Noah, from a Tzadik to a Drunk
By Chaim Lazar
Noah is undoubtedly one of the best known and quite possibly one of the most interesting personality studies in the Torah. Noah, the Torah declares, was a truly righteous man (Gen. 6:9). As is well known, he lived in an era of moral depravity to such a degree that mankind was destroyed leaving only Noah and his immediate family alive to continue the development of the human specie. Although he lived in a generation of total perversity, yet his righteousness was so great that he was not influenced by the moral degeneration of his generation. Yet after the world was destroyed by the great flood, Noah planted a vineyard and promptly got drunk causing himself to be seen in an unflattering position by his son; thereby bringing a curse unto a portion of mankind.
What happened to Noah? After witnessing the excesses of his generation, none the less he was able to withhold himself from being influenced by their evil deeds. Especially after witnessing the divine punishment that G-d passed on them, the horrible fate of seeing all mankind drown in the flood he stood firm. Therefore the question is clear: how could he succumb to liquor and bring a curse into the world? Is this the action of a truly righteous man?
The rabbis explain that in reality there are two types of tzadikim (righteous men). There is the tzadik who separates himself from the world and the evil influence that he may better serve G-d and there is the tzadik who goes into the world amongst the people to serve G-d. Which tzadik do you think is on a higher level? Which one do you think will increase his level of being righteous and rise up his service to G-d? It would seem that the tzadik that separates himself from the world would rise higher in his service to G-d, but we shall see that the reverse is the case.
Let us look into this matter and compare Noah to Moses:
The rabbis teach us that Noah labored for some one hundred and twenty years building his famed ark so that the people of his time would come by to ask him what he was doing and thereby be informed that G-d is planning to destroy the wicked world with all inhabitants. This was done so that they would have a chance to repent but we see that in reality, no one repented. All of mankind was destroyed save Noah and his immediate family. In the beginning Noah was called a truly righteous man; in the end he was called a 'man of the soil' (Gen. 9:20). So we see that at the beginning of the story of Noah he was called a tzadik and at the end he was called 'man of the soil'. That is quite a reduction in status!
Moses, in contrast, began his 'career' being called by the Torah as an 'Egyptian man' (Exodus 12:19). He grew up in the house of Pharaoh but went out into the world to see his brethren. There he saw an Egyptian whipping a Jew; Moses saved the Jew by killing Egyptian slave master. Moses had to run to Median where he lived as a shepherd, marrying a local girl. When he came back as G-d's agent he was required to work with the Jews, to teach them the laws and to guide them; all of this is well documented in the Torah. In the end Moses was called 'a G-dly man' (Numbers 33:1). We see that Moses who went out into the world progressed from being called an 'Egyptian man' to being crowned with the title of 'a G-dly man'.
We see that this is just the opposite of what we might have thought. The recluse tzadik does not benefit from excluding the troublesome world and the outgoing tzadik gains from his interaction with the world. This is actually reasonable since growth in Torah is only when one comes into conflict, then searches and eventually overcomes the conflicts. When one isolates himself from the world, he has no interaction with opposing concepts and thoughts; he can not grow. Growth, like rain, comes from fighting against the opposition.
Noah was content to wait until some one came to him to ask him a question about what and why he was building such a large boat. Moses went out to the people, intermingled with them, strove with them and against them. Moses grew in his righteousness; Noah slipped.
This is the message: It is much better to be out with people, to strive, to contest, even though one may lose here and there, but in the long run the individual who desires to gain in service to G-d will eventually rise up.
from the October-November 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine