Friday, October 02, 2009

Some water with your wine?

Imagine you’re at an upscale restaurant for dinner. You order lamb chops and a glass of Merlot. Your waiter returns, bottle in hand (cloth draped over his arm), pours your wine and tops your glass up with some mineral water...

The Romans and Greeks used to dilute their wine to temper its potency, but modern connoisseurs would cringe at the thought of adding water to theirs. It’s not just a matter of taste- Judaism teaches that the difference between wine and water runs deeper than flavour and colour.

Nowadays, you can find a wide range of filtered, mineral and flavoured waters and you can probably taste the difference between different water brands. But, good ol’ water was never known for its taste. You drank water to survive, not to enjoy. Wine was what people would drink for pleasure, as we do today. Water keeps you alive; wine makes you happy. These two beverages may mix in the glass, but they don’t mix in concept.

Back in Temple days, Jews would bring daily offerings to Hashem that included wine. You’ve surely heard people compare Torah to water, but we compare it to wine as well. Just as you enjoy the ta’am, the taste of wine, you enjoy the ta’am, the rationale and meaning that Torah offers. We are a nation of thinkers who boast Talmudists who could run philosophical circles around Socrates and minds that have revolutionised science, psychology, politics and entertainment. We enjoy our “wine”.

As delicious as wine is, we also need water to survive. In fact, we need water more than wine.

Every Sukkos, they would pour water on the Temple’s altar. Ironically, the wine libation was par for the course; drizzling water on the altar was cause for celebration. The Talmud notes that the merrymaking that accompanied the drawing of this water was so intense that anyone who missed seeing it doesn’t know what real rejoicing is. You’d have thought that more wine would mean more joy, yet Judaism finds joy in water.

Human nature dictates that if we understand what we’re doing, we enjoy doing it; if we don’t understand it, we do it mechanically. Judaism flips that theory on its head and tells us that a Jew needs a good balance between intellectual appreciation (wine) and loyal commitment to the Cause (water). Just as they used to pour both wine and water on the altar, we need to build a relationship with G-d that comprises both dimensions.

We imagine that we will find greater satisfaction if we understand Judaism. Actually, we find exponentially more delight in our dogged dedication to simply doing what He expects of us.

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