A group of Americans were asked: If they had to be quarantined in any one store, what store would that be? The common reply was Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, because at least then they would have their coffee.
Well, to be honest, this didn’t really happen, or at least not that I know of. But I could imagine that if a group of people was asked, that may very well have been their reply.
We take our coffee very seriously. As a child, whenever I would see quotes and quips about pre-coffee grumpiness and ineffectiveness, I didn’t get it. But it did make clear to me that coffee is serious business, not to be tampered with. These days, I get it!
One morning a few months ago, I was walking into shul holding a gemara, at the same time as someone else was walking in holding a coffee. He motioned that I should go first, as I was holding a gemara. I replied that in America we always yield to the guy holding the coffee. Take away the coffee and production plummets.
The truth is that fresh-brewed coffee only “became a thing” (my students told me that is proper lingo in 2020) in the last few decades. Until the mid 1960s, everyone who drank coffee drank instant coffee, like Maxwell House, which gave you a Haggadah to read with your coffee.
Once roasted, all coffee beans look similar. However, there are two primary varieties of coffee that are very different: Arabica and Robusta.
The two varieties differ in taste, growing conditions, and price. Arabica beans have a sweeter, softer taste, with tones of sugar, fruit, and berries.
Robusta, however, has a stronger, harsher taste, with a grain-like overtone and peanutty aftertaste. They contain twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans, and they are generally considered to be of inferior quality, compared to Arabica.
Robustas, however, are easier to grow. They can grow at lower altitudes than Arabicas, and they are less vulnerable to pests and weather conditions. They produce fruit much more quickly than the Arabica, which need several years to come to maturity, and they yield more crop per tree. That’s why Robusta is much cheaper.
Most supermarket coffee, including instant and cheaper ground coffees, are Robusta.
As can be assumed, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and most fresh brewed coffees are Arabica.
So coffee is a reminder of the old truism: to cultivate something of higher quality, you have to be ready to invest more.
On Shabbos and Yom Tov, we commence our s’udah by reciting Kiddush over a cup brimming with wine.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach z”l noted that wine has to undergo a lot of “trauma” in its process to become wine. The grape is harvested, stepped on in order to squeeze out its juice, allowed to ferment, mixed with other ingredients, etc. When the process is finally completed and that wine is poured into the silver goblet and held aloft with the greatest joyous praises recited over it, the whole miserable process becomes worth it.
If anyone would have asked the grape, mid-process, it would undoubtedly complain about the manner in which it was being treated. “I was once a beautiful grape in a cluster of similar grapes. Now I’ve been violently plucked off the vine and am forced to undergo this terrible process.” What would we reply to the grape? “Patience! Yes, it seems terrible now. Just wait!”
Later in the Haggadah, we raise our cup of wine and proclaim “V’hi she’amdah – It is what has stood for us in every generation...”
Perhaps the “It” that we refer to includes the cup of wine we are holding, which symbolizes the beauty of the Jewish people. So often we are beaten and made to suffer. Yet somehow, we always resiliently emerge and plunge onwards in our unstoppable quest to be the beholders of Torah.
The Torah states that the more the Egyptians afflicted our ancestors in order to impede their population explosion, the more our ancestors’ numbers continued to multiply. Everything our enemies did to stop us, only ended up fueling our unquenchable internal fire. The more they stepped on us, the more and the better the wine we produced. That unnatural process has preserved us as a nation.
Perhaps that’s also why we commemorate the four expressions of redemption by drinking four cups of wine.
Wine symbolizes process. You can’t just squeeze a grape to get wine, as you can squeeze other fruits to get their juice. It takes time, investment, and expertise to have all the ingredients and conditions necessary to produce the desired beverage.
So, too, redemption is a process. It doesn’t just happen; it’s something we have to actively embrace and invest our part in. The first part of the process of redemption is ironically the exile itself, the metaphorical squeezing of the grape.
At the Seder, many have the custom to eat an egg at the beginning of Shulchan Oreich. The Chasam Sofer explains that generally when a food is cooked on a flame it becomes softer. Eggs are a notable exception; when they are cooked they harden. That is symbolic of the Jewish people. The more our enemies try to oppress, subdue, and undermine us, the more we prosper and the more stubbornly we cling to the traditions and ways of our ancestors. On the night of the genesis of our nationhood, we eat an egg to symbolize that national anomaly.
Our history has been a long and difficult process. The weeks that we are finding ourselves in are also undoubtedly part of a Divine plan and process. Our response and perspective are the same as it’s always been: to be introspective, to improve, and to look heavenward for salvation and redemption.
The Jewish people haven’t survived because of shortcuts or “instant” solutions. Rather, we have been “slow-brewed” to perfection.
This year, we have already been part of the process of production of a new batch of national wine. It’s been a painful and anxiety-filled process. We hope that, very soon, we will merit to enjoy and imbibe from the completed product. It will be a national celebration of yet another challenge we have met and transcended. We will dance together, hand-in-hand (without sanitizer) back into our shuls and yeshivos, taking with us all of the unity, heartfelt connection, newfound faith, and perspective that we have gained along the difficult road.
Have a healthy, beautiful, and uplifting Pesach!