For the week ending 5 November 2005 / 3 Heshvan 5766

Parshat Noach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is ten generations since the creation of the first human. Adams descendants have corrupted the world with immorality, idolatry and robbery, and G-d resolves to bring a flood which will destroy all the earths inhabitants except for the righteous Noach, his family and sufficient animals to repopulate the earth. G-d instructs Noach to build an ark. After forty days and nights, the flood covers even the tops of the highest mountains. After 150 days the water starts to recede. On the 17th day of the 7th month, the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat. Noach sends out a raven and then a dove to ascertain if the waters have abated. The dove returns. A week later Noach again sends the dove, which returns the same evening with an olive leaf in its beak. After another seven days Noach sends the dove once more; the dove does not return. G-d tells Noach and his family to leave the ark. Noach brings offerings to G-d from the animals which were carried in the ark for this purpose. G-d vows never again to flood the entire world and designates the rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Noach and his descendants are now permitted to slaughter and eat meat, unlike Adam. G-d commands the Seven Universal Laws: The prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, theft, blasphemy, murder, eating meat torn from a live animal, and the obligation to set up a legal system. The worlds climate is established as we know it today. Noach plants a vineyard and becomes intoxicated from its produce. Ham, one of Noachs sons, delights in seeing his father drunk and uncovered. Shem and Yafet, however, manage to cover their father without looking at his nakedness, by walking backwards. For this incident, Canaan is cursed to be a slave. The Torah lists the offspring of Noachs three sons from whom the seventy nations of the world are descended. The Torah records the incident of the Tower of Bavel, which results in G-d fragmenting communication into many languages and the dispersal of the nations throughout the world. The Parsha concludes with the genealogy of Noach to Avram.


The Wisdom of Wine

"Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard." (9:20)

Jews are not known for their alcoholic indulgence. Statistically, the incidence of alcoholism amongst us is among the lowest in the world. On the other hand, alcohol is not taboo in our tradition. On Purim, we have a holy obligation to become drunk enough not to know the difference between "Mordechai the blessed" and "Haman the cursed." A Jewish child grows up with Friday night Kiddush wine on his lips. The same is true on Shabbat morning. And at the close of Shabbat, wine is part of Havdala that guides our re-entry into the week. In addition, wine features in the Four Cups at Pesach, at weddings, Yamim Tovim, Brit Mila and other events in Jewish life. Jews seem to have no problem combining wine with an essentially sober lifestyle.

What is the secret of this combination of wine and wisdom?

In this weeks portion, after Noach emerged from the ark he planted a vineyard and subsequently became drunk. The Torah describes Noachs action as "Vayachel ". This word is from the root chol meaning the opposite of holy. Rashi explains that Noach made himself un-holy for he should have involved himself in planting something other than a vineyard. Rashis words here need some explanation. Why was Noachs unholiness connected with his failure to plant some other species than the grape?

In the language of the spiritual masters the word wine is synonymous with pleasure. This is why the ultimate pleasure of being close to the Divine Presence in the futureworld is described as "the wine preserved from the grapes of the Six Days of Creation." Before we experience the wine of the world to come, however, we must first cultivate something other than the vineyard. Here we must labor to raise the level of the un-holy, the chol, to the level of the holy not the other way around as did Noach.

In this world, our experience of wine must always be connected to holiness. For we exist in neither the place nor the time that the wine can be experienced in itself. The Talmud tells us that there is something in this world that no eye has seen except for G-d. It is beyond our eyes to see. It is a secret, hidden.That is what is meant by "the wine preserved from the grapes of the Six Days of Creation." The gematria (numerical equivalent) of Yayin (wine) is 70 - the same as Sod - which means secret.

If we spend our life seeking the "wine" of this world we will find our end in degradation, but if we connect to the wine that is hidden in the grape, the future world that is promised to the righteous, then we will enjoy the ultimate closeness to G-d.

  • Sources: Midrash Tanchuma, Rabbeinu Bachya, Sanhedrin 70, The Midrash Says

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