Blame it on the Grapes

After the death of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, God commands Aharon (Vayikra 10:9) “Do not drink wine or any other intoxicant, you and your sons with you, when you enter the tent of meeting and you will not die; this is an everlasting statute (chok) throughout your generations”. The Midrash in Vayikra Raba Chapter 12 explains that the reason why this commandment is given at this point is because Aharon’s sons were drunk when they offered the esh zara, unbidden incense and were therefore put to death.

This is the only commandment which God gives directly to Aharon himself without using Moshe as an intermediary. The reason why it is given directly to Aharon is because it relates to what Aharon’s sons did wrong in the past and offers a tikkun (correction) for all future Kohanim.

The Midrash in Vayikra Raba quotes the pasuk from Tehilim 19:9 “The statutes of God are right, rejoicing the heart…” The Shechina, Divine presence only appears when there is happiness. Therefore, when the Kohen brings the korban (sacrifice) he is required to be in a good mood, a happy state of mind.

Why is the Kohen forbidden to drink wine at the time of the service? After all wouldn’t wine put him in a good mood?

Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa points out that the Kohen should be happy from doing the mitzvoth. His happiness should come from observing the Torah’s commandments not from being drunk.

Rabbi Asi takes it a step further and explains in the Midrash that if a Talmid Chacham drinks wine, then he is forbidden from issuing a Halachic ruling since when he is drunk his mind will be all mixed up and he will end up permitting that which is forbidden.

The Midrash lists countless examples of otherwise good people in the Tanach who went off the path because they drank too much. The list includes Noach, Lot and King Solomon.

Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is a major issue in the Jewish community today. We must do what we can to educate the next generation of the dangers of alcohol abuse as well as emphasize the fact that it is in fact a Torah prohibition.