(Torah Portion Shimini) Strength and Control
The Torah recounts a tragic episode where Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, were put to death through a fire that descended from the Heavens when they offered sacrifices on the first day of the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
The reason they were deserving of such a punishment is because they ignited their own fire on the Altar, when they should have waited for a Heavenly fire to descend and consume their offerings.
Our Sages give us additional reasons why they were deserving of death. One is because Nadav and Avihu entered the Mishkan and performed the service after they drank wine, which was inappropriate conduct while serving in the Temple.
The basis for this reason is because the Torah relates that Aaron accepted his children’s death by being silent and not questioning G-d’s actions and judgment. Immediately afterwards G-d spoke directly to Aaron and shared with him the commandment that no Kohain may perform the Temple service after drinking alcoholic beverages.
Our Sages understood that because G-d gave this law specifically to Aaron to share with the Jewish people immediately after this tragic event, it must have been wine that caused their death.
Although wine is the preferred beverage for reciting Kiddush on the Shabbat and Holidays and at celebrations such as at a wedding ceremony, a Bris, and a Redemption of the first born; when serving G-d in His Temple, one must have total concentration and perfection and wine is precluded because it causes alterations in one’s decision making.
In fact, the law is that no one can render Halachic decisions if he had drunk a certain amount of wine. There are Rabbis who conduct their Passover Seder a bit late so that if people come with questions they would be able to answer before they begin to drink the four cups of wine.
Another opinion in the Talmud is that the two sons of Aaron did not drink wine while performing the Temple service. However, G-d spoke specifically to Aaron concerning the prohibition of performing the Temple service after drinking wine as a reward for his outstanding acceptance of the Divine Judgment after losing his two sons.
Let’s consider the benefits of wine. Wine, in proper amount, has the ability to lift a person to a happier mood. Some commentators explain that at the transformation from the weekly grind into the peaceful and restful Shabbat, Kiddush is recited over wine to assist in the change. (Note: All that one is required to drink is a cheek-full of the Kiddush cup. Non alcoholic grape juice is also acceptable.)
What if a Kohain – Priest, enters the Temple and is preoccupied with his personal worries, which prevent him from concentrating on the Service? Wouldn’t one think there is consideration that wine is a viable option to lift his spirits so he will be able to perform the service better than if he hadn’t drunk?
Rabbi Nissan Alpert o.b.m. explains that after Aaron’s sons died, the Torah attested to Aaron’s remarkable and awe-inspiring demeanor in accepting G-d’s judgment, and he was able to perform the Temple service in his usual devoted manner. Aaron’s demeanor proved that it is humanly possible to serve G-d in that most stressful of situations. At that time, G-d commanded through Aaron, that the intake of wine as an enhancement to one’s Temple service and performance was strictly prohibited.
Our ability to be able to accept Divine judgment in the most trying and tragic circumstances without questioning the Almighty has been imbued in us from the example of Aaron the Kohain Gadol.
An interesting point: While a mourner is an Onain – the time when one is occupied with the funeral and burial arrangements of his loved one – although he is exempt from performing positive commands such as donning Tefilin, praying, and reciting blessings, the law prohibits eating meat and drinking wine during this time until after the burial.
Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks