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Birkat Kohanim on medication

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Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 27, 5781
Question
I am a Kohen who made Aliyah. I am in a wheelchair most of the time (I can use crutches for short distances) with a non-union hip fracture (doesn’t heal) and a bone disease that causes much pain. I am prescribed heavy opioids for my excruciating daily pain. I have two choices in shul. Go and Duchan without pain medication which means I have to stand and have no kavana due to the pain or take medication and not Duchan (due to the prohibition of being intoxicated.) In Chu"l it was much easier as it was a few times a year. Here it is every day and twice on Shabbat. My question is this: do I forgo Duchaning and leave the shul which will be embarrassing to me (as everyone knows I am a Kohen,) Duchan in pain with no kavanah or take my medication and possibly be over on a diorayta? Thank you!
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. First of all, a big mazel tov on your Aliyah – may you be blessed with good health in the air of Eretz Yisrael. Your question is an interesting one – but it could be that the options you outline are not fully agreed on. You take it for granted that if you take the medication to lower your pain, that it is forbidden to duchan, “due to the prohibition of being intoxicated”. Let us examine that law - The law is found in the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim, 128, 38. There it talks about how much wine a Cohen may (or may not) drink in relation to duchaning. The Mishna Brurah (ibid 141) quotes the Magen Avraham, that this law is only in relation to drinking wine. However, other intoxicating drinks are permitted to the Cohen, “even if the Cohen is drunk to the level that they cannot talk before a king, which would make it forbidden to pray [the Amidah]. When it comes to a Cohen duchaning, it is only forbidden if he has reached the stage of drunkenness of Lot, as then he is considered as a person lacking mental fitness (a “shoteh”)”. Based on this, I am fairly certain that your pain medicine does not cause you to reach a stage comparable to the drunkenness of Lot! It is true that the Mishna Brurah continues (ibid) “However, there are many opinions that argue with this, an believe that even when drinking other beverages (apart from wine), if one is so drunk that that they cannot talk before a king, they may not duchan”. Even according to this opinion, I have my doubts that your pain killers would bring you to a level of being “unable to talk before a king”. You write that taking the medicine allows you to pray with “kavanah” – which leads me to understand that you are certainly not at a level of “intoxication” that would be forbidden even according to the strict opinion quoted here. In any event, due to the nature of your pain, and the very real need to take medicine, so you can pray with kavanah, you should take the medicine and then duchan. According to the Magan Avraham (quoted above) you are certainly within the limits of the law, and even according to the stricter opinion, my guess is that you are fine. (This is especially true according to an interesting idea that Rav Kook zt”l puts forward – he understands that the level of “unable to stand before a king” is actually a state much more drunk than we would think. Generally, we would have thought that even if one is slightly “tipsy” it would be incorrect to “stand before a king”, as opposed to standing, say, before your friend, who would be fine with your slightly “silly” behavior. But, says Rav Kook zt”l, the opposite is really true. When one stands before a king, they are so scared, and so in awe, that they can shake off slight drunkenness- and thus the level of intoxication equal to “unable to stand before a king” is a much great drunkenness that that of unable to stand before a regular person). Blessings.
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