Thought of the Week: Shelach - 5782


In Pareshat Shelach, the Torah describes the journey of the 12 spies to the land of Canaan.

The Torah tells us that Moshe gave them several items for their checklist - that they should keep an eye out for - as they scouted the land.  As Moshe completes his instruction, the Torah tells us that "The days were the days when the first grapes ripen.”  This additional piece of information is, on the surface, unnecessary.  What difference does it make to us at what stage of development the grapes were at that time of the year?

Throughout our history and tradition, wine has represented the physical pleasure of this world.  For example, when the prophet Amos rebukes the Israelites for their addictions to worldly gratification, he says, "You who drink wine in bowls.”  Clearly, wine is the symbol for all pleasures.

One may think, based on the admonition of the prophet, that wine is bad, something that should be avoided, like non-kosher food.  However, we know that such an analysis is completely incorrect.  There are several special Mitzvot we do with wine, like Kiddush.  Indeed, the name itself indicates that we sanctify the name of the Al-Mighty in this world, with the cup of wine.

So, if a person asks: is it good or bad, the answer would be that it all depends on how it is used.  When we use wine just for the sake of pleasure, wine is a problem, because we are using it as a tool to distance ourselves from the Creator.  On the other hand, when we take the cup, lift it and make the blessing to thank Hashem for this pleasure, we elevate the mundane. This shows that our use of this world is only for the sake of Hashem and, thus, we are performing a great Mitzvah.

Wine is actually a metaphor for all physical pleasures which can be used for the good, as an instrument to connect to Hashem.  On the other hand, when pleasure is pursued just for the sake of pleasure, it creates a void of holiness, and a gap between us and Hashem.

If wine is so significant, a tool for both good and bad, and a symbol for all pleasures, we can only imagine the day on which it becomes ready.  The winemaker goes down to the cellar, after waiting for weeks from the time of the crushing, opens a barrel of wine, takes a sniff and then enjoys a true delight.  That moment of enjoyment may be used spiritually to thank the Maker of the world for so great a delight, thus elevating the wine by using it as a medium to connect to Hashem.  On the other hand, if the winemaker gets involved in the pleasure alone, the same wine may cause him to sink spiritually - and often physically as well.  

The day of wine is a very important day, a day that represents how we, as Jews, are using this world.  Is the world a medium to connect to Hashem? Or are we hedonistic beasts, only interested in our own pleasure?

That is why the Torah tells us that the spies left the wilderness on the day the first grapes ripen.  Our Oral Tradition says that they began their journey on the 29th of the month of Sivan and that it takes wine 40 days to ferment.  Accordingly, the Torah is informing us that the spies returned from the land on the ninth of Av, Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av is that powerful day, the day of wine.  Unfortunately, our nation used the physical world, symbolized by wine, to distance itself from Hashem, causing that day to become one of destruction.

Hopefully, soon we will all use wine, and all worldly pleasures, for the right purpose, as a way to connect to Hashem and merit to see the day of wine - Tisha B'Av - turn into a great holiday.

Shabbat Shalom