B’Ezrat HaShem Yisborach: “You are My witnesses, a guarantee of HaShem” (Isaiah Chapter 43:10) “Na’aseh v’Nishmah” – Spiritual Practices and their Benefits: The purpose of this column is to introduce readers to spiritual
practices, or ways of performing Mitzvot – that if practiced on an ongoing basis – will grant the person doing them an understanding and/or experiences of the deeper spiritual benefits that we accepted would be there in faith when we said, “Na’aseh v’Nishmah” at Sinai.
In the words of Rav Simcha Weinberg shlitah: “We will do and we will hear,” was not a one time statement, shouted out in a moment of passion. It is a description of how we will observe every Mitzvah/Concept that we perform. We do the Mitzvah and we listen for the message and lesson of the Mitzvah. God speaks to us, trains us and teaches us through His Mitzvot.
The Zohar makes an astonishing observation when it teaches the following: only a small set of mitzvot are performed over a wine! We employ a wine cup at weddings and shevah brachot, at brit milah, kiddush on Shabbat and holidays, the Pesach seder. The mitzvah on Purim is specifically to drink *wine.*
All of these mitzvot have one thing in common: they are linked to life.
Ketav Ashurith – the current “font” of the Hebrew alphabet used predominantly today was actually composed with mystical treasures in mind. Add its facets to the magic of the Language of Creation itself, Hebrew, and we can glimpse wonders.
The middle two letters of the word for “life” in Hebrew, “ChaYYeem” are two letter Yuds. These two letters, written by themselves spell a word/name of G-d. G-d is our source of life and G-d is our source of blessing.
The word for wine in Hebrew is spelled: Yud Yud Nun-sofeet. The Nun-sofeet in Ketav Ashurit is a long, long line descending down.
So consider: you have the first two letters of the word “YaYeeN” – Yud Yud – G-d’s name – followed by the long line of the Nun descending down from Heaven, carrying the blessings from G-d which will be temporarily “held” by the physical wine in the cup. When the wine is imbibed so is the bracha that it absorbed.
Today, the most overlooked place for the “Kos Shel Bracha”, which literally means, “the cup of blessing”, is to employ a wine cup when saying the Grace after Meals when three or more women or men are present to form a mezuman.
The blessings associated with the Kos Shel Bracha include improved parnassah/livelihood and potentially fertility. The blessing is typically said by guests at one’s home who have just enjoyed a sumptuous feast and like our Patriarch Isaac, are now satiated and basking in a feeling and afterglow of pleasure, joy and satisfaction from the meal. From this ideal perspective they ask G-d to give a blessing to the one’s who provided the meal and afterwards they deliver the blessed wine to the host and hostess to drink (and anyone else who is fortunate to partake of it as well.)
Ashkenaz Jewry have a short formula blessing the host recited at a certain point during the Grace. I much prefer and carry along a Sefarad prayerbook for the explicit purpose of reciting their much fuller version:
“The Merciful One – may He bless this table upon which we ate and may He set upon it all delicacies of the world. May it be like the table of our Patriarch Avraham; may all who are hungry eat from it and all who are thirsty drink from it. May it not lack all that is good forever and for all eternity; Amen! The Merciful One – may He bless the master of this house and the host of this meal – him, his wife and his children and all that is his – with children who shall live! And possessions that shall increase! May A-donai bless his wealth and favor the labor of his hands. May his possessions and our possessions be successful and near the city. May there not meet up with him or with us any matter of transgression or sinful thought. “Sas V’Sameach” – May he be joyful and happy – *kol hayameem*! – all the days! with wealth and with honor from now and until eternity. May he not be shamed in This World nor humiliated in the World to Come. Amen; so be His will.
(When I say “kol hayameem/all the days” I have in mind an alternate kavanah as well: “in all the seas, i.e., in all of G-d’s sefirot/attributes, when I say the word “yameem”. Yameem is a triple-entendre in different Hebrew uses and can mean “days”, “seas” or “sefirot” depending on context and one’s kavanah.)
Here are the steps and instructions the Talmud describes for the Kos Shel Bracha in tractate Brachot 51a-b:
R. Zera said in the name of R. Abbahu — according to others, it was taught in a Baraitha: Ten things have been said in connection with the cup used for grace after meals:
1. It requires to be rinsed (on the inside of the cup) and
2. washed (on the outside),
3. it (the wine) must (first) be undiluted and
4. full, (A “reviit”, about 1.5 eggs in volume)
5. it requires “crowning” (see below) and
6. “wrapping” (see below)
7. it must be taken up with both hands (chesed/loving and gevurah/din/judgement) and
8. placed in the right hand (left remaining in chesed/loving alone)
9. it must be raised a handbreadth from the ground (or above table)
10. and s/he who says the blessing must fix his eyes on it.
Some add that he must send it round to the members of his household.
R. Johanan said: We only know of four:
3. undiluted and
A Tanna taught: Rinsing refers to the inside, washing to the outside.
R. Johanan said: Whoever says the blessing over a full cup is given an inheritance without bounds, as it says, “And full with the blessing of the Lord; possess thou the sea and the south. (Deut. 33:23)
R. Jose son of R. Hanina says: He is privileged to inherit two worlds, this world and the next.
'Crowning': Rab Judah crowned it with disciples (I.e., made them sit around him)
R. Hisda surrounded it with cups.
'And undiluted': R. Shesheth said: Up to the blessing of the land. (over a cup of undiluted wine; then he added water to the cup, which was a practice followed by the Arizal and symbolizes diluting Din/Judgement with Chesed/Loving/Expansiveness as symbolized by the water added.)
'Wrapping': R. Papa used to wrap himself in his robe and sit down [to say grace over a cup];
R. Assi spread a kerchief over his head.
'It is taken in both hands': R. Hinena b. Papa said: What is the Scriptural warrant for this? — “Lift up your hands in holiness and bless ye the Lord.”
'And placed in the right hand'. R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Johanan: The earlier [students] asked: Should the left hand support the right? — R. Ashi said: Since the earlier [students] inquired and the question was not decided we will follow the more stringent view (and do not support with the left hand.)
'He raises it a handbreadth from the ground': R. Aha b. Hanina said: What Scriptural text have we for this? — “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” 'He fixes his eyes on it': so that his attention should not wander from it. 'He sends it round to the members of his household': so that his wife may be blessed.
'Ulla was once at the house of R. Nahman. They had a meal and he said grace, and he handed the cup of benediction to R. Nahman. R. Nahman said to him: Please send the cup of benediction to Yaltha (Rav Hahman’s wife.) He said to him: Thus said R. Johanan: The fruit of a woman's body is blessed only from the fruit of a man's body, since it says, “He will also bless the fruit of thy body. (Deut. 7:13)” It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of thy body. It has been taught similarly: Whence do we know that the fruit of a woman's body is only blessed from the fruit of a man's body? Because it says: He will also bless the fruit of thy body. It does not say the fruit of her body, but the fruit of thy body.
Meanwhile Yaltha heard (that Ulla had refused to send her the cup) and she got up in a passion and went to the wine store (in the cellar) and broke four hundred jars of wine.
R. Nahman said to him: Let the Master send her another cup. He sent it to her with a message: All that wine (i.e., all the wine of the flask from which the cup of blessing was poured) can be counted as a benediction.
R. Joshua b. Levi also said: We give the cup of blessing for the recital of the Grace after meals only to one who is of a generous disposition (literally, “who is ‘good of eye” – the opposite of an ayeen harah/envious eye), as it is said, “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed, for he giveth of his bread to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9) — read not yeborak ['shall be blessed'] but yebarek [shall say the Benediction].
Baba Metzia 87a
And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, She is in the tent: this is to inform us that she was modest. Rab Judah said in Rab's name: The Ministering Angels knew that our mother Sarah was in the tent, but why [bring out the fact that she was] in her tent? In order to make her beloved to her husband. R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: In order to send her the wine-cup of Benediction.
After finishing bentching recite the blessing, drink an appropriate measure of the wine and pour off or hand the cup around to the host, the hostess and the other guests.
Some Nishmah aspects with respect to the previous Talmudic selection from Baba Metzia:
• By noticing Sarah (vs. Ulla overlooking Yaltha) the Angels were giving her life. Reb Shlomo ztllh’h taught (Holy Brother opening to Chapter 9): “real existence of a person has to be given by another person. The Zohar Kodesh says to take a stranger and invite him into my house means I am giving this person even more existence than G-d gave them. Imagine I say hello to someone. What am I doing to them? I am giving them existence. Even G-d needs us to give Him existence! G-d is there, but until I really say He’s there (or do something to acknowledge it is so), He’s not really there.”
• Rav Dessler ztllh’h in Michtav Mi’Eliyahu teaches: Giving to a person gives birth within the giver to love for the person they give to.
• This cup of blessing preceded Sarah Imeinu’s conception of Isaac. This is a remez/a hint as to one of the most powerful aspects of the Kos Shel Bracha. Seeing these points, perhaps we can see now why Rav Nahman’s wife Yaltha was so devastated at: (a) having been overlooked and (b) not receiving the cup and then only as an afterthought.
“Ten things have been said in connection with the cup used for grace after meals:”
Whenever I see the word “Ten” appear, as in this case – the ten steps associated with the Kos Shel Bracha in the Talmudic section of Brachot, it almost always relates to the Ten Sefirot, G-d’s ten principle emanations.
“9. it must be raised a handbreadth from the ground (or above table)”
Lifting the cup a hand’s breadth up from the table’s surface “lifts” the glass one plane of existence higher, into a higher, spiritual level.
“10. and he who says the blessing must fix his eyes on it.”
I hold the cup in front of my prayer book or bentsher, so that I can look at it directly for those portions of the grace I know by heart – or – out of my peripheral vision if I am reading the text.
The instruction to look at the cup while reciting the blessing is of particular interest with respect to a corresponding principle taught by the Chinese Tai Chi masters: “The Chi (life energy) goes where the mind goes.” Everyone knows that our minds follow our eyes. For example, “V’lo taturu acharei levavechem v’acharei ayneichem – thou shalt not stray after your hearts and after your eyes” and in the immortal quotation from the movie Silence of the Lambs, “What do we covet? That which we see.” Here, our eyes act as the gateway or link through which the shefah of the bracha can flow into the Kos. It is absolutely *incorrect* to put the cup down after the initial mezuman portion of the grace and to let go of it. One must hold it up a hand’s breadth off the table and look at it for every part of the bracha that one wants to flow into the cup.
One should enfold the cup with all five digits of the hand.
The teaching of the Talmud in tractate Sotah: The soul of the individual reciting the blessing can have a major impact on the flavor of the blessing.
It is preferable to give the privilege of the Kos Shel Bracha to a Kohein or a Levi or to the most advanced spiritual person at the table. It is also the tradition to give it to guests to enjoy each blessing’s from others. The Talmud teaches, “Don’t let even the blessing of one who worships the stars and luminaries, i.e. a non-Jew, be small in your eyes.” Applying Rav Nachman of Breslov’s teaching to know his lessons “backwards and forwards” what this Talmudic teaching means also is: if a non-Jew’s blessing counts, then a fellow Jew’s how much more so! Don’t belittle it!
When to dilute the wine with water: In the second bracha of the betching, after reciting the words “v’achalta v’savata u’bayrachta et …. >dilute wine slightly here with water; look at the water while pouring in a few drops, having in mind to sweeten Din/judgement with chesed – and then continue reciting <… ha’aretz….
A word about wine itself: There is a teaching from Rav Shimon Schwab in the book “Rav Schwab on Prayer” pages 350-351: “Tirosh – wine – from the grapes of Eretz Yisrael, has a special quality: it creates happiness. One can become intoxicated from any alcohol, but the wine from Eretz Yisrael has the special quality of inducing a feeling of spiritual happiness, which is not related to simple frivolity. It is a mitzvah for us to eat the fruit of the land and to satiate ourselves from its goodness! This is very understandable, because the Torah wants us to absorb the produce of Eretz Yisrael, and thereby to enhance our daas, simchah and ohr as a result of the special qualities of the produce. The produce of Eretz Yisrael has an effect on the human personality.”
In conclusion, let’s all reclaim this practice and start drawing down and maximizing *as much* brachah and shefah as we possibly can. Let’s go out of our way to start employing the Kos Shel Brachah again this Shabbat. Too much is *never* enough. G-d knows we can use all the blessings we can these days and the only thing holding us back is not holding out our cup. ☺
© copyright 2009 Moshe T. Eliovson