NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine”

Noah was a “Tzaddik” , a righteous man. Noah was a perfect Tzaddik.

Noah was a man of total righteousness, in his generation. (Genesis, 6:9)

What is meant by “a man of total righteousness, in his generation?  He certainly wasn’t a man of total righteousness in any other generation.  He only lived in his own generation!!

There are two schools of thought:

1 – Noah was a Tzaddik in spite of the fact that he was surrounded by a generation of wicked people; he didn’t succumb to the peer pressure.  He would have been even more righteous had he lived in a righteous generation that would have nurtured and encouraged his innate goodness.

2 – Noah was considered a Tzaddik only by virtue of the fact that he was surrounded by a generation of wicked people; compared to the rest of them, he was considered righteous.  Had he lived in Abraham’s time, Noah would have been considered insignificant.  He was, in effect, “a big fish in a small pond.”

Regardless of which of these two opinions one accepts, (Rashi quotes both opinions and seems to favor the latter), it is fair to say that Noah was a great man, chosen by G-d to become the father of the surviving human race.  He was certainly far beyond the level of anyone in our own generation.  Noah was the humble servant of G-d.  For years he toiled, ignoring the taunts of those who rejected his prophecy and ridiculed his construction project.  He warned them that G-d would destroy them if they didn’t change their ways.  But they ignored him.

Noah did everything as G-d had told him.  Then G-d said to Noah, “Come to the Ark . . . for it is you that I have seen to be righteous. . . “(6:22-7:1) G-d blessed Noah. . .  (9:1) G-d said to Noah. . . I establish my covenant with you. . .”  (8-9)

Noah was, without a doubt, a Tzaddik.  However, in spite of his righteousness, he allowed himself to become a “man of the earth,” a base individual 

Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself, and planted a vineyard.  (The Talmud says that this vineyard miraculously grew and matured the day it was planted.)  He drank of the wine and became intoxicated, and uncovered himself in his tent. (9:20)

The story gets worse.  Noah, lying there drunk and naked, was humiliated by his son and grandson, Ham and Canaan.  Noah’s other sons, Shem and Japheth, entered the tent walking backwards so as not to view their father’s compromising situation, and they covered him.  When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and he cursed them.  Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called a man of righteousness, descend so quickly to become a man of the earth?  How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson?

Rashi tells us that the problem was with his emphasis.  He had just saved the remnant of the world from total annihilation.  It was time to rebuild.  He could have chosen a more constructive first project than planting a vineyard.  Why didn’t he plant wheat and provide the world with the “staff of life?”  The world had just been destroyed due to rampant immorality.  Couldn’t Noah have found a better first step than getting himself a drink?!!

As I was typing this, my daughter looked over my shoulder and reminded me of the contrast between Moses and Noah.  The Midrash points out that Moses went from being a man of Egypt (Exodus, 2:19) to a man of G-d(Deuteronomy, 33:1)  Noah went from being a man of total righteousness to becoming a man of the earth.  Moses spent his lifetime growing.  Noah allowed himself to fall.  Once we head in a negative direction, it is amazing how quickly and far a person can sink.

We are not on the level of Moses.  We are not on the level of Noah.  What we need to remember is the importance of the direction in which we are headed.

The Talmud tells us that G-d allows us to go in whatever direction we want.  If we want to climb the spiritual ladder, He will help us accomplish our goals.  If we prefer to go in a negative direction, He won’t stand in our way.

There is something that is much more important than where we are currently.  The real question is, where are we going?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 Nimro-bama” (2009) 

…Society was uncomfortable with Abram’s “Inconvenient Truths.”  He said things that challenged their beliefs.  He contradicted Nimrod’s plans of absolute sovereignty.  He dared to accuse the “Great Leader” of being, well, merely mortal.  Therefore, he had to be silenced.

Last November, the people of America  displayed the “Audacity of Hope” and voted for “Change.”  As the bumper stickers ask, “How’s that ‘Hopesy-Changey’ workin’ out for you?” … 

Read more.

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“Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?…

Read more.

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“A Tale of Two Cities” (2007)

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh  was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh  to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared.

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d.

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel.

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil.

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006)

Is it possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Not at all.  Actually, it is very much possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism.  In fact, every member of the human race is obligated to do so.

We do not believe that every person is obligated to follow the 613 Commandments of the Torah.  There is nothing wrong with Gentiles eating pork chops or driving on the Sabbath.  They are, however, required by Torah Law to obey 7 key Commandments, known as the Seven Noahide Laws.  (“Noahide” = Children of Noah.)

What are they required to do?  Well, they could start off by disbanding the New Jersey Supreme Court!…

Read more.

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“No Pot of Gold…” (2005)

It’s beautiful; it’s a sign of ugliness. When you see it, you recite a prayer of thanks; when you see it, you’re not supposed to show it to anyone.  It is a sign of hope; it is a sign of frustration.  It is a sign of divine compassion; it is a sign of divine wrath.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, SomeOne is remembering a promise.  Somewhere, under the rainbow, someone has broken a promise…

Read more.

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 “Yerachmiel’s Ark” (2004) …

… As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!…

Read more.

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 “Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003)

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too…

Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom. It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice. AND, it was despicable…

Read more.

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 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002)

… When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and cursed them. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called “a man of righteousness,” descend so quickly to become “a man of the earth?” How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson? …

Read more.

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 “Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001)

… there is no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” …

Read more.

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 “A Pig by Any Other Name…” (2000)

… there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry. Would you reclassify these two categories as “clean laundry” and “laundry that isn’t clean?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at  TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 10, 2002 at 9:41 am  Leave a Comment  

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