Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

The Dangers of Drinking; Consolidating Spiritual Gains

Chazal [our Sages] comment that the parsha of nazir (the nazirite) is juxtaposed to that of sotah (the adulteress) to teach us that "one who witnesses the corruption and downfall of the sotah should accept upon himself an oath to abstain from wine."

Chazal are commenting on a typological case where intoxication was a major contributing factor to the sin of adultery. This causal nexus between intoxication and loss of appropriate inhibition is all too prominently manifest in contemporary American society, most infamously on college campuses. But adultery in particular, and promiscuity, in general, are only two of the manifold dangers of intoxication. Ono'as devarim (hurtful speech) commonly issues forth from lips loosened by the effects of intoxication. Nor should we forget for even a moment the sacrilege perpetrated by those who are visibly intoxicated on Shabbos during musaf after participating in their kiddush club. Shabbos is a day consecrated "la-Hashem Elokecha"(to Hashem, your God); tefillah (prayer) involves standing before Hashem and speaking to Him. What a compounded chilul Hashem to be intoxicated while davening (praying) on Shabbos!

The Sochatchover Rebbe, with great insight and sensitivity, recognizes in the aforementioned comment of Chazal vital guidance for a life of continuous ascent in avodas Hashem (service of Hashem). Why is it necessary, asks the Rebbe, to accept an oath? One who witnessed the gruesome death of the adulteress will forever be deterred from drinking by this powerful memory. The answer, he explained, is that the force of even the most vivid and powerful experience gradually wanes and dissipates. As the memory becomes more distant, its affect on the person diminishes until it ultimately disappears entirely.

One can, however, prevent this process. While in the firm grip of the powerful experience, one makes a kabalah (resolution). A clearly defined, practical kabalah introduces permanent change into a person's life in a very concrete fashion. The memory of the sotah will steadily weaken and its influence will dissipate unless he reacts by accepting an oath.

At various points and times in our lives we are blessed with moments of inspiration and exceptional clarity. The possible sources of inspiration are many. Perhaps it was a dvar Torah (Torah thought) we heard, the experience of Shabbos or Yom Tov. At such moments we gain clarity about life and its priorities. The inspiration and pursuant clarity, however, will be short-lived unless we immediately translate them into action.

Case in point: b'ezras Hashem the Yom Tov of Shavuos will be such a source of inspiration. In order to consolidate the spiritual gains of Yom Tov, however, we must make kabalot. What additional learning sedarim (sessions) are we going to accept? When precisely are we going to learn? What - and at what pace - are we going to learn? How are we going to enhance the quality of the time that we already devote to Talmud Torah? The inspiration and clarity afforded by the Yom Tov of Shavuos can permanently impact our lives if we ask and successfully answer these questions.

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