Why do we use wine for so many things????
So many rituals in Judaism happen over a cup of wine. Every Shabbat and holiday begins with the Kiddush over the wine and concludes with a prayer called havdallah which is also recited over wine. The Seder has four cups of wine. Many recite the Grace after Meals over a cup of wine. The prayers at a baby boy’s bris are recited over wine as is a wedding ceremony.
Ok, ok. We get it. Wine is a BIG deal!
That’s no surprise! To many of us wine and alcohol took on an even bigger deal!
Why did rabbis make so many Jewish rituals revolve around wine?
Two lessons about wine contain everything that Judaism wants to teach us.
First, there is nothing wrong with wine.
It’s a liquid. That’s all. Sometimes it’s sweet. Sometimes it’s dry. Sometimes it’s in a nice bottle. Sometimes it comes in a box.
Sometimes it’s on sale at Shoprite for $8.99.
What matters is HOW we use the wine.
Wine can be used to drink in excess, get drunk, remove inhibitions and lead to acting in a way that is of a lower nature.
Wine can be used for a spiritual purpose, a mitzvah. It can be used while reciting a prayer or at a special life cycle occasion.
This is one of the essential messages of Judaism. Wine and many other objects are neither good nor bad. Our mission in life is what we do with them.
Wine and alcohol can be used for a mitzvah, a higher spiritual purpose or we can use it to lose our inhibitions and act in a lower, base way.
Money can be used for good causes such as supporting our family, helping others, giving charity or it can be used as a way to control people, buy frivolous things, or hoard.
Sex can be used as a way to become close, intimate, loving, to feel good and at times to create a new life. Or it can be used in a way which is selfish, dishonest, self-destructive, and using others.
Food can be used as a way of nourishment to have a healthy body and energy for each day. It can be a way to experience gratitude for
the abundance that most of us have in our lives. Or it can be used as a way to be gluttonous and even lead to an unhealthy body with physical illness.
Exercise and working out can be used to improve one’s health, decrease stress, maintain a healthy weight and even bond with others when done together in a group setting. Or it can be done to perpetuate an unhealthy body image, create an hyper-focus on looks, and take away time from family when done to excess.
Observing what others need and how we can help them can is a way to be thoughtful and kind, giving and loving. However, when done in a co-dependent way, it can be controlling and manipulating and a way to deflect the focus from oneself onto others.
Wine, alcohol, money, sex, food, caring for others and in fact, all things in life are really neutral in their inherent nature. The challenge that we face, and this is really our “mission” should we choose to accept it, according Judaism, is what we do with these things. Do we use them for a noble, higher purpose and thereby sanctify them by doing so? Or do we use them for a lower purpose instead.
For some of us, drinking wine has been removed as an option. Because of an allergy, we can no longer drink alcohol. But we can still use grape juice and look at this mission in so many other areas of our lives. Do we have the ‘courage to change the things we can’ by using them for a higher purpose? This is Judaism’s mission for us and it is also the challenge we face everyday in recovery.
Another reason for using wine is something I once heard from the Bostoner Rebbe. He said that wine is used for so many special occasions because it comes from the inside of the grape. Only by accessing the liquid contained inside the grape can we have wine. This reminds us constantly that what is important is what is on the inside and not what is on the outside. Our focus needs to be more on what’s on our inside and less on what’s on our outsides. The path to conscious contact with our Higher Power comes from the work we do within ourselves.
We need to remember not to compare our insides with the outsides of others.
It also reminds us to focus on what’s going on inside of us and not on what’s going on inside of others. Co-dependence is another maladapted form of focusing where we become pre-occupied with someone else’s recovery or choices and avoid looking at our own.
Using wine or grape juice, reminds us to focus on the internal, the spiritual, and on ourselves.