As Bnei Yisrael rejoiced with the erection of the Mishkan and the inauguration of Aharon and his sons into the kehunah, a devastating tragedy occurred: Two of the four sons of Aharon Hakohen, Nadav and Avihu, were niftar as “a fire went forth from before Hashem and consumed them.” (Chazal give varying reasons for the cause of this tragedy.)
Vayidom Aharon. “And Aharon was silent.” Aharon Hakohen’s level of emunah was so great that not only didn’t he lose his composure even slightly, but he actually continued his avodah, precisely as before, unaffected by the turn of events.
There are four levels in Creation. The domeim is an object, like a stone. The tzomeiach is a member of the vegetative family, such as a blade of grass. The chai is a living creature like an animal or a fish, while a human being is called a medaber.
The Ostrovtzer Rebbe zy”a says: When one physically (or verbally) assaults a human being, the victim generally responds in kind. The same usually applies to an animal. When one plucks a blade of grass from its place, it is severed from its source of sustenance and dies. A rock, however, can be struck, split, hurled from place to place — yet it is oblivious, unaffected in any way, unresponding. Aharon Hakohen reacted to his tragic loss as if he were a domeim — he didn’t react at all.
For this he earned a unique reward: the Ribbono shel Olam spoke to him directly.
“Do not drink intoxicating wine, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Ohel Moed…” is what Aharon Hakohen heard.
The Ben Ish Chai gives an illuminating explanation of this mitzvah.
One might imagine that the reason for this prohibition is to ensure that Aharon would not err while performing the avodah. Were this the case, however, then the fact that Aharon Hakohen’s sons were at his side would have sufficed. They certainly would have been able to make certain that no mistakes would occur. Yet the prohibition applies even when “your sons [are] with you,” which suggests that there are other reasons for this mitzvah.
The sefer Ohel Yaakov explains as follows.
The Beis Hamikdash had the power to fill with joy the heart of each Jew who entered it.
Dovid Hamelech states in Tehillim (122:1) “I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of Hashem.” Just speaking about ascending to the Beis Hamikdash was a reason to rejoice; how much greater the joy when one actually entered the Beis Hamikdash.
One of the purposes that wine was created for was to raise the spirits of the downcast and strengthen the brokenhearted. “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing and wine to those of bitter soul,” Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (31:6). (This clearly refers to drinking in moderation, as becoming intoxicated cannot possibly gladden anyone’s heart.)
But a Kohen serving in the Beis Hamikdash (or the Mishkan) had no need for alcoholic beverages to raise his spirits and lift his mood. Just being in that sacred place filled him with joy. In the Beis Hamikdash it was impossible to feel worry or sadness, and therefore there was no need for antidotes.
The Ben Ish Chai adds another, related reason for the prohibition heard by Aharon Hakohen.
The joy brought on by drinking wine is a physical one and therefore by definition a temporary one. As soon as the effects of the wine wear off, the person is right back to his previous, pre-drinking mood.
In contrast, the joy that a person experienced when entering the Beis Hamikdash was purely spiritual, so its influence stayed with him long after he left. For being present in the Beis Hamikdash filled a person with a ruach of purity and holiness, and where there is holiness there is joy.
It would be wrong to mix these two very different types of joy. A transient, temporal joy cannot go hand in hand with an eternal, heavenly one. As the very next passuk states: “To distinguish between holy and profane and between the contaminated and the pure…”
As man navigates his way through the complex and challenging waterways of life, it is vital that he learn to differentiate between the trivial and the essential, between the temporal and the eternal. Knowing that the only things that last in life — and hence truly count — are our spiritual accomplishments is a source of comfort and inspiration.