Noach was the descendant of Sheis who was chosen to be the progenitor of mankind after the rest of the world was destroyed by the Great Flood. Noach is mentioned briefly in parashas Bereishis but is the main character in the parashah named after him. Noach’s father was Lemech, his wife was Naamah, and he had three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yefes. He invented farming tools that greatly benefitted mankind. He spent 120 years building the ark in which his family and all species of animals would gather to survive the flood. After the waters abated, he returned to the land and repopulated the world. He lived 950 years.
Like many great tzaddikim, Noach was on occasion subject to sin. The Torah informs us that after he resettled the land, “Noach, man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.” When the flood ended and Noach returned to the earth, he faced the daunting task of starting the world anew. He began by planting a vineyard, which had terrible consequences. Chazal strongly criticize Noach’s decision to first plant a vineyard. Wine can cause man great simchah and help him feel closer to HaShem. Nonetheless, Noach should have begun by planting something more immediately necessary for the rebuilding of the world.
The difficulty with this incident is that Noach was a very great tzaddik, and we must not approach his mistake here in a superficial way. The commentaries strive to explain Noach’s reasoning in planting the vineyard. Yalkut Shimoni notes that when Noach drank from the wine, he felt great simchah. Based on this midrash, Rav Meir Rubman, ztz”l, in his sefer Zichron Meir, explains that when Noach returned to dry land, he confronted incredible destruction. The whole world he had lived in was destroyed, and every living creature dead. He naturally felt devastated by this shocking scene. He knew such feelings were not conducive to bringing spirituality to this new world, because the Shechinah resides only amidst the simchah of doing HaShem’s will. Knowing that wine gladdens a person, he decided to plant a vineyard and use the wine he would drink as a means of bringing the Shechinah down to earth.
This interpretation, however, poses a new difficulty: If Noach’s intentions were so noble, why did they lead to disaster? Rav Simcha Wasserman, ztz”l, explains that other, less noble intentions underlay Noach’s decision of how to begin the new world. Facing such incredible pain, Noach felt the need to distract himself. So he planted a vineyard, whose wine would offer a way to escape his pain. This choice was considered a failing for someone of Noach’s great stature. Accordingly, it had damaging results. Chazal criticize him and say that, when facing a destroyed world, he should have focused first on rebuilding rather than escaping. Rav Wasserman points out that Chazal do not say Noach committed a terrible sin here. Rather, he did something that was chol (as in vayachel, the verb the Torah uses to describe Noach’s mistake), lacking in holiness and greatness.
About seventy years ago, many people faced an incredible nisayon. The Holocaust destroyed millions of lives, and whole communities were uprooted; many people lost their entire families. Facing this catastrophe, there was surely a very strong inclination to “escape” on some level. However, certain individuals immediately undertook to rebuild the Jewish people. Great Jewish leaders such as the Ponevezher Rav, ztz”l, and the Klausenberger Rebbe, ztz”l, lost their families in the Holocaust yet somehow embarked upon the immense challenge of rebuilding. Rav Yissocher Frand, shlita, offers another moving example of someone who avoided the temptation to escape in the post-Holocaust world. Rav Joseph Rosenberg, ztz”l, found himself in U.S. after the war and noticed that one mitzvah had been completely neglected: shaatnez. Rav Rosenberg single-handedly created shaatnez inspection laboratories and, for several decades, checked hundreds of thousands of garments. He confronted both the physical churban of the Holocaust and the spiritual churban one of this lost mitzvah.
Baruch HaShem, in this generation we do not have to contend with destruction comparable to that of the flood or the Holocaust. However, we also face churban on a number of levels.
In a national sense, Klal Yisrael is facing the greatest spiritual churban in its history, with countless Jews intermarrying every day. It has been estimated that more people have been lost to Judaism in the past sixty years than were lost in the Holocaust! This churban is less apparent and shocking than the Holocaust, but its damage is immense. Every observant Jew faces this churban whenever he leaves his community and is surrounded by secular Jews. There are many different avenues that a person can take to help secular Jews, but most important is the decision not to escape the problem and say shalom alayich nafshi (all’s well with me).
On a personal level, we all know people grappling with their own churbans. Some cannot provide for their families, or they suffer from terrible health problems. Young men and women cannot find shidduchim; divorced or widowed people feel alone and helpless. The list is endless. When we encounter these people, we also have the choice to escape or rebuild. Rav Frand stresses that it is not enough merely to feel bad for them, to say, “Nebuch.” We must help in any way we can. For example, if someone loses his job, we can try to use our contacts and help him find new employment. Or if someone cannot find a shidduch, we can think if we know any suitable partners.
In the course of our lives, most of us face tragedies or catastrophes of some sort. There is a natural temptation to escape the pain of these traumas. However, one sign of greatness is to make a concerted effort to rebuild and move ahead with our lives. In one emotional shiur before Yom Kippur, Rav Frand suggested that people ask themselves four fundamental questions about their spiritual level. One of them is the question that the captain asked Yonah. A terrible storm threatened to destroy the whole ship, and amidst this turmoil the sailors found Yonah asleep. The captain demanded of Yonah, “Why are you sleeping? Rise up and call to your G-d!” In other words, how can you sleep through such a situation?! Do something! So too, Rav Frand exhorts us to ask ourselves, why are we sleeping through the tumultuous events that surround us? When facing painful challenges, may we all strive to rebuild, not escape.
From the book “Beacons of Light”