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Wine’s Proper Place, And the Lesson from the Exodus from Egypt

Wine can be a negative factor when it comes by itself, and a positive factor when it joins as a welcome addition to the normal labor of life, symbolized by matzah and bread * On Seder night and Shabbat, we make sure to cover the challah and matzot when raising the glass of wine, so it does not appear we prefer drinking it over them, and subsequently, come to depravity * The lesson from Israel’s leaving Egypt with great wealth for today: in order to express Torah values in the country, we need to nurture scientists and economists who are also Torah scholars

Q: Why are we meticulous to cover the challah or matzah while making Kiddush? According to what I’ve learned, it’s so that the bread will not be ashamed when it sees the wine is being blessed instead of it, even though it should be blessed first (Mishna Berura 271:41).

Similarly, on Seder night, even though the matzah should be visible throughout the recitation of the Haggadah, when raising the glass of wine with the recitation of the chapters “Ve’he she’amda”, “Le’fechach anachnu chayavim le’hodot” and the Geulah blessing before drinking the second cup, it is customary to cover the matzah so as not to hurt the honor of the matzah, so that it’s not ashamed when these chapters are said over the cup of wine, and not over it (Mishna Berura 473:78). Is the bread or matzah really offended?

Bead and Matzah Express the Constructive Development of the World

A: Bread expresses man’s food and sustenance. Therefore, in the blessing of bread or matzah, all the foods of the meal are exempted, because bread is a general term for all types of food. Even sustenance in general is termed “bread”, as when Joseph provided for his father’s household, everything he gave them was called bread, as written: ” Joseph sustained his father, and his brothers, and all his father’s household with bread, down to the little ones” (Genesis 47:15). It is also customary to say of a person who provides for his children and takes care of all their needs that he works to bring “bread” to his family members. Likewise, in the Temple, the Showbread Table symbolized the holiness of all the work that Israel did for their sustenance, and for yishuvo shel ha’olam (development of the world).

The Positive and Negative Sides of Wine

On the other hand, wine expresses freedom and joy, for through wine, a person can release himself from the burden of his work and the tension accompanying his life, and be extremely happy. However, unlike bread, which is a necessity, and therefore in principle, is positive, drinking wine can be either good or bad. When wine accompanies bread, to add joy to the important occupation of providing for one’s family and developing the world – it is uplifting, and enriching. But when it comes at the expense of working towards yishuvo shel ha’olam, it is bad. As our Sages said: “There is one who drinks and it is good for him and one who drinks and it is bad for him. A talmid chacham (Torah scholar) drinks and it is good for him, an am ha’aretz (an uneducated person) drinks and it is bad for him” (Jerusalem Talmud, Ma’aser Sheni 4:6). This is because with a talmid chacham, drinking wine accompanies all his good deeds, and consequently, intensifies the good. But when one drinks to revel and absolve oneself of responsibility, then drinking is very dangerous, and can destroy life. This is what happened to Noah, tzaddik yesod olam (a righteous man, the foundation of the world), who got drunk, humiliated himself, and fell from his greatness. And as happened to Abraham’s nephew, Lot. We also find many warnings in the words of our Sages, that wine is liable to make a person poor and desolate, and lead him to sin (cf. Sanhedrin 70a; Vayikra Rabbah 12:5).

Drinking Wine for the Sake of a Mitzvah

When wine accompanies sacred values, which are similar to the example of bread, it adds joy and depth, and is a mitzvah. That is why our Sages enacted the reciting of a blessing over a glass of wine on every important occasion that has spiritual value, so that the spiritual joy is also reflected in the actual physical joy a person experiences. This is why they enacted the drinking of a glass of wine for the Shabbat and holiday kiddush, for havdalah, for an engagement, for marriage, for brit milah (circumcision), and for a pidyon ha’ben. And even after a person dines in a group and thanks God in Birkat Ha’mazon, they enacted a zimun be recited over a glass of wine, so that the eating and ensuing gratitude will be joyful. And on Seder night, our Sages enacted we drink four cups of wine, to rejoice that God chose us from all the nations and brought us out of Egypt to give us the Torah and the Land, so that we could bring His blessing to the world. And for this reason, it is a mitzvah to be happy by drinking wine on all the days of the holiday, and Chol Ha’Moed.

However, the general rule is that drinking wine should accompany the important and main thing, as a side dish that comes after the bread or matzah. When one accepts the sanctity of Shabbat and the holiday which is important and analogous to bread, for Shabbat is meant for the study of Torah – one makes Kiddush over wine. When one gets married and raises a family, which is important and analogous to bread, we are joyous with wine. When one’s son enters into the covenant of our father Abraham, which is something as important and fundamental as bread – we rejoice with wine. But when a person makes wine the main thing, he is liable to become addicted to drinking it, abandon his work, become an alcoholic, and destroy his life.

Therefore, we must emphasize the honor required for bread over wine, and whenever we need to precede the wine, such as in Kiddush preceding a joyous meal, the poskim instructed to cover the bread, so it does not appear as if we honor the wine more than the bread. Rather, on the contrary – we make Kiddush on the wine in order to give added joy and meaning to eating the matzah on Pesach, or bread on Shabbat and holidays.

They Shall Go Free with Great Wealth

It is important to pay attention to the Torah’s emphasis that the exodus from Egypt was with great wealth. Even in the Brit Bein Ha’Betarim (the Covenant between the Pieces), Avraham Avinu was told (Genesis 15:13-14): “And God said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth.” Before the exodus from Egypt, God said to Moshe Rabbeinu (Exodus 11:2): “Tell the people to borrow, each man from his neighbor and each woman from hers, objects of silver and gold.” Our Sages said (Berakhot 9a): “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: I beseech you, go and tell Israel: I beseech you; borrow vessels of silver and vessels of gold from the Egyptians in order to fulfill the promise I made to Abraham in the “Covenant between the Pieces,” so that that righteous person, Abraham, will not say: God fulfilled His pronouncement: And they will be enslaved and afflicted,” but God did not fulfill His pronouncement: “And afterward, they will leave with great possessions.” However, Israel was so immersed in the hardship of their slavery that they replied to Moshe Rabbeinu: “If only we could get out ourselves!” The Gemara offers a parable to one who was incarcerated in prison, and people would say to him: We promise, we will release you tomorrow and give you much money. He says to them: I beseech you, release me today and I ask for nothing!” So too, Israel preferred leaving immediately empty handed rather than leaving later with great riches. However, in the end, the Children of Israel did as Moshe said, as written (Exodus 12:35-36): “The Israelites had done Moses’ bidding and borrowed from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing. And God had disposed the Egyptians favorably toward the people, and they let them have their request; thus they stripped the Egyptians.”

Presumably, one might ask: why was it important for the Children of Israel to leave with great wealth? The reason is that true freedom also depends on economic independence, which enables the implementation of any welcome initiative. Similarly, we find the blessings in the Torah also emphasize the economic blessing, because it enables freedom, and the ability to act to perfect the world. Today as well, in order for the nation of Israel to be able to fulfill their mission of announcing to the world the goodness and blessing of walking in the ways of faith and the Torah, we must build a prosperous country in terms of economics and science, and from this, we will be able to add a blessing to all the families of the earth.

The Importance of Economics and Science as a Lesson from the Public Controversy

It seems that one of the lessons from the great controversy surrounding the required reform of the judicial system is that the elected leadership of the Knesset is not the sole power among the people. The leadership is made up of other parts, including the ones with the economic and scientific power. And when a significant percentage of the economic and scientific leadership of the State of Israel opposes the required changes, it is very difficult to carry them out.

This is a fundamental matter: without economics and science it is impossible to express the values of the Torah. In the Temple as well – in the Kodesh Ha’kodashim (the Holy of Holies) which expresses the emunah (faith) and the brit (covenant) between God and Israel, was the Torah, while in the Kodesh (the Inner Sanctuary), we were commanded to place the Lechem Ha’Panim (Showbread Table), symbolizing the economy and livelihood, and the Menorah, symbolizing the sciences. The Kodesh Ha’kodashim cannot exist without the Kodesh, and as our Sages have already said (Avot 3:17): “Where there is no bread, there is no Torah; where there is no Torah, there is no bread.”

In order to continue to progress, we must strengthen the study of Torah and science alike, to encourage the young to develop their talents, each according to his suitability, in such a way that all those who are fit to study science, entrepreneurship, and economics, will develop their talents for the glory of the Torah, the people and the country.

Torah Scholars also need to Understand Economics and Science

Moreover, not only economists and scientists need to grow, but also Torah scholars need to understand economics and science, since all wisdom is from God. Our Sages even determined that one who sees a wise man among the wisest of the nations of the world, blesses: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who has given his wisdom to flesh and blood” (Berachot 58a), and hence, the sciences are also His “wisdom.” Similarly, our Sages said (Shabbat 75a): “Anyone who knows how to calculate astronomical seasons and the movement of constellations and does not do so, the verse says about him: “They do not take notice of the work of God, and they do not see His handiwork” (Isaiah 5:12). Likewise, the Gaon from Vilna said: “Whoever lacks the knowledge of a portion of the secular sciences, lacks a hundred portions of knowledge of the Torah, because the Torah and wisdom are in unison.”

In the prayer “Hashiva shofteinu k’varishona“(“Restore our judges as before”), we pray for the establishment of the Sanhedrin. But is it possible to establish a Sanhedrin today? Our Sages said that in the Sanhedrin should sit rabbis who are wise in various wisdoms, and in seventy languages (see, Sanhedrin 17a). Is it possible that rabbis who not only don’t understand the various wisdoms and languages, but also say that it is forbidden to study science and languages, sit in the Sanhedrin?!

The Torah Garinim

The true role of the Torah garanim (Torah-based groups of idealistic, religious individuals and families, who settle in underdeveloped communities to help build up and strengthen the community through social and religious programming) is to illuminate the Torah of Eretz Yisrael, to empower the schools in both Torah and science, so that their graduates can develop their full talents in all areas of life, in Torah, in science and work, in the army, and in society. This does not mean that they should not at times engage in preparing and delivering food baskets for the needy, but their main task is to strengthen the education in Torah and science, and educate the adults to be diligent, to the point where there is no need for food baskets.

Torah Study on Shabbat and Chag

In order for us to strengthen science and work, we must accustom ourselves to devoting Shabbatot and Chagim to Torah study. For this is the great accusation about occupying ourselves with yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), namely, that it causes bitul Torah (wasting time away from Torah). God said to the Torah: ‘I have a partner for you, whose name is Shabbat, and on that day they will be free from their work and will thus be able to engage in the study of you” (Tur, Orach Chaim 290).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated

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