B’reishit, Chapter 9: God’s covenant

God blessed Noah and his sons upon their exit from the ark that they be fruitful and multiply.  God informed them that they are permitted to eat flesh of animals.  They were given a few commandments, like not to shed the blood of other humans. God promised never to destroy the earth again and created a rainbow as the sign of His covenant.  Noah then planted a vineyard, drank from his wine, and became drunk.  His youngest son, Ham, saw that Noah was lying naked.  He told his two brothers, Shem and Yefet, and they covered their father.  When Noah awoke, he cursed Ham and blessed Shem and Yefet.

The chapter speaks for itself.  Even the most righteous in every generation face the risk of foundering.  While earlier Noah was described as “Noah, the righteous man,” in our chapter he is described as “Noah, the man of the field.”  He ends his life a drunkard, naked in his tent.  What happened to Noah?  Perhaps it was the constant attention from God, or the loneliness on the ark all those years.  Maybe it was the need to provide sustenance for himself after years of having it all ready for him in the ark.  The Ramban comments that Noah is called “the man of the field” because he gave his whole heart to work in the vineyard; it consumed him.

My friend, Rabbi Noah Leavitt, suggested that the pivotal point is the sacrifice Noah (the Biblical one, not my friend) gave immediately after leaving the ark (this was in Chapter 8).  By giving this sacrifice, Noah felt he has exhausted his religious duties and can move onto worldly things.  He gave his sacrifice, and now he can become a “man of the field.”  Planting a vineyard, according to a midrash, was the wrong thing to plant.  Morally, Noah ought to have planted food, something that would have provided sustenance to his family and the world.  Instead, he planted grapes for wine, for his own pleasure.  In the words of Rabbi Leavitt,

[Noah’s religious sensibilities] failed to penetrate or even influence his work life. When Noah went out into the field he failed to realize that even this activity could be in the service of God. This is why the Torah labels him simply as an “ish adamah.” It is easy focus on our religious lives when we are in shul, however, the challenge God placed before Noah and in fact before all of us is to integrate the spiritual and mundane elements of our lives so that all of our activities can be counted be as avodat Hashem, service of God. 

Rabbi Roy Feldman

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B’reishit, Chapter 9: God’s covenant

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