The Talmud compares the prohibition for a Kohein to
perform the Priestly service after having imbibed wine to the prohibition
for a judge or scholar to drink wine before rendering a legal decision.
What is the reason for the prohibition? If we are concerned that the judge
might be inebriated, which could affect his decision, there would be no need
to state that he should not drink prior to ruling, for it is obvious that a
person should not render legal decisions while drunk. Furthermore, the
prohibition placed upon the Kohein invalidates the service irrespective of
whether or not it was performed correctly. How does the law restricting
the judge parallel the prohibition placed upon the Kohein if our concern for
the judge is that his judgment will be impaired?
There are opinions that the prohibition applies only to drinking wine. If
the concern is a lack of sobriety, why should there be a distinction between
wine and any other alcoholic beverage?
The service of the Kohein requires an awareness that he is standing before
the King. The concern is not that he will be inebriated, rather that, due to
wine consumption, he will lose some of the awareness which is required of
him when serving his King. Therefore, even if the Kohein successfully
performs the service it is disqualified due to his faulty mindset while
performing it. Wine is the beverage of royalty and one who consumes it loses
the ability to behave in a completely subservient manner. Therefore,
particularly wine impedes a person's ability to perform the Priestly service.
The Talmud teaches that when rendering a legal decision the Beis Din is
visited by the Divine Presence. The judge is not the creator or source of
the law, only its dispenser. He is the conduit for the Divine will. The
Talmud is teaching us that when a judge renders a decision, he is also
performing a Divine service. Much like the Kohein, he must be keenly aware
that he stands before the King. It is therefore prohibited for him to
consume wine; although it might not impair his judgment, it will impede upon
his awareness of performing a Divine service.
The Talmud teaches that when a portion of the Torah is
introduced with the term "vayihi" - "and it was", it is a precursor to
tragic events. Parshas Shemini describes the events that unfolded on Rosh
Chodesh Nissan, the eighth day of the inauguration service. The portion is
introduced with "vayihi", denoting that it was a tragic day. The completion
of the Mishkan brought Hashem the same joy as the creation of the world.
This day was also a great day for celebration for Bnei Yisroel for it
represented the restoration of the relationship between themselves and
Hashem, which had been damaged by the sin of the Golden Calf. Hashem's
resting His presence within the midst of Bnei Yisroel was received with
jubilance and rejoicing. Therefore, asks the Talmud, how could we define
this day as tragic? The Talmud answers that it was tragic because of the
deaths of the two sons of Aharon which occurred on this day.
If a person suffers the loss of a parent on his wedding day, the day is not
entirely a tragedy. The loss does not preclude the wedding from being a
joyous occasion. The Halacha requires a person who receives a great
inheritance on the day that he suffers a loss to recite a blessing for his
loss and a blessing for his windfall. It is possible for a person to
departmentalize his emotions. Why does the Torah begin the inauguration day
with the expression "Vayihi bayom hashmini" - "And it was on the eighth
day", thereby defining the entire day as a tragedy? Since part of the day
was a source of celebration why should the entire day be viewed as tragic?
In Parshas Mishpotim Rashi notes that the elders of Bnei Yisroel, including
Nadav and Avihu, sinned grievously by indulging in food and drink while
gazing at the vision that was present at the Sinaitic revelation. Not
wanting to mar the joyous atmosphere of Bnei Yisroel's receiving the Torah,
Hashem deferred the punishment of Nadav and Avihu to a later date. Since
Nadav and Avihu's punishment was meted out at the inauguration of the
Tabernacle, it can be ascertained that their actions on this occasion were a
culmination of their actions at Sinai. What is the connection between the
transgression which occurred at the inauguration of the Tabernacle and the
transgression which occurred at the Sinaitic revelation?
`The reason for celebration was itself the source of the tragedy. If Nadav
and Avihu had died in an unrelated incident, then the celebration and the
tragedy could be separated. Nadav and Avihu's deaths must have been an
outgrowth of the day's celebration, thereby defining the entire day as tragic.
The familiarity and closeness that is created between two parties in a
relationship is fraught with great danger. Intimacy often results in the
loss of respect for one another. The distance that exists at the inception
of a relationship creates a certain level of respect. As that distance is
removed and the parties become comfortable with one another, the respect
diminishes. The level of respect shown during courtship is usually much
greater than that during marriage. The intimacy of the relationship
sometimes sows the seeds for disrespect.
Hashem's descending upon Bnei Yisroel created an unparalleled level of
intimacy between the two parties. While Hashem's presence was at a distance
there existed awe and respect for Him. Once He descended, this intimacy
created the possibility for the boundaries of respect to be breached. The
deaths of Nadav and Avihu were a result of the very intimacy that was being
celebrated. The closeness that they felt to Hashem allowed them to act
inappropriately and their deaths served as a warning to Bnei Yisroel not to
make the same mistake. Respect must remain to maintain the integrity of the
relationship. This was not the first time Bnei Yisroel fell prey to this
mistake. At the Sinaitic revelation the same scenario occurred. The Elders
indulged in food and drink while gazing at the Divine Vision that was
present. Hashem waited until the inauguration of the Mishkan, where this
indiscretion was repeated, before meting out the appropriate punishment.