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06.04.2020 17:01    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah shabbat  parashah shemini  vayikra  bar ilan u  

Priests serving in the Temple and instructors of Halakhah

Priests are forbidden to drink wine or intoxicants when officiating in the Sanctuary:

Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die.

This is a law for all time throughout the ages, for you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses (Lev. 10:9-11).

Excessive drinking, resulting in inebriation, impairs one’s judgment and conduct, and diminishes the ability to distinguish between sacred and profane, between unclean and clean. The priests are charged with instructing the Israelites in the laws of the Torah, and someone whose intellectual faculties are impaired is not capable of instructing properly, as required.

This command appears in the context of the sin committed by Nadab and Abihu, and is intended also to rule out the possibility of officiating in the Sanctuary in a burst of passion and derangement of one’s senses. Worship of the Lord, especially in the Sanctuary, must be done with great zest, but without being cut off from one’s wits, from the ability to discern and to instruct. This is how Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch put it:

After drinking even such a small quantity no avodah (officiating) in the mikdash (Sanctuary) may be undertaken (v. 9), no decision made with reference to the mikdash (v. 10), nor any practical application of the laws of the Torah taught (v. 11). Not the unclear realm of excited feelings and phantasy, but the tranquil clarity and sharpness of sober intelligence is what the Word of G‑d demands for all its fulfillment. Not to phantasy, [but] to the clear and understanding mind does the symbolism of the Sanctuary speak.

Only the clear and comprehending mind, keeping everything in its right proportion and its right place, is able to guide our steps and decide for us what is the right way to carry out the dictates of G‑d’s Torah. The corpses of the first youthful priests, fallen through the lofty inspirations of their stirred feelings, preach the solemn warning to all future priests and leaders of the Jewish Teaching… (R. S. R. Hirsch, trans. Dr. Isaac Levy, p. 259).

Hence a priest who has drunk wine to the point of inebriation and then officiated in the Sanctuary is liable for death at the hand of G‑d, and his service is not acceptable. If he became inebriated from some other drink, he is liable for flogging but his service is valid (see Maimonides, Hilkhot Bi’at ha-Mikdash, 1.1-2).

The prohibition against drinking wine is directed at the priests officiating in the Sanctuary, but the explanations of the underlying reason for this prohibition are true and good for any person who is required to discern and distinguish between things, and are surely applicable when a person is called upon to teach and lead. Maimonides ruled (loc. cit., 3):

Just as a priest is forbidden to enter the Temple while intoxicated, so too, it is forbidden for any person, whether priest or Israelite, to render a halachic ruling when he is intoxicated. Even if he ate dates or drank milk and his mind became somewhat confused, he should not issue a ruling, as [the above passage (Lev. 10:11)] continues: “And to give instruction to the children of Israel.”

This ruling was given with respect to rabbis and those who rule on halakhah, but the principle can be expanded to cover any person who must be discerning, anyone who must have good control of his mind and behavior.

A person is considered liable at all times—whether acting intentionally or unintentionally, whether asleep or awake or intoxicated

One of the negative examples common these days is that of driving “under the influence,” after having had too much alcohol or having taken drugs. In such a situation a person’s senses become fogged, the person is not aware of what is happening around him and is not capable of controlling his actions, certainly not with the necessary alertness. In such an instance, the same principle should be applied to him: a person who drives under the influence has transgressed the law, even if he has not caused any injury to another party.

Rabbinic authorities have asked what law applies to a person who has caused another’s death while drunk or under the influence of drugs. In the gemara (Eruvin 65a) it says:

The sale or purchase of an intoxicated person is valid. If he committed a transgression involving the penalty of death he is to be executed, and if he committed one involving flogging he is to be flogged; the general rule being that he is regarded as a sober man in all respects except that he is exempt from prayer.

Rabbi Hanina said: This applies only to one who did not reach the stage of Lot’s drunkenness, but one who did reach such a stage is exempt from all responsibilities.

It might seem from this baraitha that when the level of intoxication is high, a person is exempt from punishment. But Rabbi Yoel Sirkis (Resp. Bayit Hadash, [old edition] par. 62) is not of this opinion. He deliberated the case of a drunken person at a wedding who threw a piece of glass at the wall, and a splinter hit his friend in the eye and blinded him. According to Rabbi Sirkis, someone as drunk as Lot is exempt in those matters mentioned in the baraitha, such as responsibility for what he does in commercial transactions, but regarding other matters he writes:

When it comes to damages, there is no doubt that he is liable, for he ought to have taken care from the outset not to get as drunken as Lot and cause harm to others. For who forced him to get so intoxicated that he did not know what he was doing? Since he was not coerced by anyone but himself, he caused this himself, and so he is liable for damages. Even if he slept—for one cannot manage without sleep—even then he is liable for damages. All the more so someone who is intoxicated is considered an utter criminal.

Even Maimonides ruled that an intoxicated person is always liable (Hilkhot Hovel u-Mazik 1.11):

A person is considered liable at all times—whether acting intentionally or unintentionally, whether asleep or awake or intoxicated.[1] If he injures a colleague or damages a colleague’s property, he must always reimburse him from his choicest property.

The basic argument of Rabbi Yoel Sirkis is that a drunken person bears criminal responsibility because he himself is the one who got him into such a state. The drunken person chose to get drunk and therefore must bear the results.

It appears that today there is an even stronger argument than that of Bayit Hadash for making drunken drivers bear full responsibility. Drivers are cautioned time and again not to drink to the point of intoxication if they must drive afterwards. They are asked to see to it beforehand that one member of their group be designated not to drink so that he or she will be able to drive their friends’ home. Drinking to the point of intoxication is a person’s conscious choice, and if the person does so, notwithstanding the numerous warnings not to drive in such a state, and then causes someone’s death, that person should be viewed as a murderer.

Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Yam shel ShlomoBava Kama 3.3) is also of the opinion that a drunken person is liable for damages, but he explains the gemara from Tractate Eruvin in a different way:

A drunken person, even if more drunk than Lot, in any event is liable to pay for any damages. What is concluded in Perek Hadar (Eruvin 65a)—that a person as drunken as Lot is exempt from the death penalty issued by a court and is not subject to flogging—means he is exempt in the heavenly court regarding that sin. But in any event, he is judged for not controlling himself and for drinking to the point of loosing his senses.

As for exempting him from the laws about causing harm to others—he is simply liable. For a human being is always considered liable, whether intentionally or unintentionally, whether awake or asleep, whether coerced or of his own free will. For were it otherwise, it would be impossible to live, since anyone who hated another would get drunk and do harm to the other yet be exempt. Even on Purim, when it is obligatory to get drunk, the Rabbis did not mean to the point of loosing one’s senses. Only as Maimonides wrote (Hilkhot Megillah 2.15), one should drink to the point of falling asleep.[2]

According to Rabbi Shlomo Luria, the exemption is from divine justice, but in human courts, the person is liable. The drunken person is held responsible “for not controlling himself and for drinking to the point of losing his senses.”[3]

The Sages, moralists and philosophers have cautioned us in an effort reduce drunkenness and drug abuse, as well. An example of this, one of many sources that could be cited, is found in Numbers Rabbah (Vilna ed.), 10.2:

Do not ogle that wine, for it is red [yit’adam], as he sets his eye on the cup [ba-kos], as it flows on smoothly (Prov. 23:31). The Holy Spirit issues a warning against wine, that one should not become inebriated. Why? For it is red [yit’adam]; that is, it ends in bloodshed; since he commits a transgression for which he incurs the death penalty. Another interpretation: For it is red: that is, he will lust after the blood [dam] of the menstruant and the blood of the woman afflicted with gonorrhea. As he sets his eye on the cup: the written form is ba-kis, on the “pocket.” Through the cup, he will come to set his eye on the pocket, a euphemism for cohabiting with a forbidden relative...Another interpretation: As it flows on smoothly: He will end by declaring transgressions permissible and making them freely accessible to all.

Life is for instilling with content and positive action, not for fleeing from by dulling one’s senses, dragging the drunk or the drug addict down and leading to the most undesirable behavior. “Drunkenness depends of the free will of an evil man” (Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed 3.8).

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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