Enticing the body to join the soul

Proclaiming the sanctity of Shabbat and the festivals is a foreign language to the body.

The eighth chapter of Mishna Brachot opens with a list of meal-related legal disputes between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel. The first concerns the kiddush over wine recited at the beginning of the first meal on Shabbat and festivals. Kiddush is comprised of two blessings: The blessing over the wine - borei pri hagefen (..the One who creates the fruit of the vine), and the blessing acknowledging the sanctity of the day. This second blessing is called kiddush (sanctification), and after this blessing the entire ritual is named. The two schools disputed the sequence of these two blessings: The School of Shammai proposed that the blessing over the sanctity of the day should be recited first followed by the blessing over the wine. The School of Hillel disagreed, suggesting that the blessing over wine should precede the blessing sanctifying the day. The Mishna merely records the different positions, while the Talmud quotes an early source that explains the two positions (B. Brachot 51b-52a). The School of Shammai held that the only reason wine is being consumed is because of the special holy status of the day. Therefore, it is appropriate that before we partake of this wine, we give voice to the importance of the day. Moreover, the holy day is ushered in before wine is brought to the table, and therefore the obligation to recite the kiddush blessing preceded the obligation to recite the wine blessing. The School of Hillel demurred, also offering two explanations: The kiddush blessing can only be recited over wine or a wine substitute, that is, bread. Thus it is the wine that enables the kiddush blessing to be recited. As such, the blessing over wine or its substitute should precede the kiddush blessing. Furthermore, there is a general principle in Jewish law that when something which is frequent conflicts with that which is not frequent, the frequent takes precedence over the infrequent (B. Zevahim 89a, 91a). Frequency is not measured in terms of the opportunity to partake of wine nor by the optional regular consumption of this beverage. Frequency, rather, is determined by the incidence of an incumbent obligation. Wine is drunk not only when we usher in Shabbat and festivals, but also at the conclusion of these holy days, as well as part of the Grace after Meals and during the wedding ceremony. The blessing over the wine is therefore more frequently said than the kiddush blessing which is recited at defined junctures during the year. Hence the frequent blessing over wine precedes the relatively infrequent blessing over kiddush. As we know from common practice, normative law follows the opinion of the School of Hillel (B. Eruvin 89a) and on Shabbat and festivals we recite the blessing over wine before the kiddush sanctifying the day. Rabbi Baruch Yitzhak Lipschuetz (Germany, 1812-1877), son of the famous mishnaic commentator Rabbi Yisrael Lipschuetz (Germany, 1782-1861), in his additions to his father's commentary wove a colorful parable to explain the root of the disagreement between the two schools: A wealthy householder needed to embark upon an arduous journey for business purposes. He woke early, keen to set out, only to find his attendant who was to drive the wagon still fast asleep. The businessman understood his attendant: He, the businessman, was driven by the profit he would make from this journey. In anticipation, he industriously arose to prepare for an early departure. His attendant, however, had no such incentive; there was no appealing reward waiting for him at the end of the long journey. He would merely receive his keep, just as he did when he completed chores around the estate. He was in no hurry to begin this trip. Understanding this, the businessman prepared some food and beverage for the attendant. When the light meal was ready he called to the attendant: "Come and have something to eat." The attendant woke with a start and jumped out of bed in excitement at the prospect of a prepared breakfast. Thus the businessman began his journey in a timely fashion: He was awake in anticipation of eventual profit, the attendant ready thanks to the early breakfast. Rabbi Baruch Yitzhak Lipschuetz unpacked the parable: Our soul is like the businessman and our body is its servant. As Shabbat and the festivals enter, our soul desires to soar to the loftiest heights, to seek the wealth of distant spiritual realms. Alas, the body cannot understand the soul's eagerness to set out; it is tired and seeks just a few more minutes of sleep. Without the attendant body whose task it is to drive the vehicle, we cannot go far. We are stuck, with no way of embarking upon that alluring spiritual journey. If we want to encourage the attendant body to join our soul on this voyage, we need to offer the body something that will appeal to its sensibilities, something that the body will appreciate. Proclaiming the sanctity of Shabbat and the festivals is a foreign language to the body. It knows not of spiritual gratification, of divine pursuits. The draw of wine, however, can lure the body from its inaction. It as this point that the Schools of Shammai and Hillel depart: The School of Shammai felt that the primary purpose - the spiritual heights of the holy day - should be mentioned first. The physical wine, whose only purpose is to encourage the attendant body to join the soul on its exciting journey, is of secondary significance and therefore should be relegated to second place. The School of Hillel, however, felt that before embarking on this spiritual voyage, the body needs to be enticed from slumber. Thus the blessing over wine should be recited first, and once the body has been charmed into action, once it is ready to stand as a faithful attendant to do the bidding of its master, only then may our soul begin the journey that promises such spiritual wealth. The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.