Torah:Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)Haftarah: (II Samuel 6:1-7:17)
The Torah portion is about Moses instructing Aaron and his sons Nadav and Avihu concerning offerings for atonement of sins. Nadav and Avihu bring unauthorized fire offerings of their own, and G-d punishes them with death. G-d tells Moses and Aaron which foods are permitted and forbidden to be eaten.
The Torah parsha of the punishment of Nadav and Avihu appears to be severe, however they were told all requirements of offerings to G-d that are permitted. They were overstepping their father, Aaron the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Aaron’s sons showed disrespect not only to their father but to G-d.
The Sidur/portions from the Torah:
The Eternal spoke to Aaron, saying; Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons [The Kohanim, the priests], when you enter the Ohel Moed/ Tent of Meeting… for you must distinguish between the Holy and the Ordinary. (Leviticus 10:8-20)
Many commentators were confused about this prohibition against drinking. Here was their problem. Wine in Judaism is part of the joy of celebration and worship. Wine accompanies every Shabbat and Festival meal at Kiddush, it is part of the wedding ceremony, and on Passover Jews drink 4 cups, not one. We drink on those occasions to help build the proper spirit. We read in Psalms 19:9, “The commands of the Eternal are just, rejoicing the heart.” One would think that when Kohen offers sacrifices to G-d, they should be offered in a spirit of joy and celebration. Now, if ordinary Jews drink wine at our Jewish celebrations, why weren’t the Kohanim allowed to do the same at their celebrations?
A great Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Simcha Bunam of Poland (1767-1827) suggests that when the Kohen serves G-d in the Sanctuary, his joy must be derived totally and completely from the inspiration he derives from his Divine service, not from any artificial intoxicants or stimulants. As the Psalm states, it is the commands of the Eternal that makes the heart happy.
There are many questions of the why’s, and when on this topic of drinking. Does one need to drink wine on religious occasions? Should Jews refrain from drinking wine, and if so how does one make kiddush? If every Jew, even the Levites, may drink wine and rejoice, why not the Kohanim? Drinking wine one must know their limits.
Rabbi Helene Ainbinder