Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Far Side...

...a few days late and perhaps a few zuzim short, but I think it is still a nice thought that is worth putting out there:

Okay, so God has decided that it is time for a cosmic do-over of sorts. The world has gone all Escape From New York/L.A. and it's time to wipe the Etch-A-Sketch clean and start again. Alone from amongst the mob Noach is chosen to survive, along with his family, and begin anew the world.

So - Noach builds an ark (a what? - an ark, a what? - an ark, oooooh, an ark). Down comes the rain and wipes out slightly more than just the spiders for 40 days and 40 nights. Now it is time for the Noahides to disembark from said ark and literally start from scratch.

The first thing that Noach does is build an alter and bring sacrifices to God - seems like a good way to begin the new world, by recognizing the Lord and giving thanks to Him.

But then the story takes an interesting and ultimately sad turn. After having done the most appropriate first act, which was focused on God, he then moves on to his second act, which will be focused on man - and that is when it all comes apart:

וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה; וַיִּטַּע, כָּרֶם
וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן-הַיַּיִן, וַיִּשְׁכָּר; וַיִּתְגַּל, בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה.
And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent

וַיַּרְא, חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן, אֵת, עֶרְוַת אָבִיו; וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי-אֶחָיו, בַּחוּץ.ַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת-הַשִּׂמְלָה, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל-שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית, וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם; וּפְנֵיהֶם, אֲחֹרַנִּית
וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם, לֹא רָאוּ
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth 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.

To quote Mr. Burgundy, "Boy, that escalated quickly... I mean, that really got out of hand fast. "

I mean c'mon, whaaa happen? Noach seems to have been a smart man, a responsible man if nothing else. It does not strike me as probable that he got off the cruise, goes to all the trouble of building an alter and sacrificing animals to God AND THEN decides, "Boy, y'know, I could really go for a stiff drink right about now. I just need to unwind a little after all that." I'm sorry, it just doesn't flow from were I'm typing.

Sooooooo, what did in fact go down in those first moments of civilization reborn?

My father likes to say the following:
Noach disembarks from the teyva and, as is correct, first turns his attention towards God. Then he must have looked around and tried to take stock what was before him and what was ahead of him. Noach looks around and sees a world that is desolate, that literally has nothing left. What was the most important and impactful thing that he could do at this most seminal point in history.

Noach plants a vineyard. Not because he needed a drink, but because he realized that it could bring into existence the one thing that the world needed most at that time...Simcha. The world needed a little joy...a renewed sense of happiness. That was why he went about making wine as his first act in the new world. Noach wanted to instill with his first productive act that the focal point of everything, after service to God, is to be enjoy the feel simcha in the world. It would have been very easy to be sad and despondent, both about what had happened and what lay ahead. Yet Noach sensed that that would not have the correct course and so went about creating a more productive one, one that he felt was instrumental in building a new world that would be one that would endure. And so he planted his vineyard and made his wine because as is well known "ein simcha elah b'yayin", "there is no happiness but with wine".

Ah, but unfortunately at that crucial moment Noach made a grave mistake. Read the pasuk above: what did he do with that wine? where did he go with it? Into his tent went Noach, and with him went the simcha he was trying to bring into the world.

You know Simcha is a funny thing, very unique in its properties. Most things in this world if you take what you have and divide it up, or give some away to others you have less of the thing in question than you did when you started. Simcha on the other hand works in exactly the opposite way. No matter how much of it you have the more you share it or divide it the larger it gets. Not just that more people have some but that in total it is greater than it ever was to begin with.

So Noach was absolutely right in his original action and his thought process, where he got into trouble was in his execution. He took the wine and the possibility for the simcha that it could create and he went into his tent by himself. He did not attempt to share it with the world , to increase it, to allow it permeate what was at that time and place a sad, cold existence that needed it more than it needed anything else. And that was why it ended up getting him, and others by extension, into trouble. Simcha is a powerful tool and it is meant to be shared, and when it is it can have wonderful effects that can impact the very world we live in. But if one is selfish with it, is unwilling to include others in it, well then it is not simcha at's just a person having a drink.