A Drink of Wine
What is the greatest blessing to which a person can aspire in this
world? For Jewish people, at least, the answer seems to be peace. How
do people in Israel greet and take leave of each other? Shalom, the
Hebrew word for peace. What is the traditional Jewish greeting?
Shalom aleichem, let there be peace unto you. Peace, always peace.
Jewish people know full well that without peace there is nothing.
The roots of this awareness go back thousands of years. In this
week’s Torah portion, we read about the priestly blessing, whose
climactic words are, “Let Him establish peace for you.” Peace is the
ultimate blessing. But let us take a closer look at these words. What is
the significance of Hashem’s “establishing peace for you”? Would it not
have been simpler to say, “Let Him give you peace”?
Perhaps we can find the answer in the topic that immediately
precedes the presentation of the priestly blessing - the laws of the
Nazir. At certain times, when a man feels himself drawn by worldly
temptations, the Torah allows him to make a Nazirite vow whereby he
accepts upon himself an abstemious life style for a specified period of
time. He may not drink wine or cut his hair, and he must maintain
himself on a high level of ritual purity. When the term of the vow
expires, these restrictions are removed, and then, the Torah says, “the
Nazir shall drink wine.”
“The Nazir shall drink wine.” It almost seems as if the Torah is
instructing him to drink wine, not just permitting it. But why?
Furthermore, the Torah tells us that at the end of the Nazirite period he
is required to bring certain sacrifices, one of which is a sin offering.
What was his sin? Our Sages explain that his sin was his voluntary
abstention from wine. What is so important about drinking wine?
The answer touches on one of the most fundamental tenets of
Judaism. The Torah does not want us to withdraw from the physical
world and pursue a monastic life. On the contrary, the Torah insists that
we find a harmonious balance between our spiritual and physical sides.
The Torah does not want us to shun the gorgeous world Hashem
created but rather to enjoy it in a civilized manner, to integrate our
physical pleasure into our spiritual connection to our Creator. That is the
ideal mode of living. The Nazir felt himself out of balance, drawn to
worldly temptations to an inappropriate degree. Therefore, the Torah
allows him to go temporarily to the opposite extreme in order to regain
his balance. Once that period is over, once he recaptures his inner
harmony, he “should drink wine.”
This is the essence of peace. True peace is not achieved by hiding
from the disruptive forces of life but by finding an inner harmony which
integrates physical needs and spiritual aspirations. This sort of peace is
not just the absence of conflict but the positive presence of harmony, a
state that Hashem helps us “establish” so that we can truly benefit from
all His other blessings. As our Sages tell us, “Hashem found no vessel
capable of containing and preserving blessings other than peace.”
A teacher and his principal were discussing a young troublemaker
who consistently disrupted the class.
“I would like to have him removed from my class,” said the teacher.
“Maybe then we could have some peace.”
“Indeed?” said the principal. “Do you think removing him will bring
“Of course it will,” said the teacher.
The principal shook his head. “I’m afraid you are wrong. Removing
this troublemaker from your class will bring you silence. Making him a
functioning, contributing member of the class would bring you peace.”
In our own lives, we all crave that moment of peace. We dream of
the time when our lives will become peaceful and happy. But more often
than not, our concept of peace is the removal of irritating factors. The
obnoxious co-worker will hopefully find a different job. The troublesome
teenager will mercifully grow up and get married. And so on. But that is
not true peace. It is escape. Why hitch our happiness to the shallow
satisfactions of an illusive escape that may never come? But if we learn
to live in harmony with the people and the circumstances in the here
and now, we will surely find happiness in the profound satisfactions of
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.