I am a Muslim, but I have many Jewish friends. I was recently invited to a Jewish home for a Friday night meal, and was surprised by the "Kiddush" ceremony, which involved saying prayers over a glass of wine. In my religion, wine is forbidden. Does Judaism honestly believe that such a sensual indulgence can be considered holy?
Each of us has a body and a soul. Our body is usually only interested in the material pleasures that this world has to offer - a good meal, an entertaining T.V. show, comfort and gratification. The soul has higher aspirations - it seeks true love, meaning, inspiration and a connection to what's holy.
All religions attempt to give us access to our souls. But as long as the body continues to chase the mundane, the soul is trapped. There are two methods to free the soul offered by different religions:
1) Suppression. By suppressing our bodily desires we can allow the soul to shine through. This means a life of ascetism and abstinence, avoiding the pleasures of this world.
2) Refinement. Alternatively, we can find spirituality within the mundane itself, by being involved with the physical world in a holy and refined way. Then the body no longer opposes the soul; on the contrary, it serves as a vehicle to express the soul's needs.
Judaism insists on the second approach. Rather than suppress the body, refine it. Don't be celibate - but save sexuality for marriage. Don't fast all day - but only eat foods that are spiritually pure. Work with the body, not against it.
The path of refinement is a challenging one, but it is possible.
Just look at wine.
Wine has a unique property that demonstrates the fact that we need not afflict our bodies in order to tap in to our souls.
Wine improves with age.
Most foods decompose as time goes on. In fact, all physical things do - buildings crumble, clothes wear out, our bodies age. This is because anything physical is ephemeral - it doesn't last; while the world of the spirit is eternal, and gets stronger with time. The one exception is wine. Wine, although it is also physical, has the spiritual property of improving with age. It is wine that testifies that even the physical can be refined.
Wine represents what Judaism is all about: the fusing of the holy and the mundane, the spiritual and physical, the body and soul.
What could be more holy than that?