our wine this Shabbos--in holy moderation--and thank G-d for the sacred task he has given us: to elevate the physical.
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 355-0157; fax: 354-9923; e-mail address: Yosef18@aol.com
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