(Torah Portion Naso) Wine

The Torah speaks of the laws of a Sotah – a process through which the status of a suspected adulteress (and adulterer) is miraculously clarified. Immediately following the laws of Sotah the Torah speaks of the laws regarding one who makes a Nazirite vow – who is forbidden to drink wine along with other prohibitions.

The Talmud says the two laws are related: Generally speaking, adulterous activity comes about through the consumption of wine. Therefore, one who witnesses the Sotah procedure and sees the negative effects of wine, should declare himself a Nazirite to protect him or her from the indulgences of wine.

The Torah then speaks of the special blessings that the Kohanim – Priests – recite and bestow on the nation. The Halacha – law – states that this service as well as other responsibilities of the Kohanim, are forbidden to be performed if one has consumed a certain amount of wine.

I would like to share some of the unique roles and dangers of wine within our law and tradition. Wine has a dual nature. When used in moderation it can bring sanctity, yet through overindulgence it can lead to sin.

There is an opinion in the Talmud that the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, whose fruit Adam and Eve ate, was a vine. To rectify the damage brought to the world by this sin, wine, a derivative of the vine, is used in association with our sacred rituals and ceremonies. Wine is the preferred drink to use for Kiddush on Shabbos and on the Holidays, and for the Havadalla service at their conclusions.

A blessing over wine is recited at a Bris, at the redemption of the first born, at Chupa and marriage ceremonies, for the four cups at the Seder, and when at least three men are reciting the Grace after Meals. (Grape juice is an acceptable substitute.)

During the holidays, when we are required to be in a state of happiness, there is a Mitzvah to drink wine, as the verse states, “Wine gladdens the heart of man.” Wine plays a significant role in the holiday of Purim. Wine is not consumed during the 9 weekdays before the mournful day of Tisha B’Av.

Because wine is a distinct and premier beverage, one makes an exclusive blessing, “Borai Pri Hagafen,” before one drinks wine and an exclusive blessing after one finishes.

After one recites the blessing over wine he is not required to make an additional blessing if he consumes other beverages, even if they have a different blessing.

If superior wine was brought to the table, an additional special blessing of “Hatov V’hamaitiv – Who is Good and Does Good, is recited.

Incidentally, the Talmud relates that red wine is superior to light wine.

Kosher wine must be produced by Jews and requires kosher certification. Wine suspected of having been used for idolatrous activity is prohibited.

The verse states, “Secrets come out through the indulgence of wine.” Our Sages point out, that both the numerical value of the word Yayin – wine, and the word Sod – secret, equal 70.

Traditionally, wine symbolizes the mystical secrets of Torah.

The Medrash paraphrases the verse in Proverbs, “Do not be among the guzzlers of wine,” explaining it as follows: Do not drink wine – 70, and bring yourself to stand before the 70 judges of the Sanhedrin – the Jewish high court, to be condemned to death.

Another Medrash explains: Do not drink wine – 70, and be prevented from arriving at 70 years of age.

After one completes his Nazirite period, the Torah instructs him to offer sacrifices. One of the offerings is a sin offering. Why? Our Sages explain that although it is commendable to become a Nazirite, since through the process he prohibited himself from enjoying the G-dly gift of grapes and their derivatives, he must bring this offering for atonement.

Wine and its powerful influences remind us to live our lives with a sense of balance.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks