Every culture has its own version of it. As long as there have been alcoholic beverages, there have been toasts. To me, a toast is a sign of etiquette and respect, a display of goodwill. Sometimes, simply raising one’s glass can say more about a person than words. As a child, I always pictured that well-dressed man in the center of the room, rising from his seat, his glass lifted ever so slightly above his head and his face pulled back into a grin that could be seen for miles. Then, he quotes Twain, Shakespeare, Aristotle, and all the people around him are frozen in time, captivated by his every syllable. When he finishes, the sound of champagne flutes clinking are drowned out only by the sounds of the crowd cheering and celebrating a momentous occasion, everyone in the room dancing and singing the night away, without a care in the world.
Whether it’s lifting one’s spirits when they are down or congratulating one’s accomplishments or milestones, toasts remind us of important events in our lives, much like bookmarks in a book. They may not always mark happy times, but they certainly mark the meaningful ones. I believe that there is a lot of value and significance in this shared experience. While the moment may seem somewhat superficial and fleeing on the surface, in reality it embodies so much more. At a wedding, a father can tell his daughter how much he really loves her by sharing a story about her with the closest people in her life. A best man can rip the groom to shreds with embarrassing stories, corny jokes and nicknames that only a best man can do well. Parents can congratulate their child on completing school, couples can celebrate an anniversary, soldiers can honor the fallen and the forgotten. Each toast holds a memory or experience that can elicit strong emotions and stir even the most tempered individuals.
We are a people, a community. To raise a glass to one another is to share in a bonding experience. It can bring people closer together, help reinforce strong fraternal or familial bonds, even mend broken relationships. We all want to feel like we belong, that we are acknowledged and valued by others and by ourselves. Most importantly, we want to have something to celebrate, something important that can be shared and enjoyed with others. Every time we say the blessing over the wine, we are essentially toasting God in thanks for giving us the fruits of the vine to enjoy. From prayers to weddings to bar mitzvahs, it is built in to the Jewish custom and tradition to give thanks and to celebrate the joyous occasions in our lives.
As Jews, it is customary for us to say, “L’Chaim!” after giving a toast. It makes sense to end such a moment with the timely phrase, “to life!” and subsequently quench our thirsts. In one motion, we can acknowledge to God and the world around us how thankful, how lucky, how happy, and most of all, how humble we are to be alive and to have opportunities to enrich both our own lives and the lives of those around us. We consecrate those feelings and beliefs with a physical connection towards one another via clinking of glasses. As the wine glasses are brought together, so symbolically are those grasping them, united in a common experience.
As 5771 draws to a close, let us all take a look back at this past year and raise a glass, to all the good times and the not-so-good, and be forever grateful for having lived through it all. As we raise our glasses simultaneously, we acknowledge that, as the “wine” symbolizes life itself, the whole bottle of life experience has been poured out, shared with others, and brought back together again, if only for a brief moment.