Coffee, Wine, Good Friends and the Message of the First Line
For my last birthday, I was given the gift of an evening with Jim Gaffigan. One of the greatest takeaways from the evening when he said that the older he gets, the more he looks at coffee and wine as his good friends.
Coffee tells him, “Go get ‘em. You can do it!” Wine figuratively puts it’s arm around him and says, “It will be ok. Better luck next time.”
With Gaffigan’s lenses, it is no secret why coffee is most associated with morning and wine is more associated with night time. In the morning, the day is bright. We begin with a clean slate, Optimism reigns. A new day lies ahead.
The Shacharit tefilah reflects this tone as well. When we say אלקי נשמה - we thank God for giving our soul back to us after we sleep. We also recite the praise of God who renews each day with goodness and opportunity, בטובו מחדש בכל יום תמיד. The siddur tells us to go out to the world and make a difference.
And at the end of each “new day” we return home and when we do, we need to know, that after the ups and downs of the day that there is a voice of understanding of the complicated nature of life. This is where Maariv comes in. It is the first line, the line that actually comes before the main call to prayer that shows this understanding best. It is taken from Psalms 78:38.
לח וְהוּא רַחוּם, יְכַפֵּר עָוֹן-- וְלֹא-יַשְׁחִית:
וְהִרְבָּה, לְהָשִׁיב אַפּוֹ; וְלֹא-יָעִיר, כָּל-חֲמָתוֹ.
38 But He, being full of compassion, forgives iniquity, and destroys not;
many a time does God turn God’s anger away, and does not stir up all of God’s wrath.
The Neitv Bina tells us that this line is added to the weekday Maariv because we need to know that we can be forgiven for all of the mistakes we made during the day. It conveys this feeling in three ways.
First, R. Hertz points out that the line contains 13 words, the exact number of words of the midot of rachamim, God’s characteristics of mercy. Second, the content of the line shows that God is a forgiving God and reminds us that in prayer we will find this comfort.
And finally, the context of this chapter 78 of Tehilim is important. It is a long chapter that tells the story of the Jews and their sins and the nature of God’s forgiveness. One of the most powerful verses of this chapter is the one that follows which reads:
לט וַיִּזְכֹּר, כִּי-בָשָׂר הֵמָּה; רוּחַ הוֹלֵךְ, וְלֹא יָשׁוּב.
39 So He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes away, and does not come again.
With incredible compassion, God understands that we are imperfect people doing our best to perfect an imperfect world -- an understanding critical to our prayer and self reflection after a long day.
And we ask God to awaken these attributes as we enter into prayer with another verse from Tehilim (20:10).
י ה הוֹשִׁיעָה: הַמֶּלֶךְ, יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם-קָרְאֵנוּ.
10 Save, God; let the King answer us in the day that we call
So, while we will sometimes use coffee and wine (but hopefully not too much of it) our Siddur does the important work of being a daily companion. It allows our souls to connect with important words. They are words that give us encouragement to meet the world and change it. And they are words that serve as eternal comfort each night as we reflect upon the inevitable triumphs and defeats that life brings.
Words that are great friends indeed.