Upon opening up the Book of Esther, one is cast into a banquet of royal proportions, one that spans over 180 days and includes participants from 127 provinces. Rich and poor, young and old were all invited to the royal feast, the men to King Ahasuerus' party and the women to Queen Vashti's.

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." (Esther 1:7)

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. (Megilla 12a)

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. (Ohr Chadash)

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 G‑d's intended purpose for all Creation.

Man was never supposed to die; like a fine wine, G‑d intended that man would constantly improve with age. But our mystical tradition relates that when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, death entered the world. The physical body that holds the spark of the Divine became destined to return to its source: the very ground we walk upon. But there was one hint that G‑d left us to illustrate G‑d's initial desire, and that is wine. Wine develops greater texture and taste with age. In wine we see an allusion to the possibility of unlimited growth and improvement, which was intended at the outset of Creation.

Note that the Maharal compares wine to the thoughts of man and not to man himself. There is an aspect of the human being that maintained its pristine state after the fall from Eden; according to the Maharal, that is our advanced intellect. This is the spark of the Divine inside all of us and one of the unique qualities that defines our humanity. Our intellect is not rooted in the realm of the physical, but rather in the spiritual; therefore, if it were not bound to the constraints of the body, it would continue to develop infinitely. This is why the thoughts of man, or intellect, and not man himself, are compared to wine, a metaphor for infinite evolution.

By examining a famous statement made by the Sages of the Talmud with the Maharal's interpretation, we can understand another hidden aspect of wine.

"When wine enters, secrets are revealed". (Eruvin 65a)

Wine [in Hebrew "yayin"] comes from a hidden place; therefore its numerical value is 70, which is the same as the word "secret" [in Hebrew, "sod"]. (Chidushei Aggadah, Sanhedrin)

For the Maharal, who developed a numerical approach in his study of the entire Written and Oral tradition, numbers contain special significance. A numerical connection between two Hebrew words is not simply a random connection; it illustrates a deep conceptual bond.

The point is not to numb our senses, but rather to attune them to the hidden reality….

In the Maharal's system, multiples of 10 do not change the character of the number; therefore we can relate to 70 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 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.

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.

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