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Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Acquiring a taste

Daf Yomi Nazir 22

It was an occasion for celebration.  The Brooklyn company had just gone public and the IPO was a huge success.  CEO and founder, Chaim Goldstein, took all the key employees out to dinner that night in Manhattan, ordering the finest offerings on the menu, topped off by a $250 bottle of Italian Cabernet Sauvignon.   He was about to pour Isaac a glass of wine, but he politely declined.
“I’m sorry, I don’t really like dry wine,” said Isaac.

Concerning the sacrifices offered upon completion of the term of nazirism, the Torah states, “And he shall atone for his having sinned against his soul.”
Rabbi Elazar Hakapar Beribi taught: Against which soul did this nazir sin?  Indeed, the Torah is teaching that he sinned by oppressing himself – he abstained from wine and is therefore called a sinner.  Would we not then conclude as follows?  If this fellow who only oppressed himself with regards to wine is deemed a sinner, would not a person who abstains from all physical pleasures all the more so?! 

Listen to the way Rabbi Elazar describes an individual who doesn’t drink wine – he oppressed himself!  What does Rabbi Elazar mean?  Maybe the fellow just doesn’t like wine!   

The answer is that if you decline a $250 glass of wine, it’s not that you don’t like wine; it’s that you don’t appreciate wine.   Nobody is born with a natural appreciation for an expensive wine; wine is an acquired taste.  And even if you’ve learned to appreciate the taste of decent wine, it takes a discerning palate to distinguish between a $25 bottle and a $250 bottle.

If that’s true of physical pleasure, then how much more so when it comes to spiritual pleasure.  Many people complain that they just don’t enjoy learning Torah.  They’ll read a little here, learn a little there, but they couldn’t imagine sitting for hours on end grappling with a piece of the Talmud.  They scratch their heads and wonder why anyone would want to devote years of full-time study to Torah when they could be ‘getting on with their lives.’

That’s a really good question if you’ve never really developed a taste for Torah.  Appreciation for Torah takes a very discerning intellectual palate.  The Psalmist declares, “Taste and you will see that G-d is good.”  Some people wet their lips and wonder why Torah tastes so dry.  You simply can’t stop there.  You have to hold it in your mouth.  You have to savour the flavour.  You have to swirl it, sip it slowly and then try to discern all the hints of spiritual berries and fruit found deep within the recesses of the magical potion. 

When someone declines a fancy bottle of wine because they don’t like the taste, you know they’ve never made the effort to acquire the taste.   Likewise, if someone says they don’t enjoy Torah, it means they’ve never made an effort to acquire a taste for Torah.   May you invest the time and intellectual rigor to acquire a taste for the most incredible pleasure this world has to offer!  

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