Amongst the prohibitions given to the Kohanim (priests) in last week's Torah portion is that they are forbidden from entering the Mishkan (Tabernacle) while intoxicated.
Amongst the prohibitions given to the Kohanim (priests) in last week's Torah portion is that they are forbidden from entering the Mishkan (Tabernacle) while intoxicated. At the conclusion of this section, the verse states: "And to teach the Children of Israel all the laws that Hashem had spoken to them through Moses" (Leviticus 10:11). Our sages (Talmud Tractate Kritut 13b) understood this verse as prohibiting the rendering of any decision in Jewish law while inebriated. In order to reach a psak (halachic decision), a rabbinic authority must apply many legal principles to the facts of the given scenario. Alcohol contributes to thoughtless emotional behavior and thought processes which are irrelevant to halachic decision-making. In fact, many authorities extend this prohibition so far as to prohibit while intoxicated even the repetition of halachic decisions already given (see Biur Hetev, Yoreh De'ah 242:14).
On a metaphysical level, the Daas Zekenim, a commentary on the Torah written by the school of the Tosafists in the 12th and 13th century, points out the historical connection between wine and tragedy. They opine that Adam came to sin on account of intoxication from the wine served in celebration of his marriage to Eve. A millennium later the ten lost tribes were exiled because of excessive drinking. Even the Children of Israel standing at Mt. Sinai became inebriated and consequently built for themselves a golden calf. Furthermore, they lament, we see with our own eyes that when people are drunk they allow for themselves prohibited relations and slanderous remarks. Finally, the Daas Zekenim concludes, the Aramaic word for wine is "chamar" which in gematria (numeric value) equals 248, equivalent to the traditional number of limbs in one's body and alluding to the total dominance of alcohol over the individual. This passage provides an important reminder of the care one must exercise in the consumption of alcohol.
Avi Wagner, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at Yeshiva Bais Yisrael in Jerusalem.
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