Parshat Noach

Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick.

Bereishit 6:13

God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.”

  1. Hayyim of Krasna, 18th century, student of the Baal Shem Tov

With his holy tongue [R. Hayyim] said: In the past, the letters of HoCHMaH stood for “Tremble before God all the earth” (1 Chronicles 16:30). But nowadays, due to our many sins, the letters of HoCHMaH stand for “because the earth is full of violence” (Bereishit 6:13).

Rabbi Tabick wonders why wisdom refers to both awe and violence. How, he asks, can violence be wisdom. He suggests that Hochmah can refer to cleverness as well as wisdom. Cleverness can lead to and violence.

With our current experience of the pandemic and the fires coming from global warming, I think there might be another explanation. If we don’t use our seichel, do we instead learn from the hard lessons of reality?

Bereishit 8:15-21

God spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds, animals, and everything that creeps on earth; and let them swarm on the earth and be fertile and increase on earth.” So Noah came out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons, and his sons’ wives. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. The LORD smelled the pleasing order, and the LORD said to Himself, “Never again will I doom the earth because of humans, since the devisings of the human mind are evil from its youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living beings, as I have done.”

Does it seem odd that right after saving animals, Noah then sacrifices a few? Why does the “pleasing odor” lead God to speak to Himself? Does that mean that God changed his mind?

Zohar, Sitrei Torah, I, 254b, 13th century

“Then God said to Noah: ‘Leave the ark.'” How did the Holy One respond to Noah when he had left the ark, saw the world destroyed, and began to cry? [Noah] said: “Ruler of the universe, You are called merciful, You should have been merciful to your creatures…!”

The Holy One responded by saying: “Foolish shepherd! Now you say this! Why didn’t you say this when I said to you, ‘For I have seen that you are righteous before Me’ (Bereishit 7:1), or again [when I said]: ‘Make yourself an ark of gopher wood’ (Bereishit 6:14)? At any point, I could have delayed and said to you, ‘[I will refrain] because you asked for mercy for the entire world.’ And as a result of this decision, it would have been saved by repentance. But it did not enter your mind to ask for mercy for the civilized world. Had you done so, it would have been saved. But now that world is destroyed, you open your mouth to complain to Me with weeping and supplication!?”

When Noah perceived this, he brought sacrifices and  burnt offerings.

What is happening with Noah in this telling? With God?

Bereishit 9:20-21

Noah, the tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.

Avraham ben Shmuel Abulafia, 13th century

Noah’s planting of the vineyard: it has been suggested the planting, the drinking of the wine, and the revealing of his nakedness all happened on the same day,

But the wine is the wine of the Torah, and on the day we plant its root [in our souls] we immediately drink and have our “nakedness” revealed through our [newly acquired] wisdom. This is the nakedness of existence and the nakedness of our being. For then we know that our true being derives from the sexual act, the beginning of our existence. that we are a mere putrid drop begun by an act of intercourse, that we are here for an instant and gone in an instant, and that if we were to live a thousand years several times over, we would still have come from nothing, even though we had had real existence, and that we are going back to nothing, even though each of our limbs had existed, but not, in the end, of themselves.

What is our nakedness? Why do we learn this lesson from Torah?

What metaphor or analogy is being made about our limbs existing but not of themselves?

Abulafia is drawing his thoughts from a well-known passage in Pirke Avot.

Pirke Avot 3:1

Akabyah ben Mahalalel said: mark well three things and you will not come into the power of sin: Know from where you come, and where you are going, and before who you are destined to give an account and reckoning. From where do you come? From a putrid drop. Where are you going? To a place of dust, of worm and of maggot.  Before who are you destined to give an account and reckoning? Before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

What does drinking the wine of Torah mean from these texts? Wine is intoxicating — how is this an intoxication?