Shemini: Got Happiness?


rabbi-nosson-greenbergBy Rabbi Nosson Greenberg

In this week’s parsha, after the tragic death of Nadav and Avihu, Hashem informs Aharon HaKohen of the prohibition of entering the Mishkan under the influence of wine and other spirits. One must wonder, why is this so abhorrent in the eyes of Hashem? After all, the violation kicks in after drinking only a revi’is (4-5 fl. oz), hardly enough wine to impair one’s judgement and to chas ve’sholom cause embarrassment to the holy site!

Says the Ben Ish Chai, the purpose of drinking wine is to make a person feel good. As the possuk says, “Ve’yayin yesamach levav enosh” – “Wine gladdens the heart” (Tehillim 104,15). Entering the Mishkan and reveling in the Shechinah’s presence also makes a person feel good. But there’s one gaping difference. With alcohol the effects wear off after a short while. [I am reminded of the famous quote of Winston Churchill: when once confronted by Lady Astor for being drunk, he responded, ” I am, Madam. But you are ugly, but by tomorrow morning I shall be indisputably sober.”] The joyous experience of entering the Mishkan, however, is complete and eternal. It just never wears off. Therefore entering the Mishkan after drinking alcohol suggests that the person entering is under-appreciating and perhaps even under-mining the joyous experience of having set foot in the Mishkan.

Several current orthodox commentators have recently suggested that one of the main problems facing many Jewish youth today is that they find little joy in practicing Yiddishkeit. I concur. But not because the joy doesn’t exist anymore. Every Jewish home has the potential to be a mikdash me’at. And just like unparalleled joy was found when entering the Mishkan, our homes too could be enfused with that same simcha. Some of the vital ingredients are; physical enthusiasm, dedication, and a keen understanding of mitzvos. But most importantly one needs to add a generous dose of davening to Hashem for assistance. Even the Mishkan, after the eight days of dedication, with all the korbonos brought and with all the enthusiasm of all the participants, still did not merit the Shechina’s presence until Moshe and Aharon davened one more time for its arrival. (See Rashi, Vayikra 9:23)

And just as with the Mishkan it was counter-productive to look for the artificial short-lived joy of alcohol, so too care must be taken in keeping all types of ersatz simcha out of the spotlight in our homes, relegating them to the back-burners of our lives.

L’chaim Yidden!

Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.

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