The Evil of Wine
Wine is the root of evil in the physical world, from which came curse, destruction and death to the world, and exile to Israel.
Now, it is said in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin 70a:
“And Noach, the man of the earth, began to plant a vineyard.” Rav Chisda said in the name of Rav Ukva, and some say Mar Ukva in the name of Rabbi Zakkai: HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Noach, “Noach, shouldn’t you have learned from Adam HaRishon, who was made to sin by none other than wine?”
This is in accordance with the view that the tree from which Adam HaRishon ate was a vine, as it is taught: Rabbi Meir says: The tree that Adam HaRishon ate from was a vine, because there is nothing that causes moaning to a man like wine.
And Rashi comments there:
“There is nothing that causes moaning to a man like wine” – therefore it stands to reason that the world was penalized with death and crying through it.
And as evidence for this, we will bring here Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Noach 13:
“And Noach, the man of the earth, began to plant a vineyard” – and he was disgraced – “and he drank from the wine.” The Sages said: On that very day he planted, on that very day it produced fruit, on that very day he harvested, on that very day he treaded, on that very day he drank, on that very day he became drunk, on that very day his disgrace was revealed.
The Rabbis said: When Noach came to plant a vineyard, the Satan came and stood before him.
He said to him, “What are you planting?”
He said to him, “A vineyard.”
He said to him, “What is it like?”
“Its fruits are sweet whether fresh or dry, and wine is made from them which causes hearts to rejoice, as it is written (Tehillim 104:15), ‘And wine causes the heart of man to rejoice.’”
The Satan said to him, “Let us both be partners in this vineyard.”
He said to him, “To life (lechayyim).”
What did the Satan do? He brought a lamb and killed it underneath the vine, then he brought a pig and killed it, then he brought a monkey and killed it underneath the vineyard, and their blood flowed in that vineyard, and he gave him to drink from their blood.
He hinted to him that before a person drinks of wine, he is as innocent as a lamb that doesn’t know anything, “and like a ewe mute before her shearers” (Yeshayahu 53:7). If he drinks sufficiently, he becomes as brave as a lion, and says that there is no one like him in the world. Once he drinks excessively, he becomes like a pig, dirtying himself in urine and excrement. When he becomes drunk, he becomes like a monkey, standing, dancing, playing and befouling his mouth in front of everyone, not knowing what he is doing.
And all this occurred to the righteous Noach! If this is so for the righteous Noach, whom HaKadosh Baruch Hu expressly praised as such, for other people all the more so. Furthermore, he cursed his progeny and said, “Accursed is Kena’an” (BeReshit 9:25).
And it is stated in the Midrash, BaMidbar Rabbah 10:
The Torah states the law of the nazir after the sotah, because wine causes the adulterer and the adulteress to come to fault. This is the meaning of, “If a man or a woman expresses,” etc.
And from where is this known? From Shelomoh who finally admitted (Mishlei 30:2): “For I am more foolish than a man” – this is Noach, as it is written (BeReshit 9:20), “And Noach began, a man” etc. – who was cursed by wine, but I didn’t learn from him.
“And I do not have the discernment of a person (adam)” – this is Adam HaRishon, because the entire world was cursed from the wine that he drank, as Rav Avin said: Chavvah poured wine for Adam and he drank, as it is written (BeReshit 3:6): “And the woman saw that the tree is good to eat,” and it is written (Mishlei 23:31): “Do not see wine when it reddens,” etc.
“And I did not learn wisdom” – from the Torah’s wisdom, because everywhere that wine is written in the Torah, it makes an impression.
“Nor know the knowledge of the holy” – the one who wished to sanctify himself so as not to stumble in promiscuity, separates himself from wine, but I failed in promiscuity, “nor know the knowledge of the holy.”
Therefore, the section of the nazir is said after the sotah.
And the Sages say the same in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin 70b.
The Zohar also explains that Adam HaRishon’s sin was in wine, as you can see in Zohar, Parashat Shelach Lecha 3:158b, which brings a proof from the verse (BaMidbar 13:20), “And the days were the days of the ripening of the grapes” that these recognizable days were all connected at that time to the tree that Adam HaRishon sinned with, as we are taught that they were grapes:
“And the days were the days of the ripening of the grapes.” What does “and the days” come to teach, as it would have been sufficient to say “and then was the ripening of the grapes”? Rather, “and the days” – those which it recounted to us – were all connected to that time to the tree that Adam HaRishon sinned with, as we were taught that they were grapes, and therefore, “and the days” – those which it recounted to us – were specifically “the days of the ripening of the grapes.”
Grapes are directly connected to the Angel of Death Samael, as you can see in Midrash Peliah 42:
Why did the spies not succeed? Because the days were the days of the ripening of grapes, and therefore it is written (Shemot 2:2): “And she hid him three months.”
And it is stated there in the commentary:
It says in Megalleh Amukkot: The letters that precede the letters of ענבם are the letters סמאל, meaning to say that Samael rules over them. And this is what Scripture says: “And the days were the days of the ripening of the grapes,” meaning the “ripened,” i.e. the letters which precede ענבם, because he has dominion during these days. And therefore ענבם is written with no yud, to hint at this. “And she hid him three months” also hints at it, because in three months, which are Tammuz, Av and Tevet, Samael has dominion.
Come and see what the Torah says in BeReshit 3:6:
And she took from its fruit and she ate, and she gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
The Sages concluded in Zohar, Parashat BeReshit 1:36b that the woman squeezed grapes and gave to her husband, and by eating them they caused death to the whole world, since death dwelt in that tree:
“And she took from its fruit.” We are taught: She squeezed grapes and gave to him, and they caused death to the whole world.
And further in BeReshit 3:7:
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves, and they made themselves belts.
The Sages explained in Zohar, Parashat BeReshit 1:36b:
“And the eyes of them both were opened.” Rabbi Chiyya said: For they were opened to know the evils of the world, which they didn’t know until now. Since they knew and their eyes were opened to know the evil, then “they knew that they were naked,” that they lost the supreme shine that would cover them, and it was removed from them and they were left naked of it.
“And they sewed fig leaves.” They clung to be covered in those forms of that tree that they ate from, which are called leaves of the tree.
“And they made themselves belts.” Rabbi Yosi said: Since they knew of this world and were attached to it, they saw that this world is driven by those leaves of the tree, and they made themselves strength to be strengthen themselves with in this world. Then they knew all the kinds of magic in the world, and they wanted to gird weapons on those leaves of the tree in order to defend themselves.
Rabbi Yehudah said: Then the three went into judgment and were judged, and the lower world was cursed and didn’t remain in its existence because of the pollution of the snake, until Israel stood at Mount Sinai.
Afterwards, HaKadosh Baruch Hu dressed them in vestments of leather, and they enjoyed them. This is what is written (BeReshit 3:21): “Vestments of leather.” In the beginning they were vestments of light that they used in the supreme vestments above, because the supreme angels would come to enjoy that light. This is what is written (Tehillim 8:6): “And you made him a little less than a god, and crowned him with honor and glory.” But now that they sinned, “vestments of leather (עור)” that the skin (עור) enjoys, but not the soul.
In this world, wine is a symbol of curse. Come and see what the Sages wrote in the Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Shemini 9 regarding the evil of wine:
Happy is a person who isn’t passionate for wine, for so you find regarding the sons of Yehonadav ben Rechav, whose father commanded them not to drink wine. And what did he see not to drink wine? Rather, he heard Yirmeyah prophesying that the Temple will be destroyed. He said to them: Start mourning now. “Build no house, sow no seed, plant no vineyard, and let none be to you; but sit in tents all your days” (Yirmeyahu 35:7), and keep your father’s commandment.
Since Yirmeyah prophesied to Israel to tell them to repent, and they wouldn’t do so, HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Yirmeyah: You tell them to repent but they aren’t doing so. And Yonadav ben Rechav commanded his sons to fulfill a light commandment, and they keep it. But I tell Israel to repent, and they don’t keep it, as it is said (Yirmeyahu 35:14): “The words of Yehonadav ben Rechav, who commanded his sons not to drink wine, were fulfilled, and they did not drink until this day, because they listened to their father’s commandment. But I spoke to you anew every morning, and you did not listen to me.”
What is written there? HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Yirmeyah: Say to them, “By your lives! Since you guarded this commandment, your family will never end before me,” for this is what is written (Yirmeyahu 35:19): “Therefore, so says HaShem of Legions, the God of Israel: No man will be cut off from Yonadav ben Rechav standing before me ever.”
Therefore the Torah warns them regarding wine: “Do not drink any wine or alcohol” (VaYikra 10:9).
Yeshayahu said (24:11): “A scream for wine is in the outskirts; all happiness has set.” What is “all happiness has set (arevah)”? All happiness has darkened, as in what you say: “And it was evening (erev).”
“The joy of the land has been exiled” – this means that Tziyyon was ended, about which is written, “Place of beauty, the joy of all the land.”
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Israel: In this world, wine is a symbol of curse, but in the next world, I will make it juice, as is written (Tehillim 48:3): “And it shall be on that day, the mountains will drip juice.”
Wine is a great stumbling block to all people, and especially to the nation of Israel. It is said in Yeshayahu 28:7:
And these too erred in wine, and went astray with alcohol. Priest and prophet erred in alcohol, were swallowed by wine, went astray from alcohol; erred in vision, stumbled in judgment.
And Rashi comments there:
“And these too” – who sit in judgment and answer in war that were in this generation, meaning the best and most important of them, erred in wine, for now there is nothing good in them.
“Erred in vision” – scoffed at the words of the prophets.
“Stumbled (paku) in judgment” – from the language of “trembling (pik) of knees” (Nachum 2:11), “a stumbling block (pukah)” (1 Shemuel 25:31).
And Metzudot David comments there:
“And these too” – Yehudah and Binyamin too, because of intoxication of wine, erred in their mind, and strayed from the straight path because of alcohol.
“Priest” – he is the teacher, and so it says (Malachi 2:7): “For the lips of a priest guard knowledge, and teaching is sought from his mouth.”
“And prophet” – the false prophet whom they appointed to rebuke them and straighten their path.
“Erred in alcohol” – erred in their minds because of drinking alcohol.
“Were swallowed” – were corrupted from intoxication.
“Erred in vision” – they erred in their minds with regard to vision, in the manner of a drunk whose mind doesn’t agree with truth regarding what he sees.
“Stumbled in judgment” – they caused the judgment to fail, and didn’t judge it truly.
The prophet Hoshea 4:11 says:
Licentiousness and wine and fresh wine capture the heart.
And the Sages explain in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Yoma 76b why wine is sometimes called “wine” (yayin) and sometimes “fresh wine” (tirosh):
Why is it called yayin and why is it called tirosh? Yayin – because it brings wailing (yelalah) to the world; tirosh – because whoever stimulates himself with it becomes poor (rash).
It is thus evident that wine and alcohol are the root of evil in the physical world, and from them came curse, destruction and death to the world.
But even so, it is said in Tehillim 104:15: “And wine makes man’s heart rejoice, brightening the face more than oil; and bread satiates man’s heart.” What is the connection of wine to happiness? Or in Shir HaShirim 1:2: “Let him kiss me from the kisses of his mouth, for your affection is better than wine.” But what good is there in wine?
To this, the Sages answer in the Zohar that there are two wines – one spiritual, which is the wine of the Torah, and the second a physical wine, which is entirely evil – as you can see in Zohar, Parashat Shemini 3:39a:
“Drink no wine or alcohol, you and your sons with you,” etc. (VaYikra 10:9). Rabbi Yehudah said: From this section, we learn that Nadav and Avihu were drunk from wine, from the fact that it warned the kohanim about this.
Rabbi Chiyya opened: “And wine makes man’s heart rejoice,” etc. (Tehillim 104:15). If a kohen needs to rejoice and to be found in brightness of the face more than anything, why is wine forbidden to him, since joy is found in it, brightness of the face is found in it? Rather, the beginning of wine is joy, but its end is sadness. And further, because wine comes from the side of the leviyyim, from the place that wine dwells, which is the Torah, and the wine of the Torah is from the side of gevurah; but the side of the kohen is from clear, bright wine.
And see further in Zohar, Parashat Mishpatim 2:124b:
“For your affection is better than wine” (Shir HaShirim 1:2). Why does it want wine here? Is it not written, “And these too erred in wine” (Yeshayahu 28:7), and “Drink no wine or alcohol, you or your sons” (VaYikra 10:9)? What is the reason for wine here? Rabbi Chiyya said: From the wine of the Torah.
Rabbi Chizkiyyah said: This is what is written (Tehillim 104:15), “And wine makes man’s heart rejoice,” and about this is written, “For your affection is better than wine” – for joy of the heart, from the wine that makes me happier more than anything.
Thus it is evident that good wine that brings joy is the spiritual wine of the Torah, and not the evil physical wine.
Therefore, every matter of blessing HaKadosh Baruch Hu is with wine, such as kiddush and havdalah, betrothal, the seven blessings at a wedding and circumcision, is always spiritual, on the wine of the Torah, and not on physical wine, as is stated in Zohar, Parashat Emor 3:95a:
Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rabbi Yehudah: It is written (Shemot 20:7), “Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it,” and we are taught, “Remember it on wine.” Why on wine?
He said to him: Because wine is the happiness of the Torah, and the wine of the Torah is the happiness of everything, and this wine causes the king to rejoice, and this wine crowns the king in His crown. This is what is written (Shir HaShirim 3:11): “Go out and see, daughters of Tziyyon, the crown that King Shelomoh’s mother crowned him.”
And we are taught: A person must show a deed in everything that there is no holiness but in wine, as you say (Shir HaShirim 1:2): “For your affection is better than wine.” They are better than wine, “Let us mention your affection more than wine” (Shir HaShirim 1:4), and for this reason, the sanctification of Shabbat is with wine. And this is how they concluded it, and this was said.
We must note that in our time, there are those who think to reach righteousness through drinking wine and alcohol, and even to merit the next world. But this is an irreparable distortion, and on the contrary, they cause themselves evil and lose their portion in the next world!
The Sages testify to this in Zohar, Midrash HaNe’elam, Parashat VaYera 1:110b:
Rabbi Abba said: “And the elder daughter said to the younger daughter, ‘Our father is old’” (BeReshit 19:31). What is “Our father is old”? This is the evil inclination that is called old, as it is said (Kohelet 4:13), “An old and foolish king,” which is old because it was born with the person.
As we are taught: Rabbi Yehudah said in the name of Rabbi Yosi: That lustful soul says to another, “‘Our father is old.’ Let us chase after him and attach ourselves to him like the other wicked people of the world. ‘And there is no person in the land to come upon us,’ there is no righteous person in the land and there is no man who rules over his inclination. There are many wicked people in the land; we are not alone to be sinners. Let us act like the way of all the land, who are sinners, which is the way of the whole land until today. ‘Come, let us give our father wine to drink.’ Let’s be happy in this world, let’s eat, let’s drink, let’s become drunk with wine, and let’s attach to our father, the evil inclination, and lie with him.”
And the holy spirit cries out and says: “These too erred in wine and went astray in alcohol” (Yeshayahu 28:7). Rabbi Yehudah said: Come see what is written: “And they gave their father wine to drink.” The way of wicked people is to stray after wine, to please their evil inclination and awaken it. And once he is lying on his bed drunk, “And the elder daughter rose and lay with her father.” She is ready with him, and lusts and contemplates all kinds of evil thoughts, and the evil inclination joins her and is attached to her and doesn’t care for her.
What is “In her lying and in her rising”? “In her lying” in this world, and “in her rising” in the future.
Go learn from the law of the wayward and rebellious son that whoever follows wine turns into a completely wicked person and is liable to death, as is said in Devarim 21:18-21:
If a man has a wayward and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they disciplined him, but he does not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take him and bring him to the elders of his town and the gate of his place. And they shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious, who doesn’t listen to our voice, a glutton and a drunkard.” And all the men of his town shall stone him with stones, and he shall die, and you shall exterminate the evil from your midst, and all of Israel will hear and fear.
“A glutton and a drunkard” is one who drinks wine and eats meat, as you can see from the words of the Sages in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin 71a:
He doesn’t become a wayward and rebellious son until he eats meat and drinks wine. The Rabbis taught: If he ate any food other than meat, drank any beverage other than wine, he doesn’t become a wayward and rebellious son until he eats meat and drinks wine, as it is said (Devarim 21:20): “A glutton and a drunkard.”
And the Rashbam comments there:
“A glutton and a drunkard” – as it is written (Mishlei 23:20), “Do not be among the drunkards of wine, of the gluttons of meat for themselves.”
And the Torah did not speak of a minor who is exempt from the commandments, but of a legal adult, as is brought in the Mishnah in Talmud Bavli, Tractate Sanhedrin 68b:
The wayward and rebellious son: From when does he become a wayward and rebellious son? From the time when he brings forth two pubic hairs, and he is surrounded by a beard – the lower and not the higher, but the Sages spoke with a euphemism. As it is written (Devarim 21:18): “If a man has a son” – a son, and not a daughter; a son, and not a man. A minor is exempt, because he hasn’t become obligated in all the commandments.
And the question is raised: Why is this one condemned to death for heaving drank wine and eaten meat? What’s the matter with it?
The answer is found in Midrash Tannaim, Devarim 21:21:
Rabbi Yosi HaGelili said: Is it because this one ate a tartimar of meat and drank half a log of wine that the Torah said that he shall go to the court and be stoned? Rather, the Torah anticipated the final intentions of the wayward and rebellious son. For in the end, he will finish his father’s possessions, and seek his habits but not find them, and he will go to the crossroads and rob people. The Torah said, let him die innocent and let him not die guilty, for the death of the wicked is beneficial for them and beneficial for the world.
And the Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, ibid., explained further, writing:
Now, he has two punishments. One is that he is denigrating his father and mother and rebelling against them, and the second is that he is a glutton and a drunkard, transgressing what we were commanded, “You shall be holy” (VaYikra 19:2). And it is further said (Devarim 13:5), “And Him you shall serve, and to Him you shall cling,” as I have commented, that we are commanded to know HaShem in all of our ways, and a glutton and a drunkard does not know the way of HaShem. And generally, now he doesn’t have a sin worthy of death, but he is judged according to his end, as the Rabbis have mentioned. And this is the reason for “And all of Israel will hear and fear” (Devarim 21:21), for he was not put to death for the magnitude of his sin, but to discipline the public through him, and so that he not be an obstacle to others.
It follows that whoever goes after wine turns into a wicked person in this world, and is liable to death because he becomes a vessel to evil, and he loses his portion in the World to Come!
And from the Torah we learn that whoever wants to come into holiness is forbidden from wine and alcohol, both one who enters holiness intermittently, like the kohanim, as is said in warning the kohanim in VaYikra 10:9: “Drink no wine or alcohol, you and your sons with you, when you come into the Tent of Meeting, so that you not die – an eternal decree for your generations”; and one who enters holiness constantly, like nezirim, as is said in warning the nezirim in BaMidbar 6:3: “He shall separate himself from wine and alcohol. He shall not drink wine vinegar or alcohol vinegar, and he shall not drink anything soaked in grapes.”
But by the nazir, as opposed to the kohen, since he is present in holiness constantly, the Torah forbade to him even the fruit itself, as is said in BaMidbar 6:3-4: “And he shall not eat wet or dried grapes. All the days of his separation, he shall not eat of anything made from wine-grapes, from grape skins to grapeseed.” And we have already explained above in the name of the Zohar that wine and alcohol and grapes are all from the left side, which is called strict judgment, and the secret of the matter is that the nazir is entirely separated from strict judgment, which is not the case by a kohen. Furthermore, it is even forbidden for a nazir to be present in a place of drinking wine and alcohol, and it is even forbidden to pass through a place of growing grapes, as the Sages said in Zohar, Parashat Mishpatim 2:125b, comparing this to the gravity of eating an unslaughtered animal:
“Go, go!” we say to the nazir, “Around the vineyard, don’t approach!” It is certainly forbidden to you, for it has the gravity of slaughter for an animal. And what is written about one who permits this? “And you made the nezirim drink wine” (Amos 2:12). And one who permits this is like one who permits that, and it is written (Devarim 14:3): “You shall not eat any abomination.” “Any” comes to include everything.
And the Sages further said in Zohar, Parashat Naso 3:127b that for leviyyim it is obligatory to sprinkle waters of purification and to shave their entire flesh with a razor because of the force of strict judgment that dwells upon them, and then they are called pure, but not holy. However, the nazir is indeed called holy, because he separated entirely from the side of judgment, and his long hairs prove that holiness dwells upon him:
What is written about the leviyyim? “And so shall you do to them to purify them: Sprinkle waters of purification upon them, and pass a razor over their entire flesh” (BaMidbar 8:7). Once they pass their hair and do all this, then they are called leviyyim, pure and not holy. But this nazir, because he is separated from this side, he is called holy and not pure. Therefore it is written (BaMidbar 6:5): “All the days of his vow of separation … that he separates himself to HaShem, he shall be holy … growing wildly the hair of his head.” Therefore, it is written (Daniel 7:9): “And the hair of His head was like white wool,” for in this he is similar to the supreme aspect.
We thus learn that since constant holiness is the area of the nazir alone, in which he is constantly present, and therefore there is nothing holy in the Torah of Mosheh except for the nazir! This is a moral for our time.
And it is said in the prophet Yeshayahu 5:11-16:
O you who rise early to pursue alcohol, whom late in the evening wine alights; and whose banquets are fiddle and lyre, timbrel and flute and wine, but who do not look at the act of HaShem, and who do not see His handiwork! Therefore my nation has been exiled without knowledge, and its glory are men of hunger, and its multitude are stricken with thirst. Therefore Sheol widened itself, and opened its mouth without bound; and its glory, and its tumult, and its commotion and its glee will fall into it. And human is bent down, and man is lowered, and the eyes of the high are lowered. But HaShem of Legions rises in judgment, and the holy God is sanctified in righteousness.