Those absorbed with current events can’t be faulted for feeling a bit discouraged lately. Dispiriting news is likewise the theme of our weekly Torah portion. Moses sends spies to scout out the land. Unfortunately, this ends badly, with a report which demoralizes the people and leaves them languishing many additional years in the desert. This well known biblical story is followed by a less talked about passage ordaining sacrifices to God, in particular a wine libation. It’s puzzling. Why would we find an emphasis on the need to sacrifice wine just after the failed report of the spies?
Maimonides, vexed by the question of why wine would make a suitable sacrifice in the first place, suggests that wine is beneficial for “vitality, which is located in the heart.” (https://www.sefaria.org/Guide_for_the_Perplexed%2C_Part_3.46?lang=bi)
I think Maimonides is referring to the Greek idea of thymos, which means “spiritedness,” a quality thought to be ensconced in the heart. Socrates taught that this quality encapsulates our craving for recognition, self-esteem, and righteous indignation. The spies demonstrated a lack of this quality, hence the people are obliged to sanctify its remedy.
In a world rocked by pandemic, brutality, and protest, it is worth remembering the Platonic idea that thymos is indispensable for the cohesiveness of society and for the thriving of the human soul. This Friday night, let’s raise our cups of Kiddush wine in recognition of the unrecognized, bolstering the esteem of the disrespected, and in commitment to righteousness that it prevail.