Why Jews Are Like Wineby Rabbi Jacob Rupp June 29, 2017
For thousands of years, Jews have made and loved wine. We pair it with everything – Sabbath and holiday meals, weddings, even circumcisions! Why do we kick off just about anything special with a cup of wine? It’s simple really; wine captures the essence of what we and life are all about.
Alcohol is an accelerator. Nothing can take an event downhill or uphill faster than alcohol. Our sages say that when the wine goes in, the secrets come out. They also teach that a person’s true self is revealed in how they are when they drink, when they are angry, and how they spend their money. So wine (and alcohol) cuts close to the core of who we are by showing us details about ourselves through how we use it.
Life is the same way; its ultimate purpose is revealed in the way it’s used. While we say that every day is a gift, it’s a gift that comes with a heavy liability. If we don’t take advantage of life and use it for good, it doesn’t just go away, it causes great problems in its wake. A life wasted, or worse a life that is focused on causing misery and harm, is the greatest travesty. It’s bad enough when you consider someone who has wasted their potential, or someone who is driven by greed, envy, or unchecked desire. Yet this is even worse when you compare it to how this person could have used their life to actualize their potential and create something amazing.
The Jewish approach is that everything in life is significant, and an opportunity to uplift yourself and uplift the world. But life is just the opportunity. You have to do the heavy lifting of actually taking advantage of it. So before any of our major events, holidays, or experiences, we literally drink this message in. Will this meal, this child, this marriage be one that uplifts us, or brings us down?
Then, there is the famous teaching of the sages that Jews themselves are like wine. Wine is one of only two liquids (the other being olive oil) that is more valuable than the fruit from which it was squeezed. The real value of the grape comes not when it is whole but when it’s pressed and its contents extracted. Jews have this same quality. Rather than fade into darkness when we face persecution, we excel. With our backs against the wall we kick into action. When everyone else has given up on us, we’re just getting started. This is something literally woven into our foundation. Take the root of the name Isaac, the first Jewish son – it’s the root for the word “to laugh.” When you consider laughing is the result of an unexpected outcome, Isaac is a good name for a son born to two people who had been infertile all their lives and reached the ages of 100 and 90 before conceiving a child.
While we might feel bad, initially, seeing a gorgeous bunch of sweet, delicious grapes being crushed and pulverized, the more intuitive person understands that this is the process to make something more valuable. The same is true with us. Our most creative times and our most creative people came out of, or right after, moments of tremendous destruction.
Our greatness is in keeping with our struggles and the pressure we endure. The Jewish view on life is to strive to keep perspective of our challenges; they are there to build us, to mold us, and to bring out our hidden exquisite qualities. That which we become is so much better than that which we were when we started.