Sharing Torah Insights

Why We Drink

Posted on כ״א באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ד (March 23, 2014) | in Purim, Shabbat, Shmini | by

In Parshat Shemini, after Nadav and Avihu are killed, Aharon is instructed by Hashem not to drink wine when serving in the Beit HaMikdash. Some commentators even say that Nadav and Avihu’s sin was that they were inebriated while bringing their sacrifice.

When that commandment is given to Aharon, a reason is also provided:

.וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר . יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר אַל-תֵּשְׁתְּ אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד–וְלֹא תָמֻתוּ: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם .וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַקֹּדֶשׁ וּבֵין הַחֹל, וּבֵין הַטָּמֵא, וּבֵין הַטָּהוֹר .וּלְהוֹרֹת, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–אֵת, כָּל-הַחֻקִּים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֲלֵיהֶם, בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה

And HaShem spoke to Aaron, saying: ‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, so you don’t die; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. [In order] that you may distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which HaShem told them through the hand of Moshe.’

In other words, the reason why Kohanim are prohibited to drink wine before serving in the Beit HaMikdash is because the wine will impair their ability to distinguish between pure and impure and between holy and mundane.

However, this is very strange because almost every time we use wine in Judaism is in order to make a distinction. We use wine to sanctify Shabbat and Yom Tov and to make Havdalah as we separate from Shabbat back into the week ahead. We have wine at a Brit Mila and at a wedding, both events that fundamentally change the status of a person.

If wine is something that impairs our ability to make distinctions, then why do we use wine to distinguish things?

I think that the answer can be understood from Purim. On Purim, we drink “עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי – until one can’t distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”. This doesn’t mean that we simply get smashed. It means that we have to drink until we realize that there really isn’t a difference between Haman and Mordechai. At the end of the day, they were both playing the roles that Hashem gave them. As Mordechai told Esther:

אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת–רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר

If you stay silent at this time, salvation will come to the Jews from another place.

Haman and Mordechai both had the free will to choose if they were going to be the individual to play the role, but if it hadn’t been Haman, it would have been someone else. And if it hadn’t been Mordechai and Esther, Hashem would have saved the Jews through a different means.

So how does this answer the original question?

Generally, when keeping Halacha, and in particular with the Avodah in the Beit Hamikdash, we have to be very careful to do things just right. Losing our discretion can be the difference between doing something right and doing something grievously wrong.

When we make Kiddish, we make the distinction between Shabbat and the week that preceded it. But then we drink, reminding ourselves that really the distinction isn’t as great as we think. Friday is fundamentally different from Shabbat, but Friday is also a holy day meant to be used in service of Hashem. And when we make Havdalah, we remind ourselves that Sunday and the rest of the week are also days to grow spiritually. When we do a Brit Mila, we celebrate the fact that we are the chosen people, and remember that all people are created in the image of Hashem. And when we get married, we look forward to the life we are going to build together, and remember that someone who is single is also capable of great things.

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2 Responses to “Why We Drink”

  1. Daniel Steinberg says:

    That was great. Very profound. Excellent structure to the piece. Yasher koach.


  2. I second Reb Daniel’s comment. Creative and profound. That was an unexpected move there at the end: “the distinction isn’t as great as we think!” The Gemora says we do Havdala in the bracha of Chonein HaDa’as because without Da’as there are no distinctions. So Da’as is critical. But wine removes da’as: ad d’LO YADA! Just a little something to amplify your question.


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