There is a controversy amongst the commentators as to whether Noach was an “absolute” tzaddik, or a “relative” tzaddik. Some say that he is considered a tzaddik regardless of which generation he lived in. Others say that, compared to Avraham, he would not be regarded as a tzaddik but relative to his generation of sinners, he was. Either way, the worse-case scenario of this debate is that at least he was a tzaddik in his generation.
If so, how did it come about that Noach, the tzaddik, immediately after witnessing the awesome might and justice of G-d in the flood, decided the first thing to do was plant a vineyard, make wine and get totally inebriated? Noach and his family were the last remaining humans left on earth and humanity was to be reseeded through them. You would think that this awesome responsibility would inspire Noach to rise to the occasion, to strive to be the next “Adam HaRishon,” or even better, to not repeat the same mistakes that Adam HaRishon made.
The Midrash Tanchuma (Noach 13) tells us that when Noach began to plant a vineyard, the satan asked him “What are you planting?” Noach replied “A vineyard!” The satan asked “What grows in a vineyard?” Noach replied, “Fruit that is sweet to eat both fresh and dried, and you can make wine out of it to gladden the heart, as it says in Tehillim (104:15), “Wine gladdens the heart of man.” The satan said to Noach, “Let me help you.”
Noach gladly agreed. The satan then slaughtered a sheep under the grapevine, followed by a lion, a pig, and lastly, a monkey. Their blood seeped into the ground and irrigated the vine. The Midrash says that this is why, when a person begins to drink wine, they turn into a docile and stupid “sheep.” If they continue drinking, they become “heroic” like a “lion” and nobody on earth can beat them. If they continue drinking, they become like a “pig” and lose control of their bodily functions. Finally, the person becomes like a “monkey” who dances and fools around; rubbish comes out of his mouth and he is unaware of what he is doing. All this happened to Noach. Following the planting of the vineyard, Noach drank wine, became paralytic drunk, and this was followed by the incident with his son Cham, who according to some opinions, castrated Noach.
Viewed on a purely realistic level, Noach’s actions do not seem so far-fetched. Noach has stepped off the ark into a post-apocalyptic world. Humanity has been wiped out. Everything growing on earth has also been wiped out, the trees, the plants, the animals. Such a traumatic experience is enough to drive anyone to drink. However, Noach was a tzaddik of the highest level, a man of character. He endured ridicule and attack from his generation for decades while building the ark. He was not weak-minded in any way; he had absolute faith in Hashem. . . . So why should this change when he emerged from the ark?
To understand this, we need to examine how the Torah views wine. If you study the sources, there is a distinct dichotomy regarding wine. On the one hand, wine is considered something extremely holy that gives simcha, happiness, to both man and G-d (Shoftim 9:13). On the other hand, wine is considered a tool of the yetzer hara and one of the greatest sources of evil on earth.
The Gemara in Brachot (34b) says that wine was created during the six days of Creation and called “yayin hameshumar,” the “reserved” wine, which will be served to the tzaddikim in the time of Mashiach at a special feast. The continuation of this Gemara (35b) says that the purpose of creating this wine during Creation was to comfort mourners. A person who loses someone dear to them loses their simcha, and this may be restored using wine.
The Yalkut Shimoni (Bereishit 10:61) says that Noach planted a vineyard not because he wanted to escape from the world, but because he discovered a remnant of a vine from Gan Eden, intact with a cluster of grapes. He planted it in the hope of regaining the simcha he had lost by the death of his generation.
According to Rebi Tzaddok HaKohen from Lublin (Shoftim 16), the mourners that the Gemara is referring to are not regular mourners who have lost a relative, but to tzaddikim who are mourning the sinners who have transgressed the Seven Noachide Laws. Just as Hashem does not rejoice in the death of sinners (He prefers them to repent), so too do tzaddikim not rejoice in the death of sinners; it causes them great anguish.
Noach was a tzaddik; his generation had sinned, had not repented, and had been wiped out. This caused Noach extreme grief, not because he now had to contend with a post-apocalyptic world but because he felt that perhaps he did not do enough to prevent it. It was for this specific circumstance that wine had been created during the six days of Creation, and when Noach discovered a remnant of a vine from Gan Eden, his first thought was to restore his lost simcha, in order to be able to “reseed the world.” In fact, one of the first things on his agenda was to have another child. This is why Cham castrated him while he was drunk. Cham said – look what happened with Kayin and Hevel – sibling rivalry resulted in murder with two brothers. We are three and our father wants to give birth to a fourth?
Wine does have the ability to gladden one’s heart, but it should be regarded as a medication. If your doctor prescribes a series of antibiotics with a specific dose – two pills a day, one in the morning, one in the evening, nobody is foolish enough to say “If I take six pills a day it will work better.” The doctor knows better, and taking six pills a day will do the opposite, it will harm you. Wine is the same.
There are numerous Kabbalistic sources (Zohar, Maharal and others) who exalt the mystical and spiritual qualities of wine, regarding it as one of the most spiritually elevated forms of sustenance in our world. Not for nothing do we bring libations of wine in the Beit HaMikdash and make Kiddush on wine.
All the sources that tout the evils of wine refer to drinking in excess. Wine in small quantities (less than a revi’it, approx. 86ml), drunk together with a meal, is considered healthy and beneficial, both physically and spiritually. The prohibition for Kohanim to perform service in the Beit HaMikdash is only if they drink more than a revi’it.
Noach’s error was not in planting a vineyard, nor in drinking wine. It was the quantity of wine he drank.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Why is the ark called a “Teiva” and not an “Oniya” or “Sfina” – a type of ship?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Why is Adam HaRishon called the “challah of the world”? In creating man, Hashem gathered dust from the four corners of the earth, mixed it with water into a kind of “dough” and then breathed life into it, much like a baker mixes dough to make bread. The Or HaChayim says that by taking dust from the earth, it was as if Hashem was doing hafrashat challah. Adam HaRishon was hafrashat challah – of the world.