Yoni Mozeson
Yoni Mozeson

Noach: From altruism to alcoholism

In Parshat Noach the Midrash lists four things that Noach pioneered. He was the first to plant a vineyard, to get drunk, and to curse someone.  Noach was also the first one to introduce the idea of slavery.

To warn us about the dangers of alcoholism, Midrash Tanchuma paints an unusual picture of how the first vineyard in the world took root. While Noach was planting the vineyard, Satan casually asked him : “What are you planting?” When Noach answered, “a vineyard,” Satan asked “what’s that?” Noach explained that it produces fruit that can be made into wine which “causes the heart of man to rejoice.”

Satan knew a big opportunity when he saw one and volunteered to irrigate the vineyard. However, instead of water he proceeded to slaughter a lamb, lion, pig and ape.

The stages of intoxication

The Midrash spells out exactly what these animals signify:

שֶׁקֹּדֶם שֶׁיִּשְׁתֶּה אָדָם מִן הַיַּיִן, הֲרֵי הוּא תָּם כְּכֶבֶשׂ … שָׁתָה כְּהֹגֶן, הֲרֵי הוּא גִּבּוֹר כָּאֲרִי …כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁתָה יוֹתֵר מִדַּי, נַעֲשָׂה כַּחֲזִיר ..נִשְׁתַּכֵּר, נַעֲשָׂה כְּקוֹף …, וְאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ מַה יַּעֲשֶׂה.

“…before drinking wine man is as innocent as a sheep… after he drinks a moderate amount of wine he believes himself to be as strong as a lion, …When he drinks more than he should, he behaves like a pig, … After he becomes completely intoxicated, he behaves like a monkey, …completely unaware of what he is doing.

The Midrash concludes that if this is what happened to the righteous Noach. Imagine the effect alcohol can have on the rest of us?

Putting a positive spin on alcohol

Was Satan warning against the effects of alcohol or setting up Mankind to fall? Everyone thinks they can stop at the point of losing their inhibitions. Satan portrayed this as a good thing – being as fearless as a lion. However, we all know full well that, for many people, there’s no stopping at moderate consumption. (For those uncomfortable with the notion of “Satan” – replace it with “that which God uses to test us.”)

Why did Noach want to get drunk when he got off the ark?  Did he suffer from “survivor’s guilt?” Is it because he didn’t convince a single person to get on the ark even though it took 120 years to build it?

Noach the virtuous

All the animals had different feeding schedules and the Midrash says that he never got any sleep.  And what kind of thanks did he get from the animals. At the end he was bitten by a lion and became lame – just because the lion’s lunch was a little late.

The Midrash says  that Noach is considered a righteous person (אִ֥ישׁ צַדִּ֛יק) because he sustained the whole world (his family and all the animals).  The term צַדִּ֛יק was used for only one other person in the Torah. Yosef (הצַדִּ֛יק) who also fed the world. By storing grain in advance he was able to avert a world famine.

Two truths about Noach

The trauma he witnessed is beyond comprehension. Yet he did not turn to God to deal with his depression. He self-medicated in the only way he knew how.

Perhaps these two sides of Noach give meaning to the famous comment by Rashi (quoting from Tractate Sanhedrin 108). The opening verse in Parshat Noach says that Noach was צַדִּ֛יק תָּמִ֥ים הָיָ֖ה בְּדֹֽרֹתָ֑יו  “righteous in his generation” (Bereishis 6:9).

Rashi says that some of our Rabbis saw this phrase as a compliment (that Noach would be considered even more righteous in a generation of righteous people). While some Rabbis saw it as an insult (that in Avraham’s generation Noach would certainly not be considered righteous).

Which opinion in Rashi is correct? The answer is both. Noach partnered with God to save his family and the animals. Unfortunately, he inadvertently provided the means for turning Mankind into animals.

About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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