July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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For many days and nights Noach was on a ship infested with all kinds of animals, having to sacrifice his already minimal comfort to attend to their daily needs while realizing that virtually the entire world is being burned and buried beneath. We could therefore imagine that perhaps when Noach would depart from the teiva he just wanted to take a drink, perhaps some scotch or wine. We would think this is justified, for, after all, a wild experience like that surely requires some kicking back and enjoying a nice bottle. Sure enough, when Noach got off the teiva, faced with a totally bare world he needed to start planting, and the very first item he planted was a vineyard. The pasuk says “וַיָּ֥חֶל נֹ֖חַ…וַיִּטַּ֖ע כָּֽרֶם”—“and Noach…began to plant a vineyard” (9:20). The word “vayachel” seems unnecessary—why do we need to know he “began”; wouldn’t it suffice to just say he planted a vineyard?

Rashi based on the midrash writes that the word vayachel comes from the word “chilul,” or “chullin” [which is a concept used in reference to something that epitomizes the polar opposite of kedusha, holiness, as the Kli Yakar puts it. Chalal literally means a hole, representing that which is empty of holiness]. Rashi continues that planting a vineyard before planting anything else was an act of “chullin,” and thus the pasuk, by saying vayachel, comes to teach that by doing this Noach made himself chullin. The Etz Yosef writes that since wine is something that can bring to a spiritual falling [as Kli Yakar says it can lead one to engage in immorality (which in Noach’s case we see that it actually did)], therefore planting a vineyard to produce wine was inappropriate for Noach to do; he should have first planted something else [I guess something more neutral], and thus he exhibited a lack of kedusha.

Yet, there is still a question: Among the many various creatures Noach was told to bring into the teivah, according to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah, 31:14), Hashem also told him to bring roots of various edible entities so that when he eventually departs from the teiva he will have the raw material to be able to plant upon the destructed world. One of those things that the Midrash labels as a necessary item was roots to plant a vineyard. Thus, it seems that Noach was in fact commanded to plant a vineyard once he would land upon the new world! If that’s so, why is he being criticized for planting a vineyard!? The answer seems to be—and this is the emphasis apparently in the words of Rashi—that the criticism on Noach wasn’t that he planted a vineyard per se, but rather that a vineyard was the first item that he planted, as opposed to the other foods.

It doesn’t end here. We still can ask further: What difference does it make whether he planted a vineyard first, or whether he planted it second? Eventually he would have to plant it! Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Da’at Torah, Bereishit, p. 61) explains what really is at the root of the issue here. Noach indeed was to plant a vineyard, but the fact that he chose to plant a vineyard first [which produces wine, and as explained above wine can easily lead to the unwanted] as opposed to other species reflects upon the aspirations of Noach. Why? Because what a person prioritizes, and the actions that he puts at the forefront of the greater totality of his actions, indicates where a person is holding internally: Are his aspirations toward kedusha, or are they toward chullin.

Pirkei Avot (1:15) says “make your Torah fixed,” and the Rambam explains that this means that Torah study should be the foundation [presumably of our lives], and that it should be the primary focus [of our lives], and that all other matters that we engage in should be secondary. Rambam doesn’t necessarily say that Torah study should be what we are engaged with all day [depending on the individual], but rather that it be the main thing in our lives. Perhaps we can explain Rambam like the above: that Torah is to be our main aspiration in our lives, and what we look forward to even when we are involved in other matters. One person can be learning Torah and be involved in spiritual matters all day, but yet sets his focus on other matters all the while, while another person can be engaged in other matters, but yet anticipate and look forward to when he will be free to study Torah. Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Da’at Torah, Bamidbar, pgs. 79-80) brings the Midrash that says when the Jewish nation was at Har Sinai, when it was time to leave, they left happily like a child who runs away from school once it’s over. The Jews hurriedly left, thinking that perhaps Hashem will give them even more mitzvot. Rav Yerucham explains that on some level the Jewish people demonstrated a haste to leave, a sliver of desire to depart from such a holy place. Even though these people were extremely great people, Hashem, who “distinguishes matters in one’s heart and examines the mind” (Yirmiyahu 17:10), perceived the internal state of the Jewish nation and hence can tell where a person really wants to be and where a person doesn’t want to be. Here as well perhaps we can add that the Jewish nation, although they were “in the beit midrash” so to speak, nevertheless carried an inappropriate aspiration to detach themselves from kedusha; they looked forward to that moment.

In many areas of our lives we have the opportunity to choose what we look forward to, and what we prioritize on some level indicates where we are holding in our aspirations in life. Whether we are going on vacation or having some time off, or after work, anticipating Shabbat and yamim tovim, going to semachot, or any other matter one experiences, one can either carry the mindset of “what can I get” or one of “what can I give; what can I accomplish spiritually.” The very first pasuk in this week’s parsha opens up by declaring that Noach was a tzadik and tamim, and as the Ibn Ezra explains, Noach was a “tzadik” in deed and “tamim” in his heart. But even he, on some level, showed a lack of kedusha, an aspiration toward something chullin. The fact that he prioritized engaging with something chullin on some level showed what he was looking forward to. And for us as well we can self reflect on our own aspirations to determine where we want to be, where we are holding, and how we can thus improve.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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