“And Noach, the 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 and 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; whilst wine can cause man great simcha and can help him to feel closer to Hashem, that he should have begun planting something that was more immediately necessary for the rebuilding of the world .
The difficulty about this incident is that Noach was a very great tzaddik, and it is impossible to approach his mistake here in a superficial way. The commentaries strive to explain Noach’s reasoning in planting the vineyard . The Yalkut Shimoni explains that when Noach drank from the wine he felt great simcha . Based on this, Rav Meir Rubman zt”l in his sefer, Zichron Meir, explains that when Noach returned to dry land he was met by incredible destruction, the whole world that he had lived in was completely destroyed and every living creature dead. He naturally felt devastated and disheartened by this shocking scene. He knew that such feelings were not conducive to bringing spirituality to this new world, because the shechina can only be present amidst the simcha of doing Hashem’s will . Knowing that wine has the ability to gladden a person he decided to plant a vineyard, and use the wine that he would drink as a means to bring the shechina down to earth.
This explanation, however, poses a new difficulty - if his intentions were noble then how could such a kilkul arise out of his actions? Rav Simcha Wasserman zt”l explains that there were other, less noble intentions, effecting Noach’s decision of how to begin the new world. Facing such incredible pain, Noach felt the need to distract himself from the terrible situation he now faced, and as a consequence he chose to plant a vineyard, whose wine offered a way to escape the terrible pain he felt . This choice was considered a failing for someone of Noach’s great stature and accordingly, it led to damaging results. Chazal criticize him and say that, when facing a destroyed world he should have first focused on rebuilding, rather than escaping. Rav Wasserman points out that Chazal do not say that Noach did not commit a terrible sin here, rather he did something that was ‘chol’, (from the lashon of ‘vayachel’ used to describe Noach’s mistake) lacking in holiness and greatness.
About sixty years ago, many people faced a similar nisayon to that of Noach. The Holocaust destroyed millions of lives, and whole communities were uprooted; many people lost all their families. Facing this catastrophe, there was surely a very strong inclination to ‘escape’ on some level. However, certain individuals rose immediately undertook to rebuild the Jewish people. Great people such as the Ponevezher Rav zt”l and the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l lost their families in the Holocaust and yet somehow embarked upon the immense challenge of rebuilding. Rav Yissachar Frand Shlita offers another, moving example of someone who avoided the temptation to escape in the post-Holocaust world. Rav Joseph Rosenberg zt”l. He found himself in USA after the war, and noticed that there was one particular mitzva which had been completely neglected - Shatnez. He single-handedly created Shatnes checking laboratories and for several decades checked hundreds of thousands of garments for ShatneZ. He faced more than one churban - one, the Holocuast, was physical in nature - and one was a spiritual churban - the loss of one mitzva.
Baruch Hashem in this generation we do not have to contend with destruction comparable to that of the Mabul or the Holocaust. However, we also face churban on a number of levels. In a national sense, we know that Klal Yisroel s met with 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 60 years than were lost in the Holocaust! This churban is less apparent and shocking than the Holocaust but the damage it is causing is immense. Every observant Jew is forced to face this churban whenever he leaves his community and is surrounded by secular people. 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 says ‘shalom aliyich nafsi’.
On a more personal level, we all know people who are faced with their own person churbans. There are people who cannot provide a parnasa for their families, people who suffer terrible health problems, young men and women who cannot find shidduchim, divorced or widowed people who feel alone and helpless, the list is endless. When we encounter any of these people we also have the choice of escape or build. Rav Frand argues that it is not enough to merely feel bad for them, and to say, ‘nebuch’. We must strive to help in any way that we can. For example, if someone loses his job, then we can try to use our contacts to see if we can help him find new employment. Or If someone cannot find a shidduch then we can spend a small amount of time thinking if we know any suitable prospective partner.
Of course, through the course of our lives most of us are faced with tragedies or catastrophes of some sort. These traumatic events are very challenging and there is the natural temptation to want to escape the pain of the situation. However, a sign of greatness is to make a concerted effort to rebuild and move ahead with our lives. In one emotive shiur before Yom Kippur, Rav Frand suggests that people ask themselves four fundamental questions about their spiritual level. One of them is the question that the ‘rav hachovel’ (the head sailor) asked Yonah - there was a terrible storm threatening to destroy the whole ship and amidst this turmoil the sailors found Yonah asleep. The rav hachovel asked Yonah, “Why are you sleeping, rise up and call to your G-d.. ” The rav hachovel was telling Yonah, how can you sleep through such a situation as this, do something! So too, Rav Frand exhorts us to ask ourselves, why are we sleeping through the tumultuous events that surround us. May we all be zocheh to strive to rebuild and not escape when we face challenge and pain.