A Message from the Kalever Rebbe: He requested I send this out.
You will plant vineyards and work, but you will not drink of the wine. (Deuteronomy/Devarim 28:39)
It is with much happiness that we heard the good news coming out of South Africa that the Shuls are re-opening after many months of the Corona shutdown. This brings with it a tremendous merit for the Jewish people that as soon as Jews are permitted to gather, the first place they run to are the Shuls, in spite of the ongoing uncomfortable social distancing and mask regulations still in place.
The holy Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev was known as the “Jewish People’s Defense Lawyer”. He was once on the street during a fierce rainstorm. The frost and bitter cold was unbearable. He met a poor Jew in tattered clothing struggling to walk to Shul for davening. The Rebbe asked him why he is endangering his life. In his situation it would be permissible to daven at home and skip the Shul. The poor raggedly dressed Jew refused to listen and said with complete conviction “I am going to Shul and that’s that!” The holy Berdichever raised his eyes to Heaven and declared “Master of the world, see how much your Jews love and cherish you. No matter the danger he won’t give up going to Shul in spite of my attempts to convince him otherwise!”
This is apparent in our times. As soon as a lockdown is lifted Jews rush to the Shuls and study halls of Torah, while others hurry to the bars and pubs to inebriate themselves. At a “siyum” we say traditional prayers which include the words “We rush to merit eternal life, while they rush to the grave”. We rush to study and pray which brings us eternal life, and they rush to physical earthly pleasures which ultimately bring them to Gehinnom.
It is told about Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev that one morning in the Selichos days before Rosh Hashana he filled a big cup with the best whiskey and took it to a house at the edge of town where Jewish people of poor character lived in a rooming house. He woke up one of the men and offered him the cup and enticed him by telling him how good tasting the whiskey was. The man replied in horror; “How can I drink now? I must first wash my hands, get dressed, and then say my prayers. Only then is it permitted for me! The Berdichever repeated this scene with several of the Jewish men in the house. All of them reacted similar to the first one. He then woke up a non-Jew who as soon as he opened his eyes grabbed the cup and drank it down in one gulp. The Berdichever raised his eyes on High and said: “Master of the World, see the difference!”
Another story is told about the Berdichever: One Erev Yom Kippur after the meal before Kol Nidrei He went around the Shul checking under the benches if there are any Jews who were drunk and incapacitated. There were none. He then declared “Master of the World, if you would have commanded the gentiles to fast and pray on Yom Kippur and to eat a hearty meal before that, the shul would be full of men on the floor drunk and debilitated. But look at the Jews; they all ate a hearty meal and nevertheless they are all on their feet, ready to spend the next 26 hours in fasting and prayer for your sake. Don’t they deserve to be inscribed in the Book of Life?!
A gentile seeks to forget his troubles so he turns to wine and whiskey to bring him even temporary happiness. A Jew knows he can achieve everlasting happiness in his shul through Torah study and prayer. This is his “wine”. It is even better than wine as the verse quotes (Song of Songs 1:2) that we tell G-d “for your love is better than wine”.
A shul is the true place of happiness because where the Shechina is found – simcha is found, as noted in Chronicles 15:27 “There is beauty and majesty before Him; might and joy in His place”.
The Beis Hamikdash was the ultimate place of Simcha as noted in Psalms 48:3 “The joy of the entire earth”. Our Sages teach that in the years after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the Shechina resides in the shuls and study halls.
King David says (Psalms 122:,1,2) “I rejoiced when they said to me: Let us go to the house of the Lord.” The Maharsha in Maseches Megillah explains that going to a shul or study hall (the house of the Lord) brings great happiness because it is considered as if he went into the Beis Hamikdash.
My holy ancestor Rebbe Isaac of Komarna zy”a explains the reason that Aharon the Kohen was commanded (Vayikra – Leviticus 10:9) “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting”. This was because G-d wanted the Kohanim to draw their joy and happiness from the Beis Hamikdash and not from any other external source.
The Torah was critical of Noah for planting a wine vineyard to enable him to drink wine and forget the troubles of the flood and its devastation. He should have built a shul and study hall for study and prayer which would have brought him the consolation and joy he was seeking.
Perhaps it could be said, that the verse in our parsha that we started with, is guidance for times of trouble: “You will plant vineyards” – Chazal say this refers to shuls and study halls, “and work” – in study and prayer, “but you will not drink wine” – It will not be necessary to achieve joy through wine, because rushing to shul and study hall as soon as you are permitted will bring you the happiness and consolation you require.