Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Noach: Wine and the 13 “Woe”s

Photo by Nino Maghradze on Unsplash

Noach was God’s messenger to perpetuate humanity so that it would survive the flood. After the flood, however, Noach fell into sin. He planted a vineyard, drank the wine and became drunk. This is the first appearance of wine and intoxication in the Torah.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 70a) discusses the thirteen letters vav (“and”) that are connected to wine in the Torah passage about Noach’s fall into intoxication (Genesis 9:20-24): And Noach the man of the earth began, and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.  And Shem and Yefet took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

Rashi explains that the 13 vavs (“and”) allude to “vei vei” (similar to “oy vey” or “woe”). [1] (The Tosfot adds that the “and” regarding Yefet is not counted, as it is attached to a noun and not to a verb).

With this story, Noach, instead of alluding to comfort (nechama, the first two letters spell Noach) and rest (menucha, the middle letters spell Noach) as was said at his birth, “This will comfort us,” alludes to a sigh (anacha, the middle letters spell Noach).

13 “Vei”s

The 13 “vei”s correspond to God’s 13 attributes of mercy, the ‘rectifications of faith.’ Noach marred reality with wine. He turned all the supernal sources of faith and mercy to “vei” and great sorrow, the opposite of the blessing that could be evoked when a person drinks wine within the boundaries of sanctity.

In the Hebrew verses, the beginning of the sin is described as “Vayachel Noach” (“And Noach began”). Noach made himself chulin (“unsacred,” same root at “vayachel”). The sages explain that Noach stepped outside the boundaries of sanctity. Wine was created in the world for holy rituals. Noach,

however, removed the wine from the parameters of sanctity and made it unholy. As a result, 13 “vei”s ensued and all 13 holy attributes of mercy were blemished.

The Tree of Knowledge

The verse that immediately follows the above description of Noach’s drunkenness is: “And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him.” Rashi finds it difficult to understand why the sages do not include the two “ands” in this verse in their calculation of “and”s. He explains that the culmination of the sin is in “and he knew. “ Noach knew the punishment rendered by the wine, what it did and what it caused. This is a very important idea: Often we begin something in life (“And Noach began”) and do not know where it will lead. Eventually, we know the ultimate outcome. If we stepped outside the parameters of sanctity, we know how we, God forbid, became entangled in negativity and in the case of wine, the punishment of the wine.[2] Engaging in behavior outside the bounds of sanctity becomes the punishment, itself.

The Gemara continues: “The Holy One, Blessed Be He said to Noach: ‘Noach, You should have learned from Adam, that what befell him was due to wine.’” This is according to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, who posits that the Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam ate, was a grapevine.” Rabbi Meir extrapolates this from the fact that here, the wine brought yelalah (wailing, same numerical value as yayin, “wine”) to the world, as is written in our verse, “And he drank from the wine (= wailing) and he became drunk, etc.”.

There are additional clear connections between the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and Noach’s intoxication. For example, both stories end with covering up nakedness. In the Torah portion of Genesis, we learn that Rabbi Meir’s opinion is alluded to in “the Tree of Knowledge, good and evil” – wine can potentially be good and it can be bad. It can be the head (rosh) of all good or the pauper (rash) of evil.

The story of Noach ends with Knowledge (“da’at”): “And he knew”. The end is when a person knows that the wine ascends to his faculty of Knowledge. He knows that it has the potential to cause him to descend into the gutter.

Ultimately, “A good measure is greater than a measure of hardship.” Just as there is great danger in wine and we must be very careful of intoxication, “And you shall safeguard your souls very much,” (from addiction to the bitter spirits, which brings all sorts of negativity) so there is great goodness in wine used for holy purposes. When consumed in the proper framework, it brings joy to God and to people.

[1] The fact that the sages explain the vavs as a sigh is a patent example of the fact that the entire Torah can be read as a poem. When listening to the Torah, one should be aware of its lyrical nature.

[2] In Hebrew, ענש (punishment) equals vav (6) times יין  (wine). The ע of ענש equals יין and the נש  of ענש equal 5 times יין.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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