William Hamilton

Collecting bad wines

Ric Elias was among the passengers on the plane that Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger safely landed in the Hudson back in January of 2009. Determined to make the most of his new lease on life after that near-death experience, Elias no longer procrastinates. “We cannot postpone the things that matter most to us in life, a hug, a forgiveness, an experience…My only original thought?” concludes Elias, “I collect bad wines. Because I drink my good ones.”

January began with resolutions. Keeping them is never easy. If you are statistically like others, then, like me, you may have already left behind some of the 2021 promises you made to yourself. What makes Elias’s commitment endure relates to the setting in which it originates.

Emergencies bring laser focus and piercing intensity. The life-threatening can be life-changing. The setting of the first Passover Seder in Egypt is dire. From the midst of the tenth plague’s anguish, history-changing lessons are chiseled into our consciousness.

This week’s portion of Torah lists three rituals that are designed to remind us of our founding freedom-story, the Exodus: matzah, bitter herbs, and the tefillin that are worn most mornings on the arm and forehead (Ex.12:8,13:16). Matzah reminds us not to delay or tarry with the things that matter. Bitter herbs remind us that lessons learned amidst affliction are burned into our memories with searing clarity. And we rise each day wearing boxes that contain sacred lessons to cement our commitments to them.

The sequence of unleavened bread prior to bitter herbs is noteworthy. It suggests that affliction may not be required to make commitments last. Sometimes a determination to procrastinate less just dawns on us. Deciding to collect bad wines can come from a desire to relish the precious gift of the present moment.

Whether you determine to activate a commitment from a tight spot or from a bright one, may this week’s Kiddush be made over one of your best wines.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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