God tells Noah to build an ark for a Great Flood that will last for forty days. Forty days cooped up inside a wooden cage – not wonderful, but manageable. And so into the ark he goes. But the rain continues. And even once it has subsided, the earth remains drenched. It’s not until over a year later that he is finally able to exit the ark.
Can you imagine how constrained and claustrophobic he must have felt for all that time, not knowing when he would return to normality? Even when he does eventually emerge, the world is nothing like he remembered. All his friends and extended family are gone. The infrastructure has all been destroyed. He realises that it all recommences with him. At that point, “Noah the man of the earth began by planting a vineyard.”
And what’s the next thing that happens after you plant a vineyard? Noah gets drunk and demeans himself. Noah, who could have been remembered as the ‘family man’, the ‘spiritual man’, or the ‘society-building man’, chooses to become the ‘man of the earth’, disgracing his legacy for all eternity.
אָמַר רָבָא: הָנֵי תַּרְתֵּי מִילֵּי, סָבֵי דְפוּמְבְּדִיתָא אַמְרִינְהוּ: הַמְקַדֵּשׁ, אִם טָעַם מְלֹא לוּגְמָיו יָצָא, וְאִם לָאו לֹא יָצָא.
Rava said: The elders of Pumbedita stated these matters. One who recites Kiddush, if he tasted a mouthful of wine, he fulfils his obligation; however, if he did not, he does not fulfil his obligation.
Often people will make Kiddush and then take a sip of wine. Unfortunately, that does not suffice. In order to fulfil the Kiddush obligation, a mouthful of wine is required. Ideally, that should be accomplished by the person making Kiddush themselves.
Nevertheless, if it’s too much for one making Kiddush to drink the mouthful alone, we can rely on the sum of all the sips of all the people at the table. As long as the total sips would approximate to a mouthful overall, it’s acceptable. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it’s fine to pour out the wine and grape juice prior to making Kiddush for each individual at the table.
The Mishnah Berurah explains that the purpose of making Kiddush over a cup of wine is to settle one’s mind. It can be difficult to shift abruptly from weekday mode into Shabbos mode. Kiddush aids in that transformation, spiritually, physically, and mentally. That’s why a simple sip is not particularly effective.
Wine is a mind-altering substance. Traditionally, the product represents one of the most powerful forces for disruption. In many biblical stories, its consumers over-imbibe. As well as Noah’s indiscretion, one Talmudic opinion maintains that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was the grape, which manifested as wine, corrupting Adam and Eve. According to the Zohar, each Shabbat eve, as we make Kiddush, we rectify their sin, which occurred on the very first Shabbat eve. In contrast with their indiscretion and transformation from good to bad, we utilize wine to sanctify ourselves and transform our world from mundane to holy.
Alternatively, thinking about our transition into Shabbat through the lens of Noah’s sin, each Friday night we exit the Ark of the workweek into our sanctified and purified new world of Shabbat. When we make Kiddush, we contrast our behaviour with Noah’s. His transformational moment ended tragically. Our transformational moment should elevate us from the monotony of the workweek – trapped inside the Ark of the daily grind – to a spiritual existence, dedicated to God, family, and community.
Let’s take a moment to think about our redemption from the Ark on a wider level. Right now, we’re in the midst of a Great Flood. We thought it would be over quickly. But we now realise that to return to normal life within the year is wishful thinking. Inside the ark, we’re in survival mode, just trying to get through each day, keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive and well, physically and psychologically.
Very soon, however, we will emerge from the ark. Things won’t be the same. We will have choices to make. Will we focus on family and community? Or will we quickly forget the pledges we made in the ark and revert to our old ways?
Here’s your chance to begin your life anew. When the pandemic ends, you get to decide your story and the story of future generations. For now, while you’re still in the ark, life has slowed down a little. Now’s the time to plan how you see your life when the door finally opens. Your eternal legacy begins momentarily. May you forever be remembered as the person of greatness!