Fresh Bread and Aged Wine – Connoisseur’s Delight
In Parshas Lech Lecha, a monumental meeting takes place between the two great individuals living at that time: Avraham and Malchi- Tzedek, whom Chazal identify as Shem, son of Noach. While their encounter is shrouded in mystery and metaphor, the Torah recounts that Malchi-Tzedek, upon meeting Avraham, “brought out bread and wine – and he [Malchi-Tzedek] was a priest to G-d, most Exalted. (14:18)”
What is the symbolic significance of the bread and wine that Malchi- Tzedek served?
Parshas Lech Lecha, 5748 (1987), was the last time our city had the privilege of hosting the Bobover Rebbe zt”l for Shabbos (although he did visit the city subsequently during the weekdays). Those who had the opportunity to bask in the Rebbe’s presence that Shabbos likely recall with fondness the special ta’am (taste) that a Shabbos with the Rebbe had, as do I. The tisch (a Chassidic gathering around the Rebbe’s Shabbos table) was held in the old Associated Hebrew School building, and was attended by hundreds, if not thousands. As was his custom every Friday night, the Rebbe spent considerable time discussing the parshas ha-shavuah (weekly parsha), probing its depths, and imbuing it with his own insights and wisdom.
Sadly, I can’t say I remember everything the Rebbe said that Friday night. One line, however, remains clearly etched among the somewhat cloudy annals of my memory. “Who likes to eat old bread?!” the Rebbe exclaimed. (At the time, I remember finding this kind of ironic, since the Rebbe made it a habit to avoid fresh bread, preferring a slightly staler loaf.) The Rebbe was not castigating the baker of his challos. He was, in fact, discussing the foods which Malchi-Tzedek chose to serve upon meeting Avraham.
Bread, explained the Rebbe, is only good when it’s fresh. But go to your local vintner, and ask him for a “good fresh bottle of wine,” and watch him cringe in utter distaste. Ask any Frenchman worth his baguette: A fresh-baked loaf of bread, and a chilled bottle of aged wine, these are the components of any gourmet meal. The fresher the bread, and the older the wine, the more the palate takes delight.
The Torah describes Avraham Avinu in his older years: “And Avraham was old – he had come with his days. (Bereishis 24:1)” This means, explained the Rebbe, that Avraham brought the days of his youth with him into his elder. Normally, youth carries with it the advantage of energy and enthusiasm. As one gets on in his years, he loses the vigour of his youth, but is graced with the wisdom and maturity that come with age. Rare is the individual who can retain the vitality of his youth even as the candles on his proverbial birthday cake fruitfully multiply.
Yet this was exactly what Avraham Avinu achieved. While by no means a youngster, he served Hashem with the freshness and enthusiasm usually reserved for those still wet behind the ears. As a tribute to this unique combination of youth and age, Malchi-Tzedek served bread and wine, two foods that possess the opposite qualities of freshness and maturity, yet together form a meal pleasing to even the most refined tastebuds.
Anyone who had the privilege of meeting the Rebbe zt”l knows that he, more than perhaps anyone I have ever met, was the embodiment of this idea. When the Rebbe walked the short distance from his home to the Bais HaMidrash each morning, he did so with such vigour and enthusiasm that even his gabbaim had to run just to keep up with him. When he put on tefillin each day, he did so with the love and anticipation one usually finds only in a bar-mitzvah bachur. It is no wonder people would come from far and wide just to see the Rebbe put tefillin on.
Who could ever forget seeing the Rebbe, each Friday night at about 2:30 am, after the conclusion of his tisch, dancing “T’ni shevach” with his chassidim, sometimes continuing for half an hour or longer. The ta’am of that dancing was far more luscious to us than the repast of even the most demanding connoisseur. The Rebbe gave us young guys, falling asleep at the tables, energy.
I believe it was this unique quality which enabled the Rebbe to relate to – and make an indelible impression on – everyone he met, from the smallest child, who never forgot the Rebbe’s smile as he warmly shook his hand, to the elders of the generation, who came to the Rebbe for advice, counsel, and chizzuk. I first met the Rebbe when he was 76 years old. I only knew him during the final stages of his life. Yet we never considered the Rebbe old. When, well into his eighties, age finally began to take its toll on the Rebbe’s body (but not his spirit), and he had to make minor reductions to his impossibly busy schedule, it came as a great shock to his chassidim, who refused to acknowledge his age. We somehow believed and hoped that the Rebbe’s body wouldn’t age, just as his spirit never did.
The Rebbe may have in truth had a liking for stale bread, yet, as Avraham Avinu before him, his “bread” was always fresh, and his “wine” always aged to perfection. We can only hope to learn from his ways, and pray that we too retain the vigour of youth throughout our lives.
Have a good Shabbos.
This week’s publication was sponsored in memory of Mrs. Frimet Langner ob”m.