A Tribute to Wine for Tu B’Shvavt 2013 / 5773

It is customary to eat fruits and drink wine in celebration of TuB’Shvat, the Rosh HaShana of fruit trees. And it is fitting to admire each fruit and speak its praises before you eat it. In that spirit I present a tribute to wine.

Of the five fruits indigenous to Israel only grapes can be processed in such a way that their “status” increases.  When eaten off the vine the blessing we say is the same as for all fruits. But when turned into wine (or grape juice), an exclusive blessing gets said that applies only to it. This is because wine is more than a beverage—it is psycho-active substance and, in fact, the archetype of them all. The path that grapes traverse in their odyssey of becoming wine parallels our cosmic journey of expanding consciousness. Wine, as a mind-altering substance, is Torah’s archetype of enlightened consciousness.  Grapes are crushed to release their juice.  Fermentation begins with the addition of yeast (chametz) a symbol of ego and unrectified inclinations. Yeast feeds on grape-sugar and excretes alcohol, a mind-expanding drug. Eventually the alcohol poisons the yeast which now sinks to the bottom of the vat, joining the grape-skins (called klipot) another term for evil in Jewish writings.  The wine ages by “sitting on its lees,” the dregs of chametz and klipot,which now, contrary to character, release fragrant chemicals into the liquor.  A young wine is sharp and acidic; a mature wine is mellow with a rich bouquet.  The difference is the flavor absorbed over time from the sediment of klipot and chametz. The Talmud compares the whole pleasure of olam haba, its ecstasy of expanded consciousness, to “a wine that has been sitting on its lees from the six days of creation.”1For, from one perspective, the entire course of history is one long wine party.   At least that is one way of reading the passage in Megilat Esther that begins with the verse: “The king (meaning Achashveros but intimating the King of Kings) hosted a seven day long wine party…”2 Now Judaism counts history from the appearance of Adam, a creature distinguished by its capacity to know the oneness of G‑d on the deepest possible level (called the 50th Gate of Understanding). Adam is not synonymous with Homo sapiens.  The Bible documents seven creation days which then recycle as seven thousand years of Jewish history beginning with the appearance of Adam.  Since “a thousand years are but a day in G‑d’s eyes,”3 the entire course of Adamic history is a “seven day long wine party” hosted by the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. We are now in the year 5773, towards the end of the sixth day. The passage continues: “Drinks were poured into gold vessels and no two goblets were alike…”4 Each life is a priceless vessel into which is poured a soul that is grape juice fermenting into wine.  No two lives are alike.  Each possesses an absolutely unique capacity to know G‑d and celebrate the love.  Gold is the most precious of metals, but its reddish tinge hints to the “left side” with its dark knots of unactualized potential (called dinim) originating in the chaotic era of shattered vessels.   These “red” flecks of tohu (chaos) are sparks of consciousness trapped inside the dregs of chametz and klipot. The soul “ages” (and mellows) by pulling these sparks out from the sludge and absorbing their precious cargo. Yet this scenario only fully applies to red wine.  White wine follows a slightly different course that avoids contact with its lees wherever possible. When its grapes are crushed the juice is immediately separated from its klipot.  And when its fermentation ceases the wine is immediately removed from its chametz. And so, accordingly, there are white wine souls and red wine souls.  When the former turn a corner they cut all ties with their past—delete names from their phone list, remove books from their shelves, change their wardrobe and don’t look back. Conversely, when red wine souls make a paradigm shift they maintain contact with old friends, enjoy their old music, keep their old clothing style. Red wine souls sit on their lees (so to speak) and absorb the fragrances embedded in the klipot of the world they’ve left behind. It is curious that when wine is required for a mitzvah (like kiddush, havdala, or the Four Cups on Pesach) it is preferable, halachicly, to use red wine.5  Yet, paradoxically, the Code of Jewish Law (Rema) considers white wine healthier for the body and thus superior to red in regards to the blessing of hatov v’hamaytiv which is said (under certain conditions) when a second bottle of wine is brought to the table.6 Let it be that on this New Year’s day for grape vines and fruit trees that we be blessed with a bountiful harvest—both of fruitage and expanded consciousness—this year. And let there be abundant rain, nutritious soil, conscious pruning, right temperatures, successful pollination, disease and pest resistance for the fruit trees and vineyards of the world. And may our souls mellow and enlighten from the sparks we absorb from our lees so the Great Winemaker in the sky will be pleased with His vintage this year. ————– 1 TB Brochot 34b, as interpreted by: R. Moshe Cordevero, Sefer Pardes Rimonim, Arkei Kinuim, chapter 10 (ד”ה  יין). 2 Megillat Esther 1:5. 3 Psalms 90:4. 4 Megillat Esther 1:7. 5 Rama 472:1, Mishna Brura (M.B.) 272:10. 6 Rama 175:2 and M.B. 175:13.

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