G-d told Aharon, "Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your
sons with you, whenever you go into the Appointed Tent. Otherwise you will
die. This is a law forever for all generations..." (Vayikra 10:9-10)
If you look on the side of a wine bottle today, you may find the
following: WARNING: This product contains sulfates and may be dangerous
for pregnant and nursing women. Too bad it did not say back in the days of
the Mishkan: Contents should not be consumed by priests while serving in
the Mishkan. Had such a warning been posted, then Nadav and Avihu would
have avoided death, and the pure and sublime joy the Jewish people enjoyed
that awesome day of inauguration would have ended on a high note, and not
on the disastrous one it did.
Indeed, ALL of Jewish history would have been different, because we
probably would have gone from "strength to strength" and ushered in the
Days of Moshiach. But alas, again, it was not meant to be, and instead we
struggle and stumble from the effects of wine to this very day.
In fact, even from the Talmud it is not 100 percent clear if wine is a
good drink or a bad one:
Rav Chanan said: Wine was only created to comfort the mourners and to give
evil people reward, as it says, "Give strong drink to the lost and wine to
those of embittered soul" (Mishlei 31:6). Rebi Yitzchak said: Why is it
written, "Do not look at wine becoming red . . ." (Ibid. 23:31)? It makes
the faces of the evil red in this world and white in the World-to-Come!
And, lest you forget with this is found in the Talmud, it is on the 70th
page, the gematria of wine itself. And, furthermore, lest you under-
appreciate the potency of wine, the Talmud concludes by saying:
Rav Chisda said in the name of Rav Ukva, and some say in the name of Mar
Ukva, who said it in the name of Rav Zakkai: The Holy One, Blessed is He,
said to Noach, "Noach, should you not have learned from Adam HaRishon? It
was wine that caused him [to sin]!" (Sanhedrin 70a)
At least according to the one who held that the tree that Adam ate from
was actually a vine. Indeed, according to the Shlah HaKodesh, that had
been Noach's intention in planting a vine the moment he had descended from
the Ark, and why he had been unclothed at the time he became drunk: he was
trying rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon and, in fact, and not even drunk
enough wine to become drunk in the first place.
The Leshem concurs:
Noach also stumbled in this manner, putting himself into a test without [G-
d's] permission. His intentions had been purely for the sake of Heaven,
wanting to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. But he stumbled and this is
what it says, "He drank wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in the
tent" (Bereishis 9:20). (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 343)
In fact, the Leshem says that even Nadav and Avihu were trying to rectify
the sin of Adam HaRishon, and perhaps that is why wine was also involved,
and perhaps, why disaster ensued. So far, it doesn't sound too positive
for wine, but as the prosecution sits down, it is time for the defense to
present its case.
For your love is better than wine. (Shir HaShirim 1:2)
The love you manifested to Israel when You redeemed them from Egypt and
when they stood before You at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah was greater
than all earthly pleasures, and we desire it again. (Metzudas David)
Even better than wine, the posuk says, which speaks quite highly about
wine, at least as far as earthly pleasures goes. But that doesn't make
wine good necessarily, just pleasurable. However, we do drink four cups of
wine at the Seder, and we use wine each week for Kiddush. And, we are told
A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he doesn't know the
difference between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai. (Megillah 7b;
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2)
-- which takes a lot of wine. Furthermore, the Talmud states:
Anyone who becomes settled through wine has the knowledge (da'as) of his
Creator . . . has the knowledge (da'as) of the Seventy Elders; wine was
given with seventy letters (Rashi: the gematria of yai'in -- wine -- is
70), and the mystery (of Torah) was given with seventy letters (sod --
mystery -- also equals 70) -- when wine goes in, secrets go out. (Eiruvin
In the above quote, the Talmud is using gematria to make a conceptual link
between Da'as and wine. The gematria of the Hebrew word for wine --
yai'in -- is seventy (Yud, Yud, Nun), and Da'as, it seems, is often
associated with the number seventy. Even the word "Sod," the last letter
in the word "Pardes," which refers to the Kabbalistic level of Torah-
learning, has the numerical value of seventy (Samech, Vav, Dalet).
Elsewhere, the Talmud finds another reason to compare Da'as to wine:
Why are the words of Torah compared to three liquids: water, wine and
milk? . . . This is to teach you that, just as these three liquids are
best be kept in ordinary utensils, such as wood or earthenware, so too is
the Torah best contained by those who possess a humble spirit. The
daughter of Caesar once said to Rebi Yehoshua ben Chananyah,
"Such an ugly vessel and such glorious wisdom!"
He told her, "My daughter, in what does the king, your father keep his
"In earthenware containers," she answered him.
"The commoners keep their wine in earthenware containers," He told her,
"Shall your father do so also?"
"In what should they be kept?" she asked him innocently.
"You who are wealthy," Rebi Yehoshua remarked, "should keep it in silver
or gold containers!"
She told her father, who then commanded that all his wine be kept in
containers of silver and gold. Consequently it became sour, and when the
Caesar was informed of this, he asked his daughter,
"Who told you to do this?"
"Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananyah," she told him.
The king sent for Rebi Yehoshua ben Chananyah, and asked him,
"Why did you give her such advice?"
"This was the answer to her question." (Ta'anis 7a)
In fact, one who possesses all of Torah is referred to as an eshkolos -- a
grape cluster, the source of wine -- a play on the word which can be
understood as ish kol bo-one within whom is everything, that is, all of
Torah (Sotah 47b). Or better yet, Da'as itself, for:
There is no Da'as other than Torah. (Sotah 49a)
This is why wine is used as a parable for Gan Aiden, the glorious Future
World reserved for the completely righteous, which is called the "wine
guarded in the grapes since the six days of creation" (Brochos 34b). Even
the shirah, the holy song of the soul recited by the Levi'im in the Temple
was sung over Wine-Offering.
The GR"A (Vilna Gaon) states outright that Da'as is called wine (Safra
D'Tzniusa, Chapter 2). He also points out the inherent connection between
Da'as and Ya'akov Avinu, the father of the "seventy souls" that came down
to Egypt (Bereishis 46:27), which, perhaps, is why Yosef, when setting
the stage for his reunification with his father after twenty-two years of
living apart from him, sent his father yai'in sh'da'as zekeinim nocheh
himeinu -- wine that is pleasing to the elders (i.e., the Seventy Elders).
Furthermore, wine played a direct role in the miracle of Purim as well. It
was a drunken Achashveros who demanded that his wife, Queen Vashti (who
name means, "and drink") appear before him. He wanted to show off her
beauty to his visiting guests, but she declined. This so angered
Achashveros that he had Vashti executed, which, of course, opened the door
for Esther to become the new queen of Persia -- setting the stage for the
eventual redemption from Haman's tyranny.
So, it seems as if wine is not so bad after all. In fact, it seems as wine
has heroic qualities, and the question is, do we stop wining, or keep it
The answer to the question lies in an obvious place, but is not an obvious
answer. As the Talmud has stated, "When wine goes in, Sod -- Secrets --
come out" (Eiruvin 65a). Secrets, as in the Kabbalistic type, as in Da'as
Elokim -- G-dly knowledge -- as in the type of ideas that provide piercing
and sublime insight into this world and life within it.
In other words, wine is a key. But like any key, wine does not determine
what lies on the other side of the door that it unlocks. Wine can bring
one to wanton merriment, to what the Torah refers to a "parua" behavior,
licentious conduct, the like of which was witnessed at the time of the
golden calf. In this case, wine is used as key to lock out Da'as Elokim in
order to allow one to enter the artificial world of selfish abandon.
Or, wine can be used as a device to neutralize the body in order to allow
the soul to roam freely, to take the lead, albeit temporarily, in a world
that caters to the body. This, of course, is the drinking meant for Purim,
where the wine is used to remove the body from its everyday mundane and
temporal concerns so that the soul can emerge and relate. Here, wine is
used as a vehicle to get in touch with the knowledge of the soul, to see
the world from G-d's perspective, which allows one to come to the
intellectual realization and emotional appreciation that there really is
no difference between blessed Mordechai and cursed Haman when one lives in
the realm of Sod.
As Mordechai did. That is why, try as Haman did to eradicate Mordechai and
annihilate his people, in 70 days -- the gematria of wine and Sod -- Haman
rose and fell. And the harder he tried to carry out his Amalekian plan,
the worst matters became for him, to the point that he became a servant to
Mordechai even while he was second-in-command over Persia!
That is why the Talmud also states:
Through three things a person is known: koso (his cup, i.e., drink), kisso
(his wallet), ka'aso (his anger). (Eiruvin 65b)
Each of these three things are keys of sort. Situations that can lead one
to anger, how one deals in business, and whether or not one is settled
through wine, reveal what lies behind the often-locked door of one's
personality. They can act as window openers to the core of a person, and
ultimately reveal the depth to which one believes G-d plays a role in his
or her life. That is why the letters that the three Hebrew words don't
have in common -- Vav, Yud, Ayin -- total the same gematria as Elokim, the
Name of G-d who works in a hidden way.
Therefore, if wine merely intoxicates a person, allowing him to blank out
reality and live as if he has no concerns or responsibilities, then it is
a reward for the evil in this world or comfort for the mourner who has
permission to step outside of everyday life for seven days. However, if
the wine serves to unlock the soul of a person to allow it to show the
mind far higher and more sublime visions of everyday life, then it is the
wine of Da'as Elokim. If wine goes in and Sod comes out, then it is a
taste of the wine reserved for the World-to-Come.
We can assume that Nadav and Avihu were great people. And not just great
people, but talmidei chachamim -- Torah scholars -- par excellence. As
Rashi points out, this was part of Moshe's consolation to their father,
Aharon HaKohen, who on the most joyous day of his life had to witness the
ultimate person tragedy. He even said that Nadav and Avihu were greater
Thus, we can also assume that when the wine of Nadav and Avihu went in,
Sod came out, and that is what they were doing. In fact, that is, perhaps,
why the fire that came out of the Kodesh Kodashim to punish them only
burned out their souls and left their bodies perfectly intact, an unusual
form of Divine punishment.
If so, then the question becomes, what went wrong?
The Maharal explains this. He says that what Nadav and Avihu did that
fateful day was something that would have been praiseworthy -- had been
before the Torah was given. However, once the Torah was given, service of
G-d was channeled between the guidelines of Torah law, based upon Sod that
is much higher than anything man can comprehend while in this world.
It is something we take for granted. We have all these laws and details to
fulfill, as commanded in the Written Law and explained in the Oral Law.
But each mitzvah and every single details represents a concept from the
overall larger picture that we called Avodas Hashem -- Service of G-d.
But how do you know that what you are doing is right? I mean, EXACTLY
right? Yes, man is not perfect and G-d is full of mercy. But, there is a
concept of judgment, and there is a concept of punishment, and sometimes G-
d even judges to a hairsbreadth. In other words, the service of G-d is an
exact science, something that only G-d could work out, not man. We can
barely balance our budgets; how can we figure out the exact right way to
serve the Master of the Universe without His guidance?
We can't. That is why our Sod must always work WITHIN the framework of
halachah as received by Moshe Rabbeinu directly from G-d Himself; it is
heresy to try and change a single detail unless sanctioned by G-d Himself,
as in the case of Eliyahu the prophet at Mt. Carmel.
This was, in effect, the Evil Son was trying to do at the Seder. Make no
mistake about it, he is a chacham too; one has to be to become an
epikores -- a heretic. But in his question lies his fundamental modus
operandi: Service of G-d is what makes sense to MY mind, regardless of
tradition, regardless of rabbinical opinion as explained from generation
Not all heresy is malicious, and not all heretics have an axe to grind.
But heresy is, nonetheless, heresy, inasmuch as it goes beyond the
boundaries that G-d Himself has determined to constitute true and eternal
Service of G-d. Thus, when wine goes in and Sod comes out, it must be Sod
that can flow through the channels established by G-d at Mt. Sinai,
transmitted to us by Moshe Rabbeinu, and upheld by the generations of
Torah-observant Jews since then.