Parashat Mattot is comprised of 112 Pesukim. Rav Dovid Feinstein brings to our attention that the numerical value of the word “Yekev,” wine, is also 112. To explain the connection between wine and our Parashah, Rav Feinstein points to the story of Bnei Reuvein and Gad who ask Moshe for land on the eastern side of the Yardein, the Jordan River (BeMidbar 32). The Torah tells us that both the Sheivet of Gad and Reuvein have, “Mikneh Rav,” “abundant livestock,” and that the land east of the Jordan River, the land of Kings Sichon and Og, is a, “Mekom Mikneh,” “a place for livestock” (BeMidbar 32:1). Thus, upon seeing this land, Bnei Reuvein and Gad approach Moshe and ask him to let them settle it: “VaYomru Im Matzanu Chein BeEinecha Yuton Et HaAretz HaZot LaAvadecha LaAchuzah Al Ta’avireinu Et HaYardein,” “And they said, ‘If we have found favor in your eyes, let this land be given to your servants as a heritage; do not bring us across the Jordan.’” Rav Feinstein explains that wine is a metaphor for something valuable and tempting. When they saw the lands of Sichon and Og, they were immediately attracted to it because of its economic value to them. They were even willing to give up their share in Eretz Yisrael to be able to settle the land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Thus, the east bank is similar to wine in that they both appear to be valuable and desirable.
This explanation, though, seems to present wine in a negative manner. By comparing it to the land east of the Jordan River, which is inferior to Eretz Yisrael, Rav Feinstein seems to be suggesting that wine, as tempting and desirable as it may appear, is something that we should remove from our midst.
There are several places in the Torah where we see the destructive nature of wine in a more obvious way. Rabi Meir is of the opinion that the Eitz HaDa’at, the Tree of Knowledge from which Adam and Chavah ate, was a grapevine (Berachot 40a). According to this approach, Adam and Chavah were expelled from Gan Eiden (BeReishit 3:22) as a result of eating the fruit of the vine, from which wine is made. We also see that Noach is disgraced by drinking wine excessively (9:20-23). Also, the consumption of alcohol resulted in Lot sleeping with his two daughters (19:30-35), and, according to one opinion quoted in Rashi, it is what caused the deaths of Nadav and Avihu (VaYikra 10:2 s.v. VaTeitzei Eish). From these instances, we see that wine can be a very destructive and harmful beverage.
If wine is such a ruinous and detrimental drink, why is it described as, “HaMesamei’ach Elokim VaAnashim,” “bringing joy to God and man” (Shofetim: 9:13)? How can something so destructive possibly bring joy to us and to God? Furthermore, why does Hashem command us to bring wine, such a crippling substance, with every single Korban? Lastly, why do we sanctify every Shabbat and Yom Tov by reciting Kiddush over a cup of this seemingly harmful beverage?
Rabbi Menachem Posner answers these questions by focusing on the aforementioned opinion of Rabi Meir that the Eitz HaDa’at was a grapevine. Rav Posner points out that the Torah does not just refer to the tree as the Eitz HaDa’at. Rather, it calls it the, “Eitz HaDa’at Tov VaRa” “the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad” (BeReishit: 2:17). Since the Torah refers to the Eitz HaDa’at as both good and bad, we see that the Tree of Knowledge has tremendous potential when utilized properly, but it also has a drawback of the same magnitude should it be abused. When alcohol is drunk excessively, it will cause disgrace, embarrassment and destruction. However, when it is used correctly, such as in the context of Kiddush and Korbanot, wine has the ability to bring great joy to both us and Hashem.
A similar idea is expressed by Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his Mesillat Yesharim. In the first Perek, when describing man’s duty in this world, he writes, “If a person is drawn toward this world and distances himself from his Creator, he will be corrupted and will corrupt the world with him.” When a person indulges himself in the physical pleasures of this world purely for the purpose of satisfying his urges, he degrades the physical world, as well as himself. The Ramchal continues to say that if a man, “Can rule over himself, and he cleaves to his Creator, and uses this world solely to aid him in serving his Creator, he will be elevated and the world itself will be uplifted with him.” When a person uses the objects in this world to better serve Hashem, in addition to making himself a holier person, he elevates the physical world and makes it holy.
It is important that we always remember that every action we do has the ability to either sanctify or degrade every aspect of this world. We must realize that our actions have a profound effect on this world, and depending on how and why we use its physical objects, we can either elevate the world or degrade it. May we all be constantly aware of this idea and be able to infuse this world with Kedushah by using its physical objects to serve Hashem.