Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 20 May 2023 / 29 Iyar 5783

Kiddush (Part 3): Unity Through Separation

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“Although you may enjoy the rest and the tranquility of Shabbat, have in mind that you are not observing the day for your own pleasure; rather to honor the One who commanded you to do so.”

Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter)

Kiddush continues: “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine” – “… Borei Pri HaGefen.”

The blessing over wine is intriguing. When we eat fruit, including grapes, we recite the blessing end with “Borei Pri haEitz – Who creates the fruit of the trees.” When the fruit is turned into fruit juice, we recite the blessing that ends “Shehakol Nihiyah Bidvaro – that everything came into being through His [Hashem’s] words.” Yet, when we make a blessing over wine or pure grape juice. we do not say “Shehakol.” Rather, we recite a blessing that is designed specifically for wine, “Borei Pri haGefen – Who creates the fruit of the vine.” This is as our Sages teach (Brachot 35a), “In which way does one recite the blessing over the fruits? On the fruits of the tree, one says Borei Pri haEitz, except for wine. On wine, one says Borei Pri haGefen.”

What is it about wine that moved our Sages to give it its own unique blessing? Rashi (ibid.) says the reason is because of its inherent importance. But, how is wine superior to other beverages? The Rabbis teach that wine has two factors that gives it significance over other drinks. The first is that wine leaves a person feeling satiated. The second reason is that drinking wine brings joy to the person. According to our Sages, these two reasons are enough for wine to warrant its own special blessing. As King David writes in Tehillim (104:15), “Wine gladdens a person’s heart.” Rabbi David Kimche, in his commentary on Nach explains that when wine is drunk in moderation, it gladdens the heart and dispels sadness. Even more than that, Rabbi Kimche writes that wine can enhance a person’s intellect, and, in Biblical times, wine was sometimes used to help a prophet be in the correct frame of mind to receive prophecy from Hashem.

In the same way, Rabbi Kimche explains the verse in Shoftim (9:13): “But the grapevine said to them, ‘Shall I give up my vintage that gladdens Hashem and men?’” He writes, “That honorable and respectable people use wine to enhance their spiritual connection.” This is why the verse states that wine brings joy to both Hashem, by being offered in the Tabernacle, and to people.” Such is the potential of wine, that when it is used for holy purposes, such as to celebrate Shsabbat, it “gladdens Hashem.”

This unique dimension of wine – the joy it brings to those who drink it and the way it enhances the sanctity of Shabbat and Yom Tov – is why it has its own distinct blessing. And this is also why wine was offered up as a libation on the Altar in the Holy Temple, and why wine is found in conjunction with so many other holy ceremonies.

Perhaps this helps explain why the cup that the wine is poured into is referred to as “kos shel bracha – a cup of blessing”. Not just because we make a blessing over it, but because the wine it holds can help bring blessings into our lives.

To be continued…

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