THE KOHAIN AND THE RAV
Vayikra 10:9 presents the prohibition
on a kohain of performing the Temple
service intoxicated.1 T.B.
Kritot 13b, through its analysis of Vayikra
10:11, extends this prohibition to also apply to
the process of psak, forbidding
someone intoxicated from rendering halachic
decisions. This extension of the law to the realm of psak would not seem to just be an addendum, an outgrowth from a
primary law forbidding intoxication in the
discussion in the chumash
text clearly would seem to emerge from a focus on the avoda, the service in the
Chinuch, itself, presents one possibility. He contends that the essential
purpose of this mitzvah is to direct
us that the performance of Torah matters of import and honour must be
undertaken solely when a person is balanced, contemplative and able to focus.
Intoxication simply is not an honourable state. Significant Torah duties such
Ntziv, Vayikra 10:9-11 presents a most
novel understanding. To him the issue is simcha,
joy, and achieving this state, in these cases, through the activity itself and
not artificially through alcohol. There is a simcha shel mitzvah, a joy that emerges from the performance of a mitzvah, which can surface from
Of interest to me, though, is still the inherent difference between avoda and hora’ah, the rendering of halachic decisions. It would seem obvious that there would be a prohibition to drink before rendering a decision for alcohol affects the cognitive function. The general view of spirituality is the opposite, though. To many, the whole function of a spiritual act is to lose oneself, to negate reason and self, in the attempt to relate to the Divine. It is for this reason that many religious groupings in the world even promote the use of drugs and alcohol. So, it would seem, within this command we actually find two distinct directives, one of which is in line with what we would otherwise think and one that is not. The simplest understanding of this correlation would be that the Torah is informing us that the world view of spirituality is not the Torah view and, indeed, reason must be an inherent part of our avoda. The correlation may, though, also work the other way, stating that our world of reason and hora’ah must not adopt an “academic” model but must also reflect the soul of an avoda. Indeed the rav and the kohain must merge.
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 While there is some disagreement, both in the gemara and in the rishonim, as to whether this prohibition applies solely to wine or to all alcohol, (see, for example, Ramban, Vayikra 10:9), the practical reference is generally to intoxication. See, for example. Rema, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 242:13.
question often emerges in the study of Halacha
whether the details of a certain law represent the essential, concrete requirement
or whether they are a symbolic manifestation of the essential requirement. For
example, the last mitzvah in the
Torah is the commandment to write a Sefer
Torah (Chinuch, Mitzvah 613). Is
this transcribing, though, the concrete, essential requirement of this mitzvah or is this writing but a
symbolic manifestation of what is really the essential requirement which is to
acquire works from which to study Torah? It would seem that both not entering
3 This type of question could actually be asked in regard to most, if not all, of the presented theories. An answer to this question, as such, would have to be developed in each instance. It should be noted, though, that explanations of a Torah category often encounter specific details that do not fit. The lesson of the general principle is not deemed to be lost because there may be exceptions.
4 The Ntziv also discusses another situation whereby alcohol may be forbidden because it will produce a state that is not in line with the real events that are happening. An onein, someone, before the burial, who has just lost a loved one, is not allowed to drink wine. It is a time when an individual is to feel the sorrow of the moment and is not to attempt to avoid this feeling via the induced joyful state that may be created through alcohol.
© Nishma 2011
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