Drinking Wine - Positive or Negative?

Apr 8, 2010

"Vayedaber Hashem el Aharon leimor yayin veshechar al tesht ata uvanecha itach bevoachem el ohel moed velo tamutu" "And Hashem spoke to Aharon saying: Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of Meeting, that you not die" (Vayikra 10:9). The Torah is telling us that a kohen who serves in the Beit Hamikdash while under the influence of alcohol is punishable by death.  It is even questionable whether he may drink alcohol when not working in the Beit Hamikdash.  Chazal extended this prohibition to not allowing a kohen to perform "birkat kohanim" while under the influence of alcohol, for the "birkat kohanim" is likened to the service in the Beit Hamikdash.  The pasuk following the above prohibition "ulhavdil bein hakodesh uvein hachol uvein hatamei uvein hatahor" "In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane and between the contaminated and the pure: and to teach the children of Israel" (ibid. 11) is the basis for Chazal's ruling that a Torah scholar may not teach while under the influence of alcohol. 

Davening is also forbidden while under the influence of alcohol, as Chazal learn from the story of Eli and Chana.  Eli, upon having suspected Chana of being drunk, said "ad matai tishtacarin hasiri et yeineich me-alayich" "How long will you be drunk? Remove your wine from yourself" (Shmuel I 1:14).  Chana answers "al titen et amatcha lifnei bat bliyaal" "Do not deem your maidservant to be a base woman" (ibid. 16).  We see the word "bliyaal", having a very negative connotation, also used with regard to people worshipping avoda zara, foreign gods, as it says "yatzu anashim bnei bliyaal" "Lawless men have emerged from your midst" (Devarim 13:14), providing the basis for a comparison between davening after drinking and worshipping foreign gods.  Thus Eli's, suspicion of 
Chana being drunk is tantamount to suspecting her of worshipping foreign gods, and we thus see that davening after drinking is a very serious offense. 

There is an opinion offered by Chazal that Nadav and Avihu's death was as a result of serving in the Beit Hamikdash while under the influence of alcohol, for immediately following their deaths, Hashem commands Aharon and his descendants not to be involved in any service while under the influence of alcohol.    

While we see from the above that there are many times when drinking wine is prohibited, there are also many examples of where not only is drinking permitted, but is actually a mitzvah.  The commandment of simchat Yom Tov, rejoicing on the Yom Tov is a commandment mentioned in the Torah.  On Pesach, Chazal expanded this to drinking four cups of wine, a significant amount in each cup.  Even during the times of the Beit Hamikdash, one was required to drink four cups of wine, despite the fact that one could have fulfilled the mitzvah of simchat yom tov with the Korban Shlamim that was sacrificed.  

We see two diametrically opposing views to wine.  There are times when it is a necessary vehicle in the service of Hashem, while there are times when it totally invalidates one's serving Hashem.  There are two ways one must serve Hashem, through ahava, love, and through yira, fear.  Our love for Hashem causes us to attempt to be as close as possible to Him, whereas our fear of Him forces us not to move in too close, knowing exactly what our position is.  The intoxicating effect of wine may produce within us a feeling of ahavat Hashem thus being commanded on Yom Tov, yet wine also reduces one's inhibitions and would thus be inappropriate in the Beit Hamikdash for it detracts from the required feeling of yirat Hashem. 

Chazal offer two opposing reactions to Moshe's behavior when Hashem first revealed Himself at the burning bush.  On the one hand we are told that through the merit of "vayaster Moshe panav" "Moshe hid his face" (Shmot 3:6), he merited "ki karan or panav" "for the skin of his face became radiant" (Shmot 34:30).  On the other hand, Hashem seems to offer a bit of criticism directed towards Moshe.  Hashem says to Moshe that when Hashem wanted to show Moshe His glory, Moshe was not interested (referring to this incident at the burning bush), now that Moshe wants to see Hashem's glory "hareini na et kvodecha" "Show me Your glory" (Shmot 33:18), Hashem does not wish to show it to Moshe.    

One can simply say that Chazal have two opposing views regarding Moshe's behavior at the burning bush.  HaRav Dessler zt"l, however, says that when it comes to "aggada" in the Gemara there is no such thing as dispute, but rather "elu vaelu divrei Elokim chaim" "both are the words of a living G-d". Moshe's fear of G-d caused him to hide his face, whereas Moshe was criticized for his love of Hashem should have caused him to attempt to move in closer.  These are very subtle differences, for it is impossible that one should both attempt to get close and to not attempt to get close.  Only Chazal can say that Moshe, although being correct in wanting to back away, should have felt the need to get closer.   

Regarding the holy chayot in the heavens, the prophet states "vehachayot ratzo vashov" "the chayot run to and fro" (Yechezkel 1:14).  They run forward because they wish to get closer, they back away because of their fear of getting too close.  Wine also contains this dichotomy.  On the one hand, wine elevates one's service of Hashem, while at the same time it detracts from one's fear of Hashem, the limits are no longer as strong.  Of Nadav and Avihu, for whom the wine strengthened their love of Hashem, it is said "bekarvatam lifnei Hashem vayamutu" "when they approached before Hashem and they died" (Vayikra 16:1), when they brought this foreign fire, they were on a level of being very close to Hashem.  It is said of them "bikrovai ekadesh" "I will be sanctified through those who are nearest Me" (Vayikra 10:3).  Moshe says of them that they are greater than Moshe and Aharon, yet they did not worship Hashem with "umikdashi tirau" "My Sanctuary shall you revere" (Vayikra  26:2).  The wine detracted from their fear of Hashem and thus they were closer than they should have been.  

The reason we eat "maaser sheini" in Yerushalayim is "lemaan tilmad leyira et Hashem Elokecha kol hayamim" "so that you will learn to fear Hashem your G-d all the days" (Devarim 14:23).  One who is in Yerushalayim and witnesses kohanim performing their service, and the other holy aspects of Yerushalayim gains much more fear of Hashem. 

A kohen is forbidden to serve while under the influence of wine because one who drinks knows no limits.   Whereas wine may raise one's desire to worship Hashem, it also removes one's adherence to certain limits.  The Beit Hamikdash contains many examples of limitations thus explaining why one under the influence of alcohol is forbidden to work there.  The Kohen Gadol was the only one permitted to enter the "kodesh hakodoshim", the "holy of holies" and that was only on Yom Kippur.  Even the entrance on Yom Kippur was limited to certain conditions "ve-al yavo bechol eit el hakodesh" "he shall not at all times, enter the sanctuary" (Vayikra 16:2).  There are places in the Beit Hamikdash that were only allowed entry to one who was ritually pure.  Fear is just that, everyone must know their own place and limitations and only enter until a certain point.  

Some of the laws regarding the recitation of the Shmone Esrei provide for this same idea of loving Hashem versus fearing Him.  One's eyes should face downwards, towards the Mikdash that is below, but his heart should feel like it is pointing upwards as if standing before the holy of holies, before Hashem.  We must emphasize the getting close as well as the distancing.  This is why one who is under the influence of wine may not daven, for he may feel close to Hashem, but he will not feel the distance from Hashem. 

Feeling the festive atmosphere of the Yom Tov awakens within us a feeling of love and happiness, "nagila venismecha bo" "let us rejoice and be glad on it" (Tehillim 108:24). We must drink wine on Yom Tov, in order to feel our closeness to Hashem.  We drink four cups of wine at the seder, far more than the regular obligation for Yom Tov, because drinking the wine helps bring us close to Hashem.  We must work harder at the seder to become close to Hashem for in Egypt we had sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity, distancing us from Him.   The Rambam warns, however that although one is obligated to eat and drink on Yom Tov, one may not reach a state of drunkenness.    
The wine is the means with which to feel closer to Hashem, one must not interpret the obligation for having wine on Yom Tov as meaning the wine is causing us to rejoice.  The Rav (HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l) said that we do not say "yismechu bebasar vayayin Yisrael mekadshei Shmecha" "they shall rejoice with the meat and wine, Israel the ones who sanctify Your name", but rather we say "yismechu becha Yisrael mekadshei Shmecha" "The Jewish people who sanctify Your Name shall rejoice with You."   

We are happy that we have Hashem, that He took us out of Egypt, redeemed us from the forty-nine levels of impurity.  After we left Egypt we became worthy of prophecy, receiving of the Torah, and entering the land of Israel, and other lofty degrees that we reached.  The wine provides us with this feeling of love for Hashem, the wine prevents sadness from entering our system and thus enables us to rejoice with Hashem.
In my humble opinion, the song "mitzva gedola lihiyot besimcha tamid" is incorrect.  There is no mitzvah to be constantly happy there is only a mitzvah to worship Hashem through happiness "ivdu et Hashem besimcha" "Serve Hashem with gladness" (Tehillim 100:2).  In Parshat Ki Tavo we are told that terrible calamities will occur "tachat asher lo avadeta et Hashem Elokecha besimcha" "because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart" (Devarim 28:42).  Serving Hashem must be done with happiness.  Happiness not associated with serving Hashem is what Kohelet refers to as "lischok amarti mehollal ulesimcha ma zo osa" "I said of laughter 'it is not' and of joy 'what does it accomplish'" (Kohelet 2:2).  The Gemara tells us that happiness not accompanied by a mitzvah has no purpose.  Only happiness associated with the performance of Mitzvot brings us closer to Hashem.  It is possible to say that there is a daily commandment to be happy, but that is only so that we may serve Hashem properly.  One who is in a state of depression has a more difficult time serving Hashem.  The main point, however, of being in a state of simcha is not a Mitzvah of its own but so that we shall rejoice in the fact of "shelo asani goi" "that He has not created me a non-Jew," "venatan lanu Torat emet" "that He gave us the true Torah", that he gave us the merit of living in the land of 
Israel and in Jerusalem and allowed us to learn Torah and perform mitzvoth.  If our happiness is not associated with one of these things then it has no purpose. 

I heard from HaRav Betzalel Zolty zt"l an explanation of the dispute between R' Yehoshua who says that Yom Tov should be spent as "chetzio laHashem vechetzio lachem" "half the day for Hashem and half for yourself" as opposed to R' Eliezer who says that Yom Tov should be spent "o kulo laHashem o kulo lachem" "either the entire day for Hashem or the entire day for yourself".  Although some authorities follow the opinion of R' Eliezer, the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch follow the opinion of R' Yehoshua.  R' Zolty explains that R' Yehoshua did not mean that half the day one spends enjoying the Yom Tov and half the day one learns Torah and davens.  Rejoicing on the Yom Tov can be accomplished by eating and drinking as well as by learning and davening.  They are both ways of accomplishing "simchat Yom Tov", rejoicing on the festival.  R' Eliezer feels that one either rejoices the full day by eating and drinking, or rejoices the full day by being involved in holy pursuits.  R' Yehoshua, on the other hand, the opinion quoted by the Shulchan Aruch, states that one should spend half the day rejoicing through eating and drinking and half the day rejoicing through learning and davening.  The part of the day that is referred to as for Hashem is also considered as rejoicing on the Yom Tov.    

If I do not learn any Torah on Yom Tov, I have not completed my Mitzvah of rejoicing on the festival.  The Rambam seems to say that both halves of the day are equal, one's rejoicing through davening and learning should equal one's rejoicing through eating and drinking.  It is said in the name of the Rebbe from Sans, the "Divrei Chaim" that one year he stayed up the entire night of Shavuot learning and after he finished davening he said that he has just finished with the lachem, what is for himself and now must fulfill the chetzio laHashem, "half for Hashem".  His version of lachem "for you" is to learn a page of Gemara.  We should at least merit being able to learn in the midst of our eating and drinking and accomplish a true simchat Yom Tov.    

From the Rambam we can see that the idea of chetzio laHashem and chetzio lachem is not only on Yom Tov but also on Chol Hamoed.  All seven days of Pesach and eight days of Succot one must divide up one's time half for oneself and half for Hashem.  One should therefore learn and daven during all the days of the festival.  On the days before and after Pesach, referred to as bein hazmanim (the traditional days of vacation), although one needs a bit of a rest, one is still required to learn Torah.  

It is said of a student who asked the "Chazon Ish" whether he was required to learn during the bein hazmanim as many hours as he learns during the time the Yeshiva is in session.  The Chazon Ish answered that this student need not do so, for learning twelve hours a day is sufficient during bein hazmanim.  Even if one does not strictly follow the opinion of the Chazon Ish, time must be set aside for the study of Torah.  Study of Torah will not detract from the rest we desire during bein hazmanim.  We must also be strict when it comes to davening and saying the Kriat Shma in its proper time, we must daven with a minyan three times a day.  Aside from the usual reasons for davening with a minyan, it is also a way to make sure once Pesach starts that we do not forget Sfirat HaOmer. 

One area which requires much strengthening during bein hazmanim is the laws of what is prohibited on Chol Hamoed.  Chazal permitted many things during Chol Hamoed but there are still many things which are prohibited.  The basic thirty-nine categories of prohibitions which are prohibited on Shabbat are also prohibited on Chol Hamoed, but Chazal permitted some of them.  That which is forbidden, however, according to the opinion of the Mishna Brura and others is a Torah prohibition.  It may be permitted to travel, but it is certainly forbidden to fix one's car in order to be able to travel.  Fixing the car is referred to as a melechet uman, the work of an expert, and is forbidden even if needed for the festival if not required for purposes of ochel nefesh, food.  The Rav (HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l) leaned towards forbidding riding in a taxi during Chol Hamoed.  Although he believed that whatever was done for the needs of many is considered a tzorchei rabim, and a taxi company is certainly open for the needs of the many which should have meant that riding in a taxi is permitted even not for purposes of ochel nefesh, nevertheless the Rav leaned towards forbidding it .  Many factors must be weighed when deciding what is permitted and what is not on Chol Hamoed. 

It is said that Pesach is called so because it can be broken up into two words Pe and Sach, meaning the mouth speaks.  One must speak during Pesach, to remind ourselves of the Exodus from Egypt.  Perhaps we should call the entire period of bein hazmanim by the name "Pesach" for our mouths should speak only words of Torah and not other nonsense.  We must be careful not to speak any loshon hara, and to act appropriately, to honor our parents, and not to be the cause of any "chilul Hashem" - desecrating the Name of Hashem.  If a parent were to send their son to study in a Yeshiva and the child returns home and does not honor his parents the way he is supposed to, the parents will then begin to wonder why they bothered sending the son to the Yeshiva. 

The Gemara refers to the above as a chilul Hashem, for others will think woe is unto the one who learns Torah, or woe onto the father who taught him Torah.  If one honors his parents, one is giving honor to the Torah as well.  For if one sets a good example, then the younger brothers will eventually go to learn in a Yeshiva and so will the children of the neighbors, thus allowing one to be involved in a Kiddush Hashem.  One must also act appropriately in one's relationship with other people, one should be honest in business dealings in order that people will learn to love Hashem and the Torah.  One should constantly feel that they are bochurim from a Yeshiva and should act appropriately. Doing so demonstrates to people the greatness of the Torah - that it brings people to be involved in many acts of kindness and generosity.  In addition to the reward received for performing these acts of chesed, lovingkindness, it is also a source of a tremendous Kiddush Hashem.  

We actually honor our parents more by sitting and learning in the Yeshiva.  It is said that one's learning brings honor to one's father even if the father is no longer alive.  If the father is alive, it certainly provides him with certain merits.  Very few people can fully grasp that a child who learns brings true honor to his parents.  Many parents do not realize that when their son is studying at the Yeshiva, he is providing them with tremendous honor, therefore the period of bein hazmanim provides us with an opportunity to honor them in person, and eventually the parents would realize the importance of the children as well as the rest of the Jewish people learning Torah.
When Torah greats, the likes of the Vilna Gaon sit and learn, they are providing nourishment for the entire world.  The Gemara says that it is heresy to say that those who learn are only benefiting themselves.  The Torah says "venasati lechol hamakom baavuram" "I would save the entire place on their account"(Bereishit 18:26), that in the merit of the righteous the world continues. One, thus has an opportunity to perform a tremendous sanctification of the name of Hashem during bein hazmanim. 

We hope that the seven days of Pesach beginning with the night of the Seder which we just experienced provided us with a spiritual uplifting, that we felt as if we had just been raised from the forty-nine levels of impurity and taken out of Egypt.  At first our forefathers worshipped idols and now Hashem has brought them to His service, we are the servants of Hashem and no longer servants of Pharoah.  We have the merit of being in the land flowing with milk and honey.  The study of Torah is what gave us the merit of living here.  In the Haggadah we said "Ilu kervanu lifnei Har Sinai velo hichnisanu lEretz Yisrael Dayenu" "had Hashem brought us close to Har Sinai and not brought us into Eretz Yisrael it would have been sufficient".  The Haggadah specifically mentions that one must first receive the Torah before entering the land of Israel, the Torah is a prerequisite for being able to live in the land of Israel.   

We must recognize the good Hashem has done for us by bringing us to Har Sinai, giving us the Torah, the Shabbat, and Eretz Yisrael.  We are eagerly awaiting the ultimate good that Hashem will do for us, building the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our day, and we will merit being able to offer the Korban Pesach and the Shalmei Chagiga.  We hope and pray that speedily in our day we will merit being able to perform all the mitzvoth that we are commanded to do yet are currently unable to. Amen. 

Venue: Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh


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