Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

The Lesson of Noach

The Torah is not a history book. "Torah" means "guide", and everything in Torah is intended to guide us.

After emerging from the Ark, "Noach debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk" (Breishis 9:20-21). What does this teach us?

"Noach was a complete tzaddik?" (ibid. 6:9). How does a "complete tzaddik drink to intoxication?

The commentaries say that Noach knew how much he could drink safely without the wine affecting him, but that was before the flood. What Noach did not consider is that the world had undergone a radical change, and it was not the same world he had known. In a new world, old rules may not apply. What was tolerable in the old world may not be tolerable in the new world.

In the 16th century, Rebbe Chaim Vital, chief disciple of the Ari z"l said "Given the pollution of the environment, our only hope is prayer.[1]" He was not referring to carbon dioxide pollution, because there were no automobiles then, but rather to the spiritual deterioration. If the spiritual atmosphere of the 16th century was polluted, what can we say about our current environment, when the airwaves convey gross immorality, violence and corruption into our living rooms. Every trace of decency has been eroded. Every day, new scandals about people in positions of leadership are revealed.

Our world has undergone a radical change. Not only is it not the world of yore, but it is not even the world of decades past. The old rules are not adequate. Some human foibles were tolerable in the old world, but today we must live by higher standards. In past generations we could live as Shulchan Aruch yidden, and that was good enough, but today we must be Mesilas Yesharim yidden to give ourselves and our children the spiritual capital needed to survive the current spiritual atmosphere.

Rebbe Chaim Vital felt that prayer was a solution. Perhaps we should become a bit more sincere about our prayer. Prayer requires meditation, but how much can one meditate when the most desirable minyan is the one who finishes fastest?

In the past, young people married, raised families, and for the most part, families were stable. Today we have a divorce rate that is alarming, and children are affected by the deterioration of shalom bayis. Our young men and women are marrying without the slightest concept of the responsibilities that marriage brings about, and that consideration for one's partner must override one's own wishes. There is an unprecedented hemorrhage of our children deviating into drugs and other destructive life styles. Parenting by instinct is not acceptable. Young people, single and married, should be educated about marriage[2] and parenting[3].

Most parenting is done by modeling. We must work diligently on refinement of our middos in order to resist the noxious effects of today's hedonistic world, in which we are essentially trying to go up on the "down" escalator.

While the challenges presented by today's world are daunting, we are assured that "ha'bo litaheir misayein oso - one who tries to purify himself will receive [Divine] help." Hashem helps us overcome all challenges, and thus no challenge is insurmountable. But to merit that help, we have to be "bo litaheir" - we must do our best to purify all aspects of our lives.

The lesson of Noach is that when the world has changed, we cannot afford to continue "business as usual." We must take concrete steps to improve ourselves, our tefillah, our marriages, and our children's spiritual environment and opportunities.


[1] Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avodah 2, end of p.89.
[2] See my book The First Year of Marriage, published by Shaar Press
[3] Planting and Building in Education: Raising a Jewish Child, By Rav Shlomo Wolbe, available from Feldheim Publishers in both Hebrew and English

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