God wants us to drink wine.
That’s my favorite conclusion from thinking about this week’s Torah reading, Naso. In this week’s parsha we learn about the nazir, sort of a Jewish version of a monk.
When a person decides to take on a vow to be a nazir, he
shall abstain from wine and strong drink: he shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat fresh grapes or dried.
Why would someone decide to do that? Rambam (Maimonides) says that the reason this passage is put next to the passage about the sotah ritual, a degrading ritual designed to smoke out adulterous wives or appease the jealousy of jealous husbands, is because someone who sees the sotah in her disgrace will want to give up drinking!
A few verses later on we are told that when the time he had committed to be a nazir is up, “he shall present his offering unto the LORD, one he-lamb of the first year,” etc. At the end of his time of being a nazir, he has to bring a sin offering.
Why should he have to bring a sin offering? What’s the sin?
There are two different trains of thought.
Rambam says that God gave us good things like wine for us to enjoy. So if you intentionally refrain from enjoying something good – like wine – you seem ungrateful. Therefore you are a sinner.
Another point of view says that the reason we are here on this earth is to elevate mundane things to holiness. It’s almost Shabbat and I don’t have time to write a length about “shvirat hakelim,” the breaking of the vessels, the kabbalistic concept that the world was created in a cosmic work accident when the “vessels” shattered, etc., and our mission is to bring the broken pieces back to God. But the idea is that instead of turning away from the physical world and its pleasures, our mission is to elevate the physical world, bring holiness into the physical world. That is perhaps why Judaism does not have a tradition of monks who separate themselves from the world taking vows of poverty and chastity. We are supposed to be engaged with the world, to bring holiness into the world. So if we refrain from wine, we are missing out on the opportunity to bring the wine to a higher level, for example by reciting kiddush, the blessing over wine on Shabbat eve, a blessing I will be reciting in a few hours.
So there you have it. God does not want us to refrain from drinking wine. And there’s also a teaching that the money you spend to honor Shabbat does not come out of your “account.” God determines your income on Rosh Hashanah, but gives you extra for honoring Shabbat. So you might as well drink a good wine on Shabbat, God is picking up the tab!