Trees, generally speaking, are the largest living things, which G‑d has created on earth. The grapevine, however, is neither of tremendous size, nor of majestic beauty. It looks more like a bush than a tree. But it is unequalled for its fruit, of which the Torah says that "it delights G‑d and man" (Judges 9:13). On the fruit of the vine-wine -we make Kiddush, sanctifying the holy Sabbath and Festivals, and we make a Blessing over a cup of wine at all festive occasions in Jewish life, such as a Brith and a wedding. The grapevine reminds us, therefore, that external appearance is not the most important thing; the most important thing is the fruit, or, in man-the deed; the good deeds with which man delights G‑d and fellow man.

The grapevine is a climbing shrub. Its main stem is its trunk; its main branches are called arms. Every season it grows new soft branches, called shoots. The leaves are large and thin, smooth above and fuzzy beneath.

The fruit of the grapevine, the grape, is a juicy berry, with pulpy flesh, and is either seedless or with one to four seeds. Its juice is either colored or clear, depending upon the kind of grape. The grape has a smooth skin, which is usually eaten with the grape. Its color varies from deep red to green and yellow, depending on the 'variety.

Grapes grow wild, but the grapes, raisins and wines that reach our table come from cultivated grapevines, called vineyards. These consist of long rows of planted vine shrubs, which are pruned in the winter. They are grown from cuttings, which are made from canes cut from the vine. These cuttings are usually about six inches long, with two buds each. The cuttings are made in the winter and stored until spring, when they are planted in a nursery. The young shoots are later planted in the vineyard, six to eight feet apart. Poles, or overhanging wires, are provided to enable the vines to climb and spread to the desired size. A fully-grown vine produces 15 to 25 pounds of grapes.

The grape is one of the oldest cultivated fruit-trees. In the Torah we read that Noah planted a vineyard after the Flood. He had good intentions, our Sages tell us, for the world was a dismal and sad place after the Flood, and Noah wanted to bring some cheer into the world. Unfortunately, he drank too much wine and came to trouble. King Solomon warned us against overindulgence in wine drinking. Said he, "Wine is a mocker, strong drink enrages; and whoever indulges therein is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1), and again, "Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it gives its color in the cup. the end it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder" (ibid 23:31-32).

From the Torah we first learned that ancient kings had special cupbearers, who prepared the king's wine and brought it to his table. We are familiar with the story of Joseph's meeting with Pharaoh's Chief Butler in prison, and how he interpreted the latter's dream, which came true. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of the Persian king Artaxerxes I in Shushan (Susa) before he became the Governor of Judea and the leader of the returned exiles.

The original home of the grapevine is believed to be in the Old World, in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. The Torah tells us that when Moshe Rabbenu sent the twelve scouts to spy out the Promised Land, they brought back with them samples of the fruit grown there. The weight of a bunch of grapes, which they had brought, is described as requiring two men at each side of a pole to carry it. The most famous vineyards in recent centuries, however, have been those of France, Italy and Spain. When the new settlers came to America they brought with them young shoots of grapevines and planted them on American soil. California was found to be the most suitable region in America for the cultivation of the grape; its soil and climate being ideal for a variety of vines. It now produces all the raisins and 90% of the wine made in America, and is the largest wine producing region in the world. New York State also has a sizeable grape growing industry, specializing in champagne and grape-juice. Michigan and Washington are two other States where wines and some grape juice are made from locally grown grapes.

Wine is the fermented juice of the grape. The grapes are crushed between two cylinders set far enough apart that they do not crush the seeds. The first juice that flows from the crushing makes the best wines. The juice is run into huge vats, which hold from 25 to 100 barrels. It is kept in the vats for a certain period of time, until it ferments to the desired degree. Then it is drawn off into casks, where it remains until it is suitable for drinking. It is in this stage that the wine acquires its "bouquet," or flavor and aroma.

There are many different kinds of wine. The taste, and the quantity of sugar remaining in the fermentation or added afterwards, determine whether the wine is dry or sweet; the amount of alcohol in the wine makes it either light (from 8 to 14% alcohol) , or strong (fortified); the gas (carbon dioxide) that forms during fermentation makes it sparkling wine, or it is still wine - if the gas is allowed to escape. The most famous of sparkling wines is champagne, which is named for the French province where it was first produced. It is pale amber in color and contains about 12% alcohol. Most sweet wines are red; dry wines-white. The most famous kinds of wine are named for places where they originated: Malaga -from Spain; Tokay-from Hungary; Madeira-from the islands of that name; Bordeau and Burgundy-from France; and so on.

The Torah is Likened to Wine

Wine is one of those rare things, which improve with age. This is one of the reasons why the Torah and Torah-scholars are likened to wine; the more Torah one studies and the older one gets, the more mature and rich is one's knowledge and wisdom. Commenting on verse 2 of Shir HaShirim ("Thy love is better than wine") - and let it be remembered that the whole of Shir HaShirim is the great expression of the sacred love and longing of the Jewish people towards G‑d - our Sages say that the words of the Torah are compared with wine, because just as wine, which grows old in a bottle, becomes more valuable, so the words of the Torah; as man grows older, are more appreciated. Moreover, they say, just as "wine cheers the heart of mortals" (Psalms 104:15), so do the commandments of the Torah rejoice the heart (Psalms 19:9). In another passage (Si/re, Deut. Ekev, ch. 48) , our Sages declare: "As wine cannot keep good in vessels of gold and silver, but only in cheap earthen-ware vessels, so the words of the Torah keep good only with him who makes himself humble; like wine, words of the Torah rejoice the heart; as wine grows better with age, so the words of the Torah become better as a man grows older."

The Jewish people have been likened by the Prophet Hosea to a "luxuriant vine" (Hosea 10: 1) , laden with an

abundance of Juicy fruits. The same prophet said: "Like grapes in the desert have I found Israel" (9:10). What could be more welcome than refreshing grapes in the wilderness? The Prophet Isaiah (chapter 5) speaks of his people as the 'Vineyard of G‑d," and rebukes the sinners who are a disappointment to G‑d as sour grapes to a vintner.

Of course, Jews are permitted to drink only kosher wine, that is, wine prepared by Jews and untouched by non-Jews. (A Jew who unfortunately desecrates the Shabbos in public also makes wine non-kosher by his touch.) Jewish Law banned non-kosher wine for two reasons: First, because non-Jews adopted the use of wine in their idol-worship, and anything that had to do with idolatry was strictly forbidden for the Jew. Secondly, drinking the wine of a non -Jew would open the way for socializing and mixing with gentiles and lead to intermarriage. We are commanded and taught to respect every person, Jew and gentile; but when it comes to socializing and marriage, we must draw a line of strict separation. This point is well illustrated by the following episode which is told of the famous Talmud-scholar and Rabbi, Yechiel of Paris. Rabbi Yechiel was invited by the king of France to a special banquet in his honor. The king poured out a cup of wine for his Jewish guest. Rabbi Yechiel did not drink it; but when the king dipped his fingers in a bowl of water , before beginning his meal, the Rabbi drank some of that water, and said to the king: "You see, Your Majesty, my religion forbids me to drink the wine which you touched, but it does not forbid-me to drink the water in which you washed your hands."

As in the case of everything kosher that we eat or drink, we make a blessing (Brocho) before eating or drinking, blessing and thanking G‑d, the Creator, for that food or drink. The blessing over grapes is "Blessed. ..the Creator of fruit of the tree," while the blessing over wine is "Blessed. ..the Creator of the fruit of the vine."