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The Correct Direction

Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Where Noah went wrong.

The Great Flood resulted in the utter and total destruction of the entirety of civilization and of all life. The only exception was Noach and his family because “with Hashem [did] Noach walk (6:9);” and, as such, he merited that he and his family were spared from the destruction. However, there is much more to the saga of Noach’s salvation then meets the eye.

The Torah portion describes the desolation of the world and how only Noach remained. Then the Torah says, “And the Almighty remembered Noach...and The Almighty passed a wind upon the earth and the waters calmed (8:1).”

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt”l explained that the Torah’s usage of the concept of remembering in reference to Hashem is an expression of judgment. Meaning, that Hashem takes something under consideration (as it were) in order to decide what to do with it.

In our context this is quite revealing: that Noach and his family should be spared from annihilation is one thing, but that they should be privileged to leave the ark and start anew in rebuilding the world – that already requires a separate judgment.

The outcome is that Hashem commands Noach to leave the ark with his family and all the animals and to begin rebuilding the world. Talk about a fresh plot of Land!

Noach has before him the opportunity of a billion lifetimes – to determine the course and direction of all world history! The previous civilization was destroyed because it became completely perverse and corrupt. Now, Noach is given the opportunity to oversee and direct the founding of a new and better world. What an awesome responsibility!

Although Noach started off on the right foot by offering sacrifices to Hashem (to which Hashem responded with establishing the rainbow as the eternal sign of the covenant that He would never again destroy the world); we find that, subsequently, Noach made a terrible mistake, as we see from the following pasuk: “And Noach, the man of the land, began and he planted a vineyard. And he drank from the wine and he became drunk and he became uncovered in the midst of his tent (9:20-21).”

Rashi explains that the Hebrew word for “and he began” – va’ya’chel- has the same root as the word chulin which means mundane or profane. Noach made himself profane because he should have chosen to plant something else. This is further emphasized by that fact that the Torah refers to Noach as the man of the land, which is an indication that he became too involved with the material realm and physicality for someone of his stature and standing.

Noach planted a vineyard. While it is true that wine has many benefits for mankind, it nonetheless remains, for the most part, a beverage for enjoyment. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with man experiencing enjoyment. In fact, when experienced in the proper manner and for the right purpose, enjoyment can be a very worthwhile activity. For example, one who eats delectable delicacies on Shabbos to express the significance of the day is doing a great mitzvah.

Certainly though, corporeal pleasure that serves the purpose of entrenching man in mundane materialism is quite negative indeed. All the more so when it comes to the man who has the obligation to found the building blocks of the new world! How great must his concern be with the long-term wellbeing of civilization?!

Hashem did not create us to use the world as a free-for-all of uninhibited indulgence. Rather, we are expected to utilize the physical potential of the world for a greater purpose. That greater purpose is the service of the Almighty. When we build schools to give our children a proper Jewish education, we are achieving that purpose. When we use our resources to perform acts of charity and kindness, we are achieving that purpose; and so on and so forth.

We must learn from Noach and not repeat his mistake. In our lives we are constantly coming across the fresh plots of earth that are just waiting to be tilled, and it is up to us to decide what to plant in them. The opportunities are abundant and we must utilize them to achieve the task that we have been given to accomplish in this world – to serve Hashem.


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