Wine - Yayin - יין

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


Wine and Secrets. 1

Ascending. 2

Seventy and Seven. 2

In a Dream.. 2

Forbidden During Temple Service. 2

For Happiness. 3

Condemned By Prophets. 3

The Fruit Of The Tree. 4

Purim The Feast of Wine. 4

In The Incense. 6


In this study I would like to study one of the most interesting substances in the whole world: Wine (Yayin - יין).


Judaism seems obsessed with wine. We take wine at nearly every spiritual event: Weddings, circumcisions, Shabbats, and festivals. Why do we take wine at these times?


To answer this question we need to understand a bit about this substance called wine.


Wine is produced from the material within the grape. It comes from a place that is hidden within, and exemplifies that which is hidden and needs to be brought forth. Likewise, spirituality is hidden in our physical world and needs to be brought forth.


For this reason, the numerical value of the Hebrew word for wine, Yayin, is the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for secret, Sod. Wine exemplifies the "secret" of the physical – i.e. the spiritual. Therefore, at any spiritual time or event, Judaism attaches wine in order to bring out the spiritual potential inherent in that event. As the Talmud says, "When wine goes in, the secret comes out".[1]


The Second Law of Thermodynamics[2] states that: Every natural process entails an increase in the disorder and randomness (i.e., entropy) of the universe. In this world, everything goes from a high state of energy to a lower state of energy. All other substances gradually deteriorate with age, even if they do improve for a short time, like cheese. Bread gets moldy, apples rot, and even people’s bodies gradually deteriorate and eventually decay as it returns to dust.


Wine[3] is the only substance in this world that gets better with age. Wine is a substance from another world.


Wine and Secrets


Wine is related to daat, knowledge. Both maintain excellence only in humble containers. Both get better with age. Wine, and associated products, is the only substance on earth that gets better with age. Wine, and the sod, the secret level of Torah, both have the same gematria,[4] which is why the Sages teach that when “wine goes in the secret comes out” - יַיִן יָצָא סוֹד נִכְנַס.[5]


Sanhedrin 38a Judah and Hezekiah, the sons of R. Hiyya, once sat at table with Rabbi and uttered not a word. Whereupon he said: Give the young men plenty of strong wine, so that they may say something. When the wine took effect, they began by saying: The son of David[6] cannot appear ere the two ruling houses in Israel shall have come to an end, viz., the Exilarchate, in Babylon and the Patriarchate in Palestine, for it is written, And he shall be for a Sanctuary, for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both houses of Israel.[7] Thereupon he [Rabbi] exclaimed: You throw thorns in my eyes, my children![8] At this, R. Hiyya [his disciple] remarked: Master, be not angered, for the numerical value of the letters of yayin[9] is seventy, and likewise the letters of sod:[10] When yayin [wine] goes in, sod [secrets] comes out.


What wine actually does is allow a person's inner (and often guarded) thoughts to come to the fore. It enables him to act out his true self and his secret fantasies, whom he really wants to be, without the typical restraints of societal pressures and personal inhibitions.




Now we can answer the question we raised at the beginning of this paper.


Jews take wine at every time they are ascending from one level, in this world, to a higher level. We drink wine on occasions that mark distinction (circumcision), growth (marriage), elevation (Shabbat) and enlightenment (Purim, Passover).


“Wine is a primary expression of sanctity, kedushah, since they ordain a blessing over wine, kiddush, as the proper way to inaugurate each shabbat and festival day.


Seventy and Seven


The Maharal developed a numerical approach in his study of the entire Written and Oral Law. He noted that numbers contain special significance. A numerical connection between two Hebrew words is not simply a random connection; it illustrates a deep conceptual bond.


In the Maharal's system, multiples of ten do not change the character of the number; therefore we can relate to seventy as a large seven. But, before we understand the number seven, let's talk about the number six. In the three-dimensional physical world, everything has six sides, as in the sides of a cube; the number six relates to the six sides of the physical existence in which we live. Seven, however, is the point at the center of the cube; it is the hidden place where everything in the physical world has its spiritual source. It is the point that represents unity and the inner essence of all existence.


Now we can understand the Maharal's statement that wine comes from the place of concealment. The numerical value of the word for wine (yayin - יין) points us to the hidden, inner essence of Creation. It also illustrates our appointed task in the world: bringing the seven, the elusive ideal, into the six, the physical nature of existence. This is a reason why wine is present for almost every significant Jewish lifecycle event, as well at every shabbat and festival. At these central moments, wine sits at the center of our table and reminds us all about our hidden, infinite potential.


In a Dream


One who sees wine in a dream, if he is a Rabbi, then it is good, if not then it means judgement.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXIX:8 R. Johanan said: All dreams are dependent on the interpretation given to them, save a dream about wine. Sometimes a dream of drinking wine augurs well, and sometimes it betokens misfortune. When a scholar drinks [in a dream], it is a good augury; when an ignoramus drinks, it betokens misfortune.


Forbidden During Temple Service


Vayikra (Leviticus) 10:8-11 Then HaShem said to Aharon, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, And you must teach the Israelites all the decrees HaShem has given them through Moshe."


For Happiness


Tehillim (Psalms) 104:15 And wine gladdens the hearts of man.


Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 10:19 Wine gladdens life.


The Talmud, based on the above verse from Psalms, states: "There is no true happiness (i.e., truly appropriate way to celebrate a holiday) without wine".[11]


When a person drinks they forget the troubles and the depression. The challenge is to use that as a standard in everyday life and feel that way without drinking as well.


Drinking wine has other deep meanings as well. Why is it that we always start a spiritual holiday with Kiddush over wine? Well a Holiday such as Shabbat is a mix of physical and spiritual entities. The point of holidays are to lift our physical activities to the level of the spiritual. A persons spiritual level gets better with time (if he/she works on his/herself), however all physical things get worse with time. The only exception is wine. Wine is a physical entity which gets better with time thus symbolizing the mixture of the physical and spiritual. The saying is you are what you eat. In this case it is also you are what you drink. Physically what you eat or drink becomes a part of you and we hope that by keeping this in mind the unique characteristic of wine being able to mix the physical with the spiritual will become a part of us as well.


Another unique characteristic of wine is that it can not be stored in gold or silver. That will ruin both the wine and the vessel! Thus wine teaches us the lesson that it is what is on the inside that counts. And if the vessel (gold) is more precious than its content (wine) then both the vessel and the content become ruined. The Talmud tells the following story: adapted from the writings of Rabbi Yehuda Appel:


The great sage Rabbi Yehoshua was the epitome of wisdom and kindness. Which is why a Roman countess was so stunned when she met him and found that he was so physically unattractive. The countess commented on the tremendous contrast between his inside and outside. In response, Rabbi Yehoshua suggested that she pour some of her most precious wine into gold containers. She did this, and a few days later discovered (to her horror) that the wine had spoiled.


This is related to Purim and our custom of wearing costumes. A costume hides the outside and the vessel (which is our body and our material belongings) and it forces us to look through the body and the material belongings to the inside of others and begin to value what the person really is on the inside instead of what he/she possesses or what they look like. This is why the vessel of choice for wine is glass; a vessel which reveals what is inside it.


Condemned By Prophets


The Prophets go all out in condemning drunkenness and wild revelry.[12]


Pertaining To Deacons


1 Timothy 3:8-13 Likewise [must] the deacons [be] grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being [found] blameless (before the Torah). Even so [must their] wives [be] grave, not slanderers, sober, having Emunah (faithful obedience) in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the emunah (faithful obedience) which is in Messiah Yeshua.


The Fruit Of The Tree


What was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Chazal have furnished us with several answers. For the sake of brevity we will focus on just one:  Grapes.


The claim that Eve "pressed grapes" and gave Adam wine to drink, as surprising as it sounds, was the most widespread answer in our sources. Linguistically it is based on what is said in the Torah, "and she (Eve) took from its fruits".[13] Since it does not say "she took its fruits" but rather "from its fruits", one can claim that Eve created something from the fruit, the bunches of grapes, and this she gave to Adam.


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XIX:5 SHE TOOK OF THE FRUIT THEREOF, AND DID EAT. R. Aibu said: She squeezed grapes and gave him.


Aryeh Kaplan suggests that one way to rectify Adam’s sin is to abstain from drinking wine or eating the fruit of the vine in any form. A person who undertakes such abstention by means of a vow is called a Nazir.[14] When one abstains from wine, he has greater control over the power of speech. The nazir wants to put himself in the state of Adam before the sin. He wants to rectify Adam’s sin.[15]


Berachoth 40a OVER FRUIT OF THE GROUND etc. This is obvious, is it not? — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: It required to be stated in view of the opinion of R. Judah, who maintains that wheat is a kind of tree. For it has been taught: R. Meir holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine, as it says, And he drank of the wine and was drunken.[16]


Purim The Feast of Wine


The holiday of Purim is the holiday of wine.


Yet the name for the festivity is a peculiar one - "mishteh", which loosely translates as a drinking party. And what were the beverages on tap? Only wine! In one of the many textual references to wine, the Book of Esther records, "Royal wine was served in abundance".[17]


The Sages of the Talmud asked a question about this passage: How do we qualify the term "abundance"? They answered that each guest drank wine whose vintage was older than he.[18]


The Maharal of Prague, one of Judaism's most noted philosophers and Kabbalists, gives us a fascinating insight into the Rabbis' statement:


Why did they do this [serve each guest wine older than he]? Because there is an essential connection between wine and a person; the whole time that a person grows older, his thoughts become clearer. So too with wine; the more that it ages, the better it becomes.[19]


Wine is unique in that it becomes better…


Though the Maharal's comment can be understood at face value, he is also hinting to a profound idea about the nature of wine. Everything else in the world deteriorates over time, but wine is unique in that it becomes better. This distinctive quality hints to HaShem's intended purpose for all creation.


Man was never supposed to die; like a fine wine, HaShem intended that man would constantly improve with age.


At the end of the Book of Esther, Mordecai pronounces that the 14th and 15th of the month of Adar should be celebrated as "days of mishteh and joy". The celebrations must, like the party of King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti, include wine. But unlike the royal party, Purim is not about drinking to get drunk. The point is not to numb our senses, but rather to attune them to the hidden reality that is normally hidden from our eyes. By drinking wine on Purim, we have the ability to see through the six sides of the physical straight through to the center, to the absolute essence of ourselves and to the boundless possibilities that surround us. When wine enters, the secrets are truly revealed.[20]


The Connection


Pesachim 109a Rabbi Yehuda Ben Beteira said: When the Holy Temple stood, there was no rejoicing without meat, as it says,[37] “You shall slaughter offerings and eat them there and rejoice before HaShem your G-d.” Now that the Holy Temple is not standing, there is no rejoicing without wine, as it says,[38] “Wine makes the heart of man rejoice”.


Eruvin 65a When wine goes in, the secret comes out.


We are taught that there are “seventy faces to the Torah”.[39] The word for wine in Hebrew, יין yayin, equals seventy, as does the word sod, ‘secret’. The statement, “When wine goes in the secret comes out”, can be understood to mean that the proper consumption of wine with the right spiritual intentions draws forth from within us new insights into the seventy facets of Torah, the inner, secret dimensions of the Torah.


Wine is taken by the Bnei Israel whenever they transition from their current spiritual state to a higher spiritual state. Therefore, taking wine at Purim and Pesach is done with the specific intent to move to a spiritually higher state. We drink more wine on Purim and Pesach than at any other time. This larger than normal intake of wine forms a connection between Purim and Pesach.


Wine plays a crucial role in the Purim celebration and a crucial part in the book of Esther. Additionally, Pesach is famous for the four cups of wine which we drink at the seder. Yet there is a difference, essentially, that in the case of Purim, the purpose of wine is to dull our senses, whereas in the case of Pesach, it is to heighten our awareness.


In connection with Purim, the Talmud says, “A person is obligated to drink until he doesn’t know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’”. On Pesach, the four cups of wine represent the four expressions of redemption which the Torah uses, namely:


“I took you out”,

“I saved you”,

“I redeemed you” and

“I took you for Myself as a People.”


On Purim, drinking of wine is used in conjunction with the idea of hester panim, of masquerade, of changing the identity, of confusion and forgetting. On Pesach, wine is used to bring into sharp focus the different aspects and nuances of redemption, so that we can fulfill the commandment to tell the story of our Exodus from Egypt to our children and grand-children.


Like all Biblical holy days, it is a mitzva to have a seuda (great big meal) on Purim including meat. In addition, this seuda includes lots of wine, more than we normally take for kiddush. The Purim feast must be held during the day, usually after Mincha (afternoon prayers). This Purim meal is different, in that not only do we eat, but we also drink.


Throughout the Purim story, wine is a key factor in the drama. It’s Achashverosh’s drunken demand that Vashti show off that brings her downfall and clears the way for Esther to become queen. It’s again a wine feast that Esther invites Haman and the king to, which results in Haman’s downfall.


Because the miracle of Purim came through wine, we drink lots of wine on Purim:


* Vashti’s downfall came as a result of a wine feast.


* Haman’s downfall came as a result of a wine feast.


The Hakhamim of the Talmud said: “On Purim, one should drink “until he can no longer tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’”.[40]


The time and place for wine drinking is the festive meal, one of the four observances of Purim. Each observance, or mitzva, is designed to increase feelings of unity amongst the Jewish nation. After the other three have been fulfilled, the Jew sits down at his meal and drinks. The last barriers break down and a feeling of unity and connection prevails.


Pesach begins with the seder’s four cups of wine and completes with the giving of the Torah on Sinai, where the Bnei Israel stood as one man in complete unity.


In The Incense


Soaking the tziporen in Cyprus wine to make it azah [pungent or strong] alludes to the wine [secret teachings] of the Torah which imbues Israel with the ability to remain firm and unyielding in their faith when they walk among the nations.


Wine Made By Gentiles


To be considered kosher, a Sabbath-observant Jew must be involved in the entire wine making process from the harvesting of the grapes, through fermentation to bottling. Any ingredients used, including finings, must be kosher.


The rabbis prohibited drinking the wine produced by a gentile in order to prevent intermarriage. Now there doesn’t seem to be a direct causal relationship between drinking wine and intermarrying. Buying a Gallo wine in the store doesn’t seem to entail going off and marrying a gentile. It seems pretty far fetched to say that if a person sits in his house and drinks the wine of gentiles he will end up intermarrying. If Chazal were concerned to prevent intermarriage, they might have prohibited us from something that was more directly related to it, like conversing with non-Jewish women. But they didn’t do that. They forbade us to drink their wine—not their beer or their whiskey, just their wine. So on the surface, the prohibition of drinking gentile wine may seem far-fetched and excessive.

But it’s not, because the intention is not that if a person doesn’t drink gentile wine he won’t intermarry. That’s not the point. The point is that when Jews over generations know that they cannot drink the wine that a gentile has touched, it engenders a sense of separateness that constitutes an inner obstruction to marrying outside the Jewish community. Wine was such an important ingredient of social relations, that a prohibition forbidding gentile wine would have the desired effect. It should be noted that the rabbis could not create new prohibitions that had no basis in the Torah. Any prohibition that they would legislate had to be similar in some way to a prohibition in the Torah. There is a prohibition of wine in the Torah. It pertains to wine that is used in pagan religious ceremonies. They extended that prohibition. Since there is no prohibition of beer or whiskey in the Torah, they could not prohibit it themselves.


Boiled Wine


When kosher wine is yayin mevushal ("יין מבושל" - "cooked" or "boiled")


An interesting prohibition concerning wines relates to the status of boiled wine. Kosher wine that has been cooked before any contact with a non-Jew is exempted from the injunction. Boiled wine is considered "improper" to be offered as a libation to an idol: therefore, if a non-Jew subsequently came into contact with boiled wine, the wine is still permissible to drink. Many kosher wines today bear markings to indicate that they have been boiled. In such a case, it will state on the label "Yayin Mevushal" (boiled wine). Extra caution should be taken with a kosher wine that has not been previously boiled, lest a non-Jew or Jew who is not Shomer Shabbos should come in contact with the bottle of wine (maid etc.)




Friday night Kiddush is a Biblical requirement,[21] the only alternative to Kiddush wine[22] on Friday night, is to recite Kiddush over bread.


The connection between the Shabbat and the Mishkan, (Sanctuary) which defines the 39 prohibited Melachot on Shabbat, may also explain why only wine and bread[23] are acceptable. Both wine and bread were used in the Temple sacrifices. When reciting Kiddush over bread in the absence of wine on Friday night, the following procedure is followed. One washes one’s hands, covers the two loaves of bread with a cloth, places one’s hands on the cloth and recites Vayechulu. The blessing for wine which would otherwise precede the Kiddush blessing, is replaced by the blessing for bread.


Havdalah, is, according to most opinions, of Rabbinic origin, and accordingly, the Rabbis have a more flexible approach. The preferred beverage for Havdalah is still wine. Nevertheless, if one finds oneself, without wine, one may use other beverages which qualify as “Chamar Medinah”, which, loosely translated, means, the “popular beverage of the location”. The precise meaning of “Chamar Medina”, which beverages qualify as Chamar Medina, and under what circumstances they may be used instead of wine, is the subject of animated Halachic debate. Rav Ovadiah Yosef, says that a drink is not considered Chamar Medina unless it is both bitter in taste and intoxicating. The only reason, he argues, that one is allowed to drink non-alcoholic beverages before Kiddush on Shabbat morning, is precisely because they are not considered “drinks” for the purpose of Kiddush. It follows therefore, that they do not qualify for Kiddush or Havdalah.


The situation with Shabbat morning is the most lenient of the three. This is because it is of Rabbinic origin and the Kiddush that welcomed Shabbat has already been made Friday night. Accordingly, the accepted practice is to allow Chamar Medina for Shabbat morning Kiddush, where wine, although available, is either not easily accessible, or too expensive. And on Shabbat morning, whisky is in a category all of its own. Unlike other beverages that qualify as Chamar Medina, whisky can be chosen over wine, even where the two bottles are standing side by side. According to the Mishna Berura, however, one would have to use a wine-size Kiddush cup which holds between 3-6 ounces and drink most of it in one shot. According to other authorities, a small whisky glass is sufficient.



* * *


Psalm 104:15 Wine maketh glad the heart.


Num 20:14 – 22:1

Judges 11:12-21

Mk 12:13-17

Lk 20:20-26

Rm 4:16-25

Mt. 23:1-12



* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


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[1] Sanhedrin 38a

[2] Also known as the Law of Entropy

[3] I will be using ‘wine’ to speak to a class of alcoholic beverages that improve with age.

[4] The numerical value of wine (Yayin - יין) is 70 and is equal to that of secret (sod - סוד), which is also 70.

[5] The word “wine” (יַיִן, yayin) is numerically 70, so is the word “sod” (סוֹד, secret).

[6] I.e., the Messiah.

[7] Isa. VIII, 14

[8] They were foretelling the abolition of the Nasi's office which he, Rabbi, occupied.

[9] יין - 10 + 10 + 50 = 70

[10] סוד - 60 + 6 + 4 =70.

[11] Pesachim 109a

[12] See Isaiah 5:11-14, and 24:9

[13] Bereshit (Genesis) 3:6

[14] Since the destruction of the Temple, we are forbidden from taking a nazirite vow.

[15] The Aryeh Kaplan Reader

[16] Bereshit (Genesis) 9:21. The reference is to Noah.

[17] Esther 1:7

[18] Megilla 12a

[19] Or Chadash

[20] Based on the teachings of the Maharal of Prague.

[21] Mishna Berura 289:3

[22] Mishna Berura 272:30, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 272:13, Rema O.C. 182:2, Aruch Hashulchan 182:4, 272:14

[23] O.C. 272:9;Rema. However, when even bread is unavailable one may use chamar medina for the Friday night kiddush, as well. Kaf Hachaim 272:50