I was first introduced to home brewing after having completed five life transforming weeks of conservation work with the Student Conservation Association in the backcountry of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. I vividly recall my crew leader telling a ranger over the radio that there were a few home brews in the fridge at the station. Home brews…what’s home brew? As I learned then, you can make beer at home! What spoke to me then, as it does today, was connecting to the creativity, freedom, and community that home brewing represented…the secrets of l’chaim! The basic ingredients of beer are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. The craft of brewing is in combining the uniqueness of each one of these ingredients (yes even the yeast) in a manner that reveals that the sum is greater than the parts. In the brewing process the water is combined with the malted barley, boiled to extract the sugars (that the yeast will later eat during the fermentation stage), during the boiling process hops are added to add both bitterness and aroma, the final mixture is called “wort”, which is then cooled down to a temperature that is conducive to pitching (adding) the yeast: if the temperature is too low, the yeast will remain dormant, if it is too high the yeast can be killed. Once the yeast is pitched, the brewer waits for signs of fermentation which can begin to happen in a matter of hours or even a day or two…at this point, brewers ask themselves and pray, did I perform the process correctly…will my beer come to life? It is precisely in this moment that the spiritual dimension of the brewing process is most acutely revealed, I call it the hebrewing moment. Like making a delicious craft beer, living our best life, crafting our best selves, is a process of “putting the ingredients together”, and appreciating the emergent reality that all of life’s ingredients create..the spontaneity, beauty, tragedy, grief, celebration, wonder, and complexity of being, of existing, in and of itself…that the sum of life is truly greater than its parts! This is the secret of l’chaim, when we say “to life”, we are saying that we are doing our best to create and appreciate what life has to offer…this is the secret of hebrewing…l’chaim!
Rabbi Baruch Rock is the director of Jewish Learning at Irvine Hebrew Day School and a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.