Nadav and Avihu, the two older sons of Aaron, tragically lose their lives in this week’s parasha. Why? They are accused of bringing Esh Zara or “strange fire” into the dedication service of the Tabernacle. What is this “strange fire?” One explanation is that it refers to the fire that was burning within them as a result of their drinking wine first. They entered the Sanctuary not completely sober. The succeeding verses make this absolutely clear:

And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Tent of Meeting, so that you shall not die. [This is] an eternal statute for your generations.’” (Vayikra 10:8-9)

Unlike, other religions (the Christian communion, for example) wine has no fundamental part to play in synagogue worship, not even grape juice. Our practice of making Kiddush in shul on Friday night in the Diaspora arose only because visitors were going to be eating their meal at the synagogue. Now, rather than abolish the practice, we give the wine to a child. Synagogues in Israel do not have the custom of Kiddush in shul on Friday nights. And a temporary service, like those being held in people’s gardens during lockdown, also wouldn’t have Kiddush. Like the Tabernacle and Temple, our devotion to G-d in shul must not be boosted by liquor. Our enthusiasm for prayer needs to be as a result of our own resources, not artificially enhanced through drink. Indeed on Simchat Torah, Kohanim do not duchen (give the Priestly Blessing to the community) at Musaf, as there is a concern that by that stage of the service they may already have drunk wine.

In complete contrast to this is the way we celebrate outside of a shul context. When the shul service is over on Shabbat morning, we make Kiddush, literally sanctifying the Shabbat over a cup of wine. Our Friday night Kiddush before the meal to welcome Shabbat and our Havdalah to escort the departure of Shabbat start with a blessing over a cup of wine. A wedding and a circumcision both require a cup of wine and our Seders last week needed four cups. We recognise that wine can enhance our enjoyment of these events and occasions. As it says in Psalms: “Wine gladdens the heart of a person.” (104:15)

Wine in its proper place is symbolic of the prime joys of creation. The Zohar speaks of a special vintage of wine that will be enjoyed in the Messianic Age. May we enjoy that cup soon!

LeChayim and Shabbat Shalom