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Shabbat Yom Kippur 5774

Ein Ayah: Wine as a Metaphor for Torah

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:332)

Gemara: When our rabbis entered Kerem B’Yavneh (the Vineyard in Yavneh), present were Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Nechemia, and Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Yossi Hagelili. They all opened by honoring the hosts and expounded Torah ideas. Rabbi Yehuda, the one who always spoke first, started by discussing the honor of Torah and said …


Ein Ayah: Halachot are decided in one of two ways. One way is straightforward. The simple analysis of the subject matter, the set rules of expounding on the Torah to arrive at clear proofs, or straightforward pure intellectual logic can determine the proper halacha. This is what is meant by the Torah when describing the decisions of the judge in the context of someone with a question who seeks a ruling (Devarim 17:8). There is another level that applies to excellent Torah experts who know the roots of the Torah. They, at times, can arrive at halachic conclusions through a deep understanding of the basis of the Torah, even without sources regarding the details. This is what is referred to in the midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 9:6): “These things I have done, and I have revealed them to Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.” It also corresponds to the kohen, who rules on difficult matters (Devarim, ibid.).

This is why the Rabbis’ yeshiva was compared to a vineyard, whose fruit have two purposes. There is the simple eating, like the fruit described by the Torah, discussing one who enters his friend’s vineyard and eats grapes (Devarim 23:25). A higher-level use is drinking the wine, which is made from the inner content of the grapes. This corresponds to the deeper, hidden derivations that only a select few can access. Those who make these decisions in this manner are referred to by the Torah as “the kohen.” Such people, who are able to arrive at conclusions only in the hidden manner, are called by the Zohar (Vayechi 216) workers of the field, who are different from those who are in the vineyard and are able to access knowledge in two ways. The field is a place where one is able to benefit only after he has taken many steps, as we find in the processing of grain. So too, the secrets of the Torah will be understood only after one has undergone much preparation, and before they are “processed,” they are unworthy of being spiritual food for the nation.

It is different for the group who gathered in Yavneh to study the rules of the Torah, with all their analytical and practical ways, based on the divine plan to establish testaments and bring light to the nation as its national sun was setting. There, the analytical and the practical joined together. The vineyard was cultivated and the grapes were eaten eagerly, like the known principles of the Torah, while also giving off a “wine of Torah,” by uncovering the depth of the divine wisdom.

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