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G-d spoke to Aaron… You and your sons must not drink wine when you go into to the Tent of Meeting… it is an eternal decree for your generations, so that you may distinguish between the sacred and the profane… and to teach the Children of Israel all the decrees that G-d spoke to them through Moses (10:8-10).
The Torah records this commandment being given to Aaron right after his two oldest sons died in the newly erected Tabernacle following their non-authorized presence there. Indeed the opinion of R. Ishmael in the Talmud (Keritot 13b) suggests that they were consumed with 'fire from G-d' because they entered the sanctuary after having consumed wine. He supports that tradition by the accounts of their deaths and the prohibition of entering the Sanctuary being placed one after the other in the text.
It seems possible to take this point further - Nadav and Avihu entered the Sanctuary just for that reason. Their happiness in 'seeing the fire coming from G-d' (9:24) in consuming the inaugural offerings meant that the Almighty had indeed accepted all the efforts put into building the Tabernacle, and His Presence was restored to the people. Their drinking wine was in celebration of the performance and acceptance of a true Mitzva. It is well known that alcohol reveals the real essence of a person - a person loses all his brakes and inhibitions, and his actions reflect the true nature of his soul. Unlike the music of the harp, which enabled Saul to raise himself from his depression (Sam. I 16:14-23), alcohol does not necessarily raise the spiritual level of the soul, not does it necessarily depress the nature of the soul, but it frees the soul to act as it is. If happy, it will induce happiness. If miserable, it will intensify the depression. In the case of Nadav and Avihu, their happiness led them to drink wine, and their drinking wine brought out the true essence of their nature - 'G-d intoxication' and the desire to come closer to Him. The emotions were in place, but their actions in entering the Sanctuary were not. In other words, drink enabled their zeal to take the Law into their own hands and go one step too far forward.
These are Torah standards - on one hand one should wish to serve G-d, but not put oneself in a position where one loses the self discipline to do so in the way that He, the Creator of the World, deems to be correct. Carrying out Mitzvot without one's heart in it - in other words just going through the motions - misses the Torah experience: as Isaiah puts it 'these people honor Me with their mouth and their lips, but their heart is far from Me' (Isaiah 29:13). But intense enthusiasm - however genuine - also needs to be directed into the right channels. And that was a wider message of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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