Shabbat Parashat Shemini| 5764
A Serious Joy
We are right in between Purim and Pesach, our two holidays with a significant element of wine drinking. Are the effects of drinking wine positive or negative? Is there any other way to bring a spirit of happiness so quickly? Let us examine just one aspect of this complex issue.
In the aftermath of the death of Nadav and Avihu, Hashem instructs Aharon to refrain from drinking wine before entering the mishkan to perform service (Vayikra 10:9). The Torah continues, as Chazal teach, to forbid rendering halachic decisions under the influence of alcohol (see Rashi on 10:11).
The Ramban gives the simplest reason for the prohibition, stating that when intoxicated, one is more likely to make mistakes, which can be deadly in the service of the mishkan, as evidenced by Aharon’s sons’ deaths. The parallel to rendering halachic decisions is clear, as lowering of one’s mental capacities can cause serious problems.
However, the Sefer Hachinuch (#152) takes a different approach. He says that it is an affront to the mikdash for those who are commanded to ensure its proper use to enter in a not fully dignified demeanor. The same is true of approaching Torah at the highest levels. It isn’t sufficient that the content of the rulings be accurate, but those who are involved in teaching Torah must approach it with the proper frame of mind. They must be serious, not light-headed with a superficial elation associated with wine. Wine is appropriate at other places and times, such as yamim tovim, but not in the mikdash or when rendering halachic decisions.
The Netziv takes an entirely different approach to our p’sukim. An onen (one after the death of a close relative) cannot take part in the service of the mikdash, because he is unable to be on the level of simcha that is required. Yet, Aharon and his remaining sons were commanded to continue their service after their sons’/brothers’ deaths. Hashem was concerned that Aharon would attempt to use “tricks” for quick happiness to aid him in the Temple service, and instructed him that some are inappropriate.
The first shortcut to joy and/or forgetting one’s troubles is wine (see Tehillim 104:15; Mishlei 31:6). But the joy needs to be real, not illusionary, and the Torah forbade drinking wine in the mikdash. The Torah goes on to mention a more significant means of reaching joy, true joy: learning and teaching Torah (Vayikra 10:10-11). This, says the Netziv, is what Hashem commanded Aharon to take part in to help him reach the joy he needed to continue his holy work at that trying time.
Wine does, indeed, bring joy, and it has its place. But when one needs real joy, one that does not distort and cause mistakes, but brings joy by directing one onto the right path, Torah is the elixir.
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