COLlive.com and Nissan Mindel Publications present “Archive Gems”, a periodical column sharing guidance from the Rebbe and unknown details of Chabad’s history in the United States.
The material is from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, the trusted personal secretary of the Frierdiker Rebbe and the Rebbe, and a renowned Chabad author of literature for young and old for close to 60 years.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, Director of Nissan Mindel Publications, was entrusted with these treasured archives by his father-in-law, Rabbi Mindel and it is to his lasting credit that the dissemination of chassidus is thereby being strengthened.
Much of this material will be published in the forthcoming book “Chabad in America Through the Folders of Nissan Mindel,” covering Chabad’s activities in America from 1940 until 1994, as preserved by Rabbi Mindel in his folders.
The following are 2 questions that the Rebbe himself took the time to answer. As far as we know, these answers were never published to date. We typed the Rebbe’s notations in the text but they can be seen in the original documents.
Question #1: Why l’chaim is said on a drink specifically?
The Rebbe’s answer:
Sometimes we all wondered why we say “Lechayim” when we drink wine and not by any other food. There are many reasons given for this minhog.
Among others, these are usually found:
It was customary to give wine to a person mourning over the loss of a relative. In order to differentiate between this sad occasion and the happier moments when we drink wine, we say “Lechayim.”
The Gemoro Sanhedrin tells of another reason. Describing the procedure of an execution of someone condemned to death, the Gemoro says that on the way to the execution we give the convict a cup of wine as an act of grace, so that he will become slightly intoxicated. Thus he will not be fully aware of the fate facing him. To differentiate between this cup of death and the wine of life we say “Lechayim.”
The Maharam of Mintz gives the following reason why we say “Lechayim” over wine and not over bread. He says wine was the cause of the curse that came over the world in the time of Noach who became drunk. When we have wine, we therefore pronounce to the people present, addressing them “Saborai”, that we drink wine moderately and consciously, stressing that we only want its strength and not its damaging power.
There are many more reasons given. The idea that is expressed in all these explanations is that in wine is both the power of good and bad, of life and death. When we say “Lechayim” we tell us and others that we only wish to consume the good, not the harmful in wine.
Question #2: There are those who ask – why did the Rebbe (ADMUR) send Benedictine in particular, that this liquor is produced, as is well known, by monks, and the recipe is a well-kept secret by them? And how are we to be sure that it is kosher?
The Rebbe’s answer:
It is already a custom of many years by kevod kedushas my father-in-law ADMUR, and also by his father (the Rebbe Rashab) to use Benedictine.
And they were a number of times in the country/location where this liquor is produced and they did not have any doubt as to it being mixed with wine; and it is also clear that the method of production has never been changed and furthermore and even more emphatically, there was an investigation in the matter again a few years ago and this was again confirmed to be so.
However, if not for the fact that this was the custom in my father’s house (Reb Levik) over the generations, for which there is a reason that I will not go into now, I would not have renewed this custom.
And I am happy that there are those who are careful in the performance of mitzvos, like the ones who are questioning this, if only they would be as careful in all the positive and negative mitzvos.