Kenneth Cohen

The Danger of Wine

The tragedy of the death of the two sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, has left the commentators perplexed. They give a variety of reasons as to why they were deserving of such a severe punishment. The prevalent opinion is that they entered the Temple intoxicated. The reason why this answer makes the most sense, is that Aharon is given a command that it is forbidden for a Kohein to perform Temple service, after drinking wine. This command came right after the loss of his two sons.

There is an opinion that Kohanim should never be under the influence of alcohol. The Temple could come down from the sky and be built in a moment. Sober Kohanim will be needed to begin Temple service.

Wine is a very strange beverage. On the one hand, it is used for many Jewish rituals. We use it for Kiddush, the four cups on Pesach, and is used at a Brit or Pidyon Haben. On the other hand, an abuse of its consumption, can lead to grievous sins, such as adultery. Therefore, great care must be taken when it comes to drinking wine.

Nadav and Avihu were also accused of sinning by not getting married. Some say that they neglected to wash their hands and feet before entering. Others say they brought a “strange fire” to the Temple. While others say that they disrespected Moshe and Aharon, by asking, “When will these old guys die, so that we can take over!”

It is clear that this tragedy remains a mystery. But it is also clear that the consumption of wine should be taken seriously at all times.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at