As I gave away my bottle of sake to a neighbor, I recalled why I purchased it in the first place. My memory returned to the summer of 1999, Miami Beach. A Japanese restaurant had just turned kosher. A friend who worked behind the counter tipped me off. I was eager to try authentic Japanese cuisine; if for nothing else, at least to enjoy what for me was an exotic the cultural experience.
Somewhere blended in between the seaweed, miso soup and sushi flowed miniature ceramic cups of warmed sake. The way the sake sung on my tongue, helped me savor every drop as a fresh culinary experience of rare artistry. I left the restaurant unsure whether I should drive. So I waited a while.
Longing for this experience to enhance my Sabbath meal, I recently visited a local liquor shop and purchased what seemed to me like a representative bottle of standard sake. I tasted a bit between the fish and salad. It was downright vile! There was barely a distant echo of what I remember enjoying all those years back. I swiftly downed some sweet liquor to mask the taste.
As I handed my neighbor the bottle, it occurred to me how I got set up for such disappointment. Apparently, sake tastes best within a certain context. Complementary cultural foods and warmed to the correct temperature, bring out a song in the sake, which it in other settings it simply won’t sing; perhaps, can’t sing.
There’s a lesson here on the value of supportive contexts. Sometimes a child and even an adult needs a certain setting to discover talents and success. A person whose latent talents remain submerged in oblivion for years can suddenly come to life if only present in the right environment. Many times, we don’t know what our true abilities are or what environments can release them. Besides prayer, this may require feeling one’s way around, sensing which people and places resonate best.
For myself, I came away with an additional lesson, an understanding of why I find a sweet taste in certain Mitzvahs (loosely translated as “Divine Commands”). Some of these acts in other contexts may be seriously boring or at least not particularly exciting. However, since they come to me within the context of my relationship with my Creator, they come across with a whole different flavor. They resonate differently. For example, I am intensely excited to wave my palm frond and citron in the sukkah booth very soon. However, I know that there’s nothing inherently exciting about waving around plant and produce. It’s just brought alive by the context; namely, the Mitzvah.
Maybe, the surroundings of a sukkah booth itself represents a supportive surrounding context designed to bring out something special, latent within ourselves. It’s good to conclude with some food for further thought.