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Grape Expectations - The 3,500 Year Old Jewish Love Affair with Wine

August 25, 2022 | by Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff

Discover what makes wine such a major part of Jewish life.

Of all the drinks we enjoy as Jews, wine is probably the most popular, and definitely the most significant.

Wine is the traditional symbol of joy that is used on many festive occasions, such as at a brit milah (circumcision), under the chuppah at a wedding, and at Jewish holidays. We use wine to usher in the Shabbat on Friday night, and to end Shabbat on Saturday night. We drink four cups at the Passover Seder, and make a L’chaim when we celebrate good news. What is it about wine that makes it such a major part in Jewish life? Well, it plays an even larger role than you may think!

The Jewish people are compared to wine in a number of places in scripture, and the metaphor is pretty accurate. Wine takes time to produce, but also has to go through quite a process. Just imagine the grapes sitting on the vine, basking in the sun, when out comes the farmer, who cuts them from the comfortable vine, and throws them into a truck. The grapes are then crushed until the juice comes out.

At this point the grapes could be upset and cry, “Hey, I was doing pretty well in the vine, why did you remove me!” Eventually it becomes clear, in order to make delicious wine or grape juice, the grape has to be crushed in order to bring out its true potential. And just as wine also improves with age, we want our lives to improve with age too!

The Jewish people are the same. We sit comfortably on our vines, but in order to bring out our true potential we need to be worked on as people and put under a little pressure. This brings out our best results. As someone once put it, ships are very safe in the harbor, but that’s not what they’re made for.

Wine also has another quality, it makes a change. If drunk responsibly, it can bring out joy in the people drinking it. The occasions when we drink wine as Jews are also times of change. For example, wine is drunk at the Brit Milah. This signifies the change a baby boy is going through in becoming part of the Jewish people. Wine is also drunk at a wedding under the chuppah. The change of a couple going from two single individuals, to starting a Jewish family together, is a change worth celebrating with wine too.

And then of course there’s Shabbat.

When we make Kiddush over wine on Friday night to welcome in the Shabbat, this signifies a change too, from the mundane to the holy. The taste of the wine is now connected to the Shabbat itself. So, by drinking the wine we can fulfill the mitzvah of "remembering the Shabbat day to keep it holy.” (If you cannot drink wine for any reason, grape juice is permitted.)

So, wine can bring us together, unify us at special times in the Jewish calendar, and at joyous events in our lives. It reminds us that even though life can be challenging, the difficult moments may bring us greater joy— just like the crushing of the grapes brings out sweet wine.

May we all celebrate wonderful occasions with a full cup of wine, together, very soon!

Photo credit: Quick and Kosher Meals in Minutes by Jamie Geller

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