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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What is the meaning of L'Chaim?

Daf Yomi Nazir 4

After a year of being pent up in his claustrophobic ark whilst the Great Flood raged, Noach finally lands.  He bursts open the door, runs out, and takes a huge gasp of fresh air.  He is so glad to be free to get on with his life.  What is his first worldly pursuit?  He plants a vineyard.

And then he gets drunk.  Blind drunk.  So drunk that he doesn’t even realize when his son, Cham, performs a lewd act on him.   When Noach finally awakens from his drunken stupor, he realizes what has happened, curses Cham, and effectively provides a vital lesson for humankind for all eternity.

Mishnah: If one declared, ‘I am hereby a nazir from grape-seeds or grape-skins or haircutting or from contamination,’ he is a complete nazir, and all the details of nazirism apply to him.
Gemara: Our Mishnah does not accord with Rabbi Shimon, for we have learned, ‘Rabbi Shimon says he is not liable for nazirism until he vows abstinence from all elements.  But the Rabbis say even if he only vowed nazirism from one of them, he is a complete nazir.

What is the reason of the Rabbis?  The verse states, “He shall abstain from wine and aged wine,” demonstrating that even such an abstention would incur nazirism.
And Rabbi Shimon too, how would he deal with the verse?  He needs it to prohibit mitzvah wine like regular wine.  What is mitzvah wine?  Kiddush and Havdalah.
But does the Torah obligate us to drink wine?
Tosfos explains: The obligation to make Kiddush over wine is rabbinic. 

Why did the rabbis obligate us to drink wine three times a week?  Because “wine gladdens the heart of humankind.” Wine is the most pleasurable drink.  But worldly pleasures can go either way.  Either we elevate them to the realm of positivity and spirituality or they bring us down to the proverbial grave.   

In some cultures, wine is taboo.  Sadly, prohibition often leads to over-consumption, as indulgent individuals can’t help themselves and then don’t know when to stop.  In Judaism, wine is sanctified.  Realizing the immense power of wine, our Sages obligated us to consume wine, removing the mysteriousness of the drink.   While alcoholism is not entirely absent from the Jewish community, its incidence is far lower than in any other culture.

The world was given to us to sanctify and utilize in the service of Heaven.  There are very few things that are absolutely forbidden.  Our Sages tell us that every forbidden pleasure has a corresponding permissible pleasure.  The key is to enjoy the world responsibly and to treat worldly pleasures with Heavenly sanctity.

For example, physical intimacy, just like wine, could go either way.   Heathen culture has dragged physical intimacy into the lowest of the lowest depths.  In Judaism, marital intimacy is akin to standing before G-d in prayer.  When you engage with your spouse with the purest of thoughts and intent, it’s like you are reciting the Shemone Esreh

It all comes down to your attitude towards the world.  Are the pleasures of the world here to serve you or are they given to you to employ in your service of Heaven?  Will you denigrate them or will you sanctify them, bringing yourself and them to the fullest potential?

When we say l’chaim, we are saying ‘May this alcohol be employed for life purposes!’  Your mission on earth is to sanctify as much as possible during your short sojourn here.   May you merit leaving this world many times more spiritual than when you entered, while enjoying responsibly all along the way!  

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