|A man came to a bar on a nightly basis, ordering two glasses of Crown Royal. When the bartender asked him why he never changed his order, the man explained that he had a friend with whom he drank a nightly glass of Crown Royal for many years.|
"My friend was drafted and died in Korea," the man sighed, "and I decided to immortalize him by drinking two glasses of Crown Royal every night. One glass I drink for him; the other for myself."
One night, after thirty years, the man entered the bar and ordered a single glass of Crown Royal.
"What happened?" asked the bartender.
"Oh," the man responded, "I quit drinking."
Noah gets drunk
This week's Torah portion presents the mysterious tale of Noah, a man who watched an entire world consumed in a devastating flood. Only a handful of people survive the disaster. What is the first thing Noah does as he emerges into an empty and desolate world, charged with the mission to rebuild human civilization?
"Noah, the man of the earth," relates the Bible (1), "embarked on a new project: He planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and uncovered himself in his tent."
What is the meaning behind this strange episode? Why did Noah decide to plant a vineyard and start drinking? And what compelled him to become drunk?
A simple reading might suggest that this was Noah's method of dealing with anxiety and depression over the horrific events he encountered during his lifetime. Instead of joining the Twelve-Step Program, Noah went for the bottle, an all-too-familiar notion in the human condition. Yet for a person who experienced an ongoing conversation with G-d, one would expect better. Could Noah not have consulted G-d about opening a chapter of AA in his area?
One more question comes to mind. The Torah relates (2) that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. Yet, we are told absolutely nothing of what Noah did during all this amount of time, save the one incident of his intoxication. Since the Torah and all of its stories are meant to serve as a blueprint for life, it follows that the only story that transpired in Noah's post-flood life that was relevant to our lives is the one of his drinking. Why?
A hint from the Talmud
The Talmud, the basic book of Jewish law, ethics and history, contains many interpretations of various Biblical verses. They were transmitted orally from the time of Moses through hundreds of generations until they were recorded in the Talmud around the year 450 C.E. (about 1,550 years ago) (3). The Talmud provides us with a hint of a deeper dimension in this story of Noah's intoxication.
Some 1,500 years before Noah, let us recall, Adam and Eve, in betrayal of G-d's explicit commandment, ate the fruit of "the tree of knowledge."
The Torah describes it thus (4): "The woman perceived that the tree was good to eat, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to wisdom. She took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband and he ate it."
The results, the Torah relates (5), were devastating: Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden; death, struggle and pain became the plight of the human condition. History was changed forever.
The type of tree
What type of tree was it?
The Talmud says (6) that "The type of tree from which Adam ate was a grapevine; for there is nothing that brings as much wailing upon man as wine." The Midrash describes (7) that Eve squeezed grapes and presented her husband with a goblet of wine, which he subsequently drank (8).
States the Talmud (9): "G-d said to Noah, 'Noah! Should you not have learned to avoid wine from Adam, whose downfall was caused only by wine?'"
Here we learn of a link between Adam and Noah — both of them degraded and debased themselves by getting involved with wine.
A glimpse from the Zohar
Now, let's take this a step further.
The book of light, known in the original Hebrew as the book of Zohar and considered one of the foundational works of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), consists of a mystical commentary on the Bible. The Zohar (10) grants us yet a deeper glimpse into the Noah drama, exposing the motivations behind Noah's drinking.
Noah, according to the Zohar, craved "tikkun olam," the healing of the world. Noah was determined to fix the mistake made by Adam and Eve, more than a millennium earlier. By engaging in an act similar to Adam and Eve — drinking wine made of grapes — Noah sought to redefine the act of the first human beings as a source of healing. Yet, he, too, failed. He ended up drunk and naked, attracting promiscuous behavior by of one of his sons, as described in the continuation of this story (11).
OK. So where do we go from here? After all of the above, how should we understand the act of Noah and, more importantly, how does this relate to our lives today?
An explanation by the Chassidic masters
Four generations of Chassidic mystics (12) expounded the spiritual and psychological meanings behind the hints and glimpses of the Talmud and the Zohar recorded above. In the following lines, I will attempt to transcribe one brief point from a complicated tapestry of these Chassidic discourses.
What exactly occurred when Eve and Adam ate from the "tree of knowledge?" And what was so tempting about this particular tree?
This is how the Torah describes the temptation (4): "The woman perceived that the tree was good to eat, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to wisdom. She took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband and he ate it."
But here is the question: Adam and Eve were placed in a garden filled with trees of every kind and were granted full permission to eat from them all (13). Was this the only tasty, delightful and attractive tree in the entire garden? Why could Adam and Eve not enjoy lunch from another tree?
The dawn of attraction
The answer is that this tree was not merely tasty, delightful and attractive. It embodied the very experience of taste, delight and attraction.
Prior to the eating of this tree, Adam and Eve did not feel themselves; they lacked even the slightest vestige of self-awareness and self-consciousness. They did not experience taste, delight or attraction because they did not experience themselves.
It is difficult for us today to comprehend what this means. We, who process all of life via awareness of the self, cannot appreciate the psyche of Adam and Eve prior to their partaking of the "forbidden fruit." In fact, in our culture, a person who does not experience himself is seen as dysfunctional and is sent to a therapist. Yet in truth, the lack of self-experience by Adam and Eve was a symptom of living the ultimately healthy life.
The healthy body
How do you know when your body is healthy? When you don't feel it. When you begin to feel any part of your body — even if you don't feel pain but only a sense of heaviness — it is a sign that something in the body is dysfunctional. The healthier the body is, the less you sense it.
The reason for this phenomenon is that the source of bodily life is the soul, the inner biological engine fueling the body. The more the body is connected and unified with its biological soul, the healthier it is, and the less it is experienced as a distinct and independent existence divorced from its soul. Under such circumstances the body is felt as a transparent vehicle transmitting its inner energy and power, not asserting an independent sense if "I."
When the body, for whatever reason, detaches from its source of life and becomes defective, the body is experienced as a separate entity outside of the cohesive oneness of an integrated human life. As it is not fully in sync and united with its soul, it asserts an independent sense of self, indicating a defect in its functionality (14).
The healthy psyche
Just as this is true concerning the body, it is true concerning the psyche as well. How do you know when your psyche is healthy? When you don't feel it! When the psyche is one with its essence , with its divine mission and purpose, it does not experience itself as an independent entity, only as a conduit to fulfill the divine will. The moment you begin to feel the presence of your psyche, this demonstrates that it has become detached from its source of life, divorced from reality and from G-d.
Artists are keenly aware of this truth in their own careers. There is a point in the work of writers, musicians or speakers when they cease to be conscious of their existence as an independent entity, instead experiencing themselves merely as conduits for a deeper energy coming through them. It is at this point that the artist performs best, for his self has merged with his work in a seamless whole.
Great speakers, for example, will tell you that their speeches become truly meaningful and transformative at the moment they become unaware that they are speaking. This may sound weird, but it is the truth.
The universe of a child
Take a look at a 2-year-old running around the house having a great time. Sit him down on your lap and ask him: "So tell me, young man, do you feel good about your identity? Are you happy? Do you feel valuable?"
The child will most likely gaze at you strangely, his look implying an answer that says, "Stop bothering me; I'm busy living."
Indeed, when you're truly busy living, the "you" does not occupy independent space. When the "I" is totally in touch with life, it does not inform you that it exists for it is completely unified with its purpose and mission.
This was the condition of Adam and Eve in the beginning of time, until they decided to change the course of their lives, and of all of history, forever.
The birth of the ego
"The woman perceived that the tree was good to eat, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was attractive as a means to wisdom." As mentioned above, this is the description the Bible gives us for Eve's temptation. What exactly did she perceive? What was the secret of this tree?
The Hebrew term for the tree of knowledge, eitz hadaas, can also be translated as "the tree of experience (15)." In this tree, Eve encountered for the first time a reality she was completely unfamiliar with — the reality of experience. Eve learned that there was actually a concept of taste, attraction and delight in which a human being could experience reality in terms of "I like," "I feel," "I crave." Till then, she was not experiencing life; she was just living. Now, for the first time, she learnt that one can experience life.
Eve and her husband reasoned that this would be a far better way to live and to serve
G-d. They decided to experience what it was like to have an experience. So they partook of the "tree of experience."
What was the first question asked of Adam after the incident? Ayekah! "Where are You!" G-d came to the garden and asked Adam where he was (16).
At first glance, this seems strange. Was G-d really ignorant of Adam's location?
The question of G-d "Where are you" contains profound psychological meaning. Until the story of the tree, Adam knew exactly who he was. He was one with life, one with the music and rhythm of reality. He was unaware of how he was feeling because he did not feel himself; he did not profess an ego.
Once he ate from the tree, he began to experience his "I" as a detached, separate existence, divorced from G-d's intentions and will. At that moment, he — and us, all of his children — became consumed by many troubling questions: Am I happy? I am miserable? Do I like myself? Am I secure? Am I normal? Do I believe? Do I love my mother?
So G-d asks Adam, "Where are you"? Where have you gone? How did you get so lost from yourself?
The death of innocence
This is also the reason why the first thing that occurred following the eating of the tree was that Adam and Eve "realized that they were naked (17)." Till that point, the first human beings "were both naked and they were not embarrassed (18)." Once they partook of the fruit, they suddenly became ashamed of their nudity. Why?
In the beginning, when Adam and Eve were unaware of their identities as detached entities, being naked did not matter. It was as innocent as the nakedness of a newborn child. Once they ate of the tree and began to experience themselves as distinct entities, they began to sense their sexuality as separate from their divine mission. Now they could not ignore their nakedness anymore.
The birth of the human ego, man's perception of a self divorced from G-d and His intentions, became the root of moral degeneration, leading to the total destruction of the moral fabric of civilization that resulted in the flood.
Noah, who experienced the catastrophe of the flood, decided to go back to the source of the problem and fix it.
Lord get me high
So off Noah went to plant a vineyard… and to drink its wine. Noah reasoned that Adam and Eve used the wine as a means to experience themselves; he would use the wine as a means to forget about himself. Adam and Eve savored every drop of wine, relishing the experience of having an experience. Noah would drink the wine in order to cease having experiences; he would lose his ego and become one with G-d, with life itself.
Has this not been the drive behind many a user of alcohol and other drugs? To liberate themselves from the clutches of their egos, to cleanse themselves of their self-conscious perceptions and touch life in its full majesty?
Yes indeed. Noah's intentions were profound. But the results were horrible. He became drunk and debased. Intoxication only gives one the illusion of self-transcendence; in reality it merely confuses the mind and alienates the drinker from feeling what is going in inside his self. By no means does drinking confront the self and refine it (19).
A few hundred years later, we learn of another man who planted grapevines. The Torah relates (20) the story of Abraham who "planted an orchard in Beer-sheba, and there he proclaimed the name of Hashem, G-d of the universe."
Abraham and Sarah understood that once Adam and Eve ate from the tree of experience, we could not escape the self. Our job is to search through the self, and discover in the very vestige of self, the hidden light of G-d. They began to fix the world (21).
1) Genesis 9:20.
2) Genesis 9:28.
3) See Seder Hadoros year 4260.
4) Genesis 3:6.
5) Genesis chapter 3.
6) Berachos 40a; Sanhedrin 70a.
7) Bereishis Rabah 15:7; 19:1; Zohar Bereishis 36a and Noach 73a. It should be noted that there are three other opinions (Talmud and Midrash ibid) concerning the nature of this tree: a fig tree, a citron tree and a wheat stalk
8) Although the Torah relates that Adam ate from the tree, this actually means that he drank wine, because in Torah terminology eating includes all aspects of nourishment. Cf. Talmud Yuma 76a a for another instance of where "eating" is used in a general sense to refer to drinking wine.
9) Sanhedrin 70a.
10) Zohar Noach 73a.
11) Genesis 9:22-24, as explained in Rashi from the Talmud Sanhedrin 70a.
12) Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, in a discourse of 1801; his son, Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch, in a discourse of 1822; his great-grandson, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, in a discourse of 1918 and his grandson (through marriage), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a discourse of 1980.
These discourses are published in the following volumes: Sefer Hamaamarim 5562 pp. 77-83; Maamarei Admur Heemtzaei Devarim vol. 2 pp. 682-703; Sefer Hamaamarim 5679 pp. 87-97; Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat vol 2 pp. 185-154 and references noted there.
13) See Genesis 2:16.
14) This metaphor is from Sefer Hamaamrim 5701 p. 49. Likkutei Sichos vol. 10 p. 105.
15) Sefer Hamaamarim 5677 p. 89-94.
16) Genesis 3:9.
17) Ibid. 3:7.
18) Ibid. 2:25.
19) A similar attempt was performed, centuries later, by the brothers Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron the high priest. They died upon entering the newly built Tabernacle on the day of its dedication (Leviticus 10:1-3). The Bible indicates and the Talmud specifies (Eiruvin 63a) that their sin consisted of entering the temple while they were intoxicated with wine. According to the Zohar referenced in footnote # 10, this was a similar attempt to Noah's, to heal the world from the sin of Adam and Eve. Just like Noah, the two holy brothers felt that on the day the Tabernacle was dedicated they could finally restore humanity to its original glory and bring forth redemption.
They failed to understand that once Adam ate from the tree, there was no escaping the self. Now, we need to work with the I and somehow discover the light of G-d within our identities and experience of self.
20) Genesis 21:33.
21) See Tzeror Hamor and Shalah Parshas Acharei about the mystical link among the people who entered the mystical orchard of reality: Adam, Noah, Abraham and the brothers Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron.
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My gratitude to Shmuel Levin, a writer and editor in Pittsburgh, for his editorial assistance.