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There is a well-known custom to precede the blessing on wine, especially on Shabbat, with the words savri maranan (“attention gentlemen”) or birshut maranan (“with your permission gentlemen”), depending on one’s custom.1

One of the explanations offered for this practice is that, throughout Tanach, wine is found to be both a positive and negative substance. It has been the source of blessings, but also of curses. For example, the Torah’s first encounter with wine is in the story of Noach, just after the flood. Noach gets drunk and, after a series of unfortunate events, he curses his son and grandson. In this instance, we see wine associated with misfortune and death. So too, wine resulted in Lot committing incest with his daughters. Therefore, savri maranan and birshut maranan are meant to declare to everyone present that we are about to drink wine, but only with the purest of intentions. Indeed, it is actually a prayer that no harm come from the upcoming drinking session. Furthermore, Sefardim customarily respond l’chaim (to life) after hearing savri, as a wish and prayer that nothing negative come from the current gathering.2

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So too, when deciding whether a person should be sentenced to death, the judges of the Beit Din would say to those who questioned the witnesses, “Savri maranan.” If they thought that the person should be spared, they would reply, “L’chaim.” If, however, they thought that he deserved to die, they would reply, “L’mita,” – to death. Furthermore, a person sentenced to death would be given strong wine immediately before his execution in order to lessen the pain and awareness of what was taking place.3

These days, many say l’chaim when drinking with others or making a toast. One reason for the custom, as mentioned, is that wine was provided to criminals prior to their execution. Therefore, saying l’chaim declares to everyone present that the function of this drink is intended as a celebration of life and not as a preparation for death, G-d forbid.4 Another reason for saying l’chaim is that we are told that Adam became drunk from the wine he drank at his wedding ceremony, which led to him and Chava eating the forbidden fruit. Indeed, there is a view that the forbidden fruit was a grape, which they made into wine.5 This brought death to the world forever. Saying l’chaim is intended to recall and rectify this.6

Although most people say l’chaim before reciting the blessing on wine (or other alcoholic drink7), some say it after reciting the blessing and first drinking a little bit.8 One should respond “l’chaim tovim u’lshalom” or “l’chaim u’livracha” when hearing someone say “l’chaim.”9 It is taught that when Jews says l’chaim to one another when drinking, G-d forgives all their sins.10 The idea of making a toast when drinking was practiced by the Sages of the Talmud.11 It is noted that we say l’chaim, which means “to lives,” in the plural. This is intended to remind us that a meaningful life is one that is shared with others.12 There is a view that clinking glasses with another person before drinking is a non-Jewish custom and should not be done.13 However, there are a number of theories on the origin of clinking glasses, none of which appear to be halachically problematic. 14

Shlomo HaMelech teaches us that only trouble comes from excessive alcohol consumption, as he says, “Who has wounds without cause? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who sit late over wine, those who come to search for mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red; when he puts his eye on the cup, it goes smoothly. Ultimately, it will bite like a serpent, and sting like a viper. Your eyes will see strange women, and your heart will speak confusedly.”15 It is taught that one of the reasons that the Ten Tribes of Israel were exiled from the Land of Israel was a result of their excessive alcohol consumption.16

More hopefully, we are told that the world will be blessed with delicious wine when Mashiach comes.

 

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  1. Cited in the Derisha. See also Ta’amei Haminhagim 291–294, Kol Bo 25.
  2. Kol Bo 25; Bach, OC 174. See also Machzor Vitri 80.
  3. Sanhedrin 43a; Tanchuma Pikudei 2.
  4. Bach, OC 174.
  5. Berachot 40a; Sanhedrin 70a.
  6. Daat Zkeinim, Shemini 10:9.
  7. Likutei Maharich, Birkat Hanehenin.
  8. See OC 174; Pri Megadim, MZ 174:11; Shraga Hameir 2:25.
  9. Kaf Hachaim, OC 168:108.
  10. Minchat Yitzchak 6:135.
  11. Shabbat 67b; Tosefta, Shabbat 8:3.
  12. Perhaps based on Sanhedrin 103b. See Igrot Kodesh of the Rayatz, vol. 3, p. 413.
  13. Mevasser Tov 2:79.
  14. Mishlei 23:29-33.
  15. Amos, chapter 6.
  16. Yoel 4:18.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.