“When you come into the vineyard of your friend, you may eat grapes as is your desire, to your fill, but you may not put into your vessel.”
In this verse, the Torah allows a worker in a vineyard to help himself to the grapes. However, he may not take the grapes home or give them to any other person.
Every Mitzvah in the Torah conveys messages beyond its literal meaning and immediate application.
What message can we glean from this verse that can be applied to our lives in these tumultuous times as we prepare for the future Redemption?
The Hebrew word for “friend” here is rei’acha. Rashi, in his commentary on the Talmud, interprets that word in a novel way. When Hillel told the prospective convert, “what is hateful to you don’t do to your friend,” Rashi translated the word “friend” to refer to G-d and cited the verse in Proverbs (27:10) “Your friend and your father’s friend forsake not,” and stated that it refers to G-d there too.
Rashi’s message is that we should relate to G-d not only as our Father and King but also as our Friend.
To be sure, all descriptions of G-d, such as King, Father and Friend, are not to be understood literally. G-d defies every form or characterization. Rather, these images are to be understood metaphorically. G-d certainly possesses all the elements that these roles represent; otherwise it would impute an impossible imperfection to G-d. In truth, it is much more than that. All positive qualities originate with G-d, who possesses every attribute in its most absolute and perfect state. These positive qualities devolve from Him and descend into our limited frame of reference. The real king is G-d. The mortal king is a mere glimmer and spark of the Divine King. Likewise, our parents and friends are the shadows of their Divine counterparts.
At any rate, in addition to G-d relating to us as a Father and a King, He also relates to us as a Friend. What defines a friend? The following anecdote sheds some light on the subject:
The Rebbe King Moshiach was once asked “why are you admired by so many?"
"I try to be a good friend," the Rebbe replied.
Incredulous, the man blurted out, "A friend? That's all you do?!"
Unfazed, the Rebbe responded with a question of his own: "How many friends do you have?"
"I have many."
"Let me define a friend for you, and then tell me how many friends you have.”
"A friend is someone in whose presence you can think aloud without worrying about being taken advantage of. A friend is someone who suffers with you when you are in pain and rejoices in your joy. A friend is someone who looks out for you, and always has your best interests in mind. In fact, a true friend is like an extension of yourself."
The Rebbe then asked with a smile, "Now, how many friends like that do you have?"
A true friend in our sphere is a representation of the Divine trait of identifying with His creatures. When we suffer, G-d also suffers. When we rejoice, G-d rejoices with us.
The verse “When you come into the vineyard of your fellow” can also be translated as “when you enter into G-d’s vineyard.” The vineyard is a metaphor for the spiritual realms, which, when entered, give a person the feeling of satisfaction and delight. More specifically, this alludes to the person who enters into the mystical teachings of Torah. These teachings are so sublime that a person who imbibes too much, too quickly can suffer from a lethal overdose. Indeed, this occurred when four Sages famously entered an “orchard.” Three of them suffered physical and spiritual harm. Only Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.
The Torah alludes to this phenomenon when it says “you may eat grapes as is your desire, to your fill,” as long as it is to your fill but not more; it is safe, gratifying and even exhilarating. But taking more than you can safely handle can lead to disastrous results.
This may be the deeper meaning of the final words of the verse: “but you may not put into your vessel.” This means that you may not take more than will fill you in the moment and keep it for consumption later.
Alternately, the reference to the vessel is that a person must know that these teachings are beyond our vessels, i.e., our emotional and intellectual faculties. To apply standard rules of logic will do these teachings an injustice because they are inherently beyond our understanding.
Kabbalah, or Jewish Mysticism, was kept secret for millennia because its teachings cannot be accessed and absorbed into the ordinary and mundane vessel of human intellect. The initiates into Kabbalah, whose souls were no longer constrained by their bodies and physical needs, were able to access, imbibe and absorb the “Wine of Torah.”
However, as we get closer to welcoming Moshiach, when all barriers to spirituality and Divinity will be removed, we all will be able to place these supra-rational teachings of mysticism into the vessels that are our intellect. The teachings of Chassidus are the taste and sample of the Messianic teachings of the future.
One can interpret our verse in yet another way:
The Midrash states that the word Kerem-vineyard is a metaphor for the Jewish people, who are G-d’s vineyard.
We can now retranslate the verse in yet another way:
“When you want to enter into the psyche of G-d’s (Your Friend’s) vineyard, i.e., the Jewish people, you may eat grapes as is your desire, to your fill, but you may not put into your vessel.” You may try to fathom the secret of the Jewish people and their survival. You may even be able to eat to your heart’s desire; i.e., you may learn to appreciate much about them. But you cannot place these grapes in a vessel; which means that as much as you may be able to understand, you will never be able to fully fathom their essence.
The Jewish people are a mystery, just as G-d and His mystical teachings are a mystery.
Because we are an enigma to the rest of the world we elicit two contradictory responses:
People with limited intelligence or morals will fear the Jewish people because they are such an enigma. Fear then breeds animosity and animosity has led many to try to harm the Jewish people.
Decent people, however, look at the Jewish people and their history and marvel at it. Their wonderment leads to profound respect and admiration. As a result, some may even convert to Judaism because their souls sense an affinity with and empathy for the Jewish people. Most will remain non-Jews but will do all they can to emulate the virtues of the Jewish people, support them and make an effort to abide by the Seven Noahide Universal Laws.
While it may not seem that way, the reality is that as we get closer to the Messianic Age, more and more people fit into the latter category. This is due to the fact that the refinement of the world and its inhabitants is increasing.
One of the things that will help us hasten the coming of Moshiach is our outreach to society to encourage all people in their observance of the Seven Noahide Commandments, which are geared to make our world a civilized, just, good and kind place.