Daf Yomi Kesubos 24
When the Children of Israel sojourned through the desert, they lived an angelic existence. Their food was provided for them, the Clouds of Glory laundered their clothing, and they were able to devote themselves 24/7 to the pursuit of spirituality. According to Kabbalah, that’s why the spies were so adamantly opposed to entering the Land of Canaan.
“It’s a land that eats up its inhabitants!” they cried. Giving up the Clouds of Glory for a mundane, physical life made no sense to them. What did they need it for?
The Book of Ezra states: And from the sons of the priests, the sons of Havaya, the sons of Hackutz, the sons of Barzilai, who had taken wives from the daughters of Barzilai and were called by their name. These men sought documentation to prove their lineage but found not and were thus disqualified from the priesthood. And Hatirshasa said to them that they shall not eat of the holy of holies until a priest shall arise to the Urim v’Tumim oracle.”
Rashi explains: Hatirshasa was Nehemiah, as is written in the Book of Ezra. In the Jerusalem Talmud we find that he was thus called because, as the Persian king’s butler, he would have to drink the wine first, to avoid any suspicion of poisoning the king’s drink. The Rabbis permitted him to drink the idolatrous wine, therefore he was called ‘hatir-shasa,’ which means ‘permitted to drink.’
Many Jews are quite content to live in Orthodox enclaves such as Boro Park and Lakewood. Everyone in the neighbourhood is observant, all your kids’ friends are religious. And so it’s easy to be committed to Torah and mitzvos.
But if the Almighty wanted us to live in the Clouds of Glory, He would have kept us in Heaven under His Holy Throne. He placed us in this world to engage with the world and make it a better place. Yes, it might be potentially poisonous to move out of the enclave, but if your intent is to share the light of Torah and mitzvos with our brothers and sisters who are not as aware, then G-d grants you a hatir-shasa – permission to drink.
Of course that does not mean that you may actively engage in activities that the Torah does not approve of, G-d forbid. But sometimes engaging with the world means opening your eyes and exposing yourself and your children to matters that you might be able to avoid in the enclave. In order to save the King of King’s children from drinking poison, you might have to have a taste of the outside world first.
But, rest assured, as long as you are in giving mode, you will be protected. And your children will be protected. You will not die spiritually from drinking from the goblet. In fact, the goblet you then share will be absolutely pure. If, however, your intent is not to spread the light of Torah, then the permission to drink is not extended to you. If you are not ready to be the source of light, then you and your children are probably spiritually better off in an observant neighbourhood. Tasting the potential poison without special permission is dangerous indeed.
In the world we live in, it’s not easy to remain spiritually committed. Sometimes it’s easier to hide away and focus on ourselves and our families. But if you take the challenge of tasting the wine first and then sharing it with our less knowledgeable brothers and sisters, you will merit blessing and nachas in your own service of G-d and from your children and grandchildren!