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Why Noah Planted a Vineyard and Got Drunk

Why Noah Planted a Vineyard and Got Drunk


The Biblical Narrative

In the year 1657 (2104 BCE), immediately after the Great Flood and G‑d's promise not to flood the world again, Noah and his family, sole survivors of over 1,500 years of human history, exited the Ark with the task of regrouping, rebuilding and repopulating a desolate earth. The Torah describes the first event to occur after G‑d promises never to flood the world again:

And Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Japheth took the garment, and they placed [it] on both of their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and they covered their father's nakedness, and their faces were turned backwards, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.

And Noah awoke from his wine, and he knew what his small son had done to him.

And he said, "Cursed be Canaan; he shall be a slave among slaves to his brethren." And he said, "Blessed be the L‑rd, the G‑d of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them. May G‑d expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them."1

Why Did He Do It?

Why was Noah drinking so heavily? A man chosen by G‑d to be the father of all mankind, someone who was, in the Torah’s words, "a righteous man" and "perfect,”2 was taking to the bottle like some degenerate in a corner pub? We're talking about a man G‑d communicated with directly. We're talking about a man G‑d selected as the most eligible of all his peers to save humanity.

A number of reasons are offered to justify Noah’s inebriation.

The Seder Hadorot writes that, as a young man, Noah had once watched a goat munch on some grapes and then become giddy and cheerful.3 So perhaps Noah was looking for a little pick-me-up after bearing witness to the obliteration of civilization from the face of the earth.

Another explanation offered is that Noah was after the cognitive powers that could be harnessed through alcohol, wanting to broaden his horizons in the study of Torah.4

Chassidic teachings take a different approach. Noah wasn't trying to imbibe spirits to lift his own. He also wasn't looking to drink in moderation to jump-start his brain. Noah's plan from the beginning was to go all in, to get completely under-the-table, stripped-down-to-the-flesh plastered.

Having witnessed extreme depravity and immorality, and the destruction it left in its wake, Noah had come face to face with the consequences of sin. Noah got drunk (and subsequently disrobed) as an ambitious attempt to return the world to the innocent time before sin. He was trying to undo and reverse the negative effects of Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden.

The World Before Sin

Before there was sin, the universe was at peace. Nature and its Creator were completely in sync and the unity of G‑d was manifest in all of creation. The only consciousness that existed was the consciousness of G‑d, and one couldn't help but view every aspect of the world as a component of that reality. The only self-awareness that existed before sin was the awareness that one was an expression of the Divine. There was no possibility of viewing oneself as an independent, self-sufficient entity when G‑dliness was so revealed. One unifying consciousness fused all of creation together.

Then came sin. The effects were quick in coming and shattered the clarity that had existed previously. Confusion and friction became the dominant realities. In place of the two innocent souls blissfully unaware of their own nakedness, two people stood with a newly acquired self-awareness that focused them in on their own existence and made them shrink away in shame. The harmony was gone. The unity was gone. The transcendence was gone. What was left was a multitude of independent creatures lacking the guiding and uniting force they once took for granted.

Noah, in his attempt to fashion a society based on proper ideals, tried importing the pre-sin state of existence. By getting drunk, Noah thought he could get rid of the pervasive self-awareness and thereby resurrect a state of complete unity with the Divine.

Noah’s mistake was that he thought all oblivion was created equal. What he didn't realize was that lack of self-awareness that doesn't come from subjugation to a higher power, but rather from excessive alcohol consumption, is merely confusion, and isn't in fact an enlightened spiritual state. One can't take shortcuts in achieving transcendence; it has to come from hard work and steady progress.

So Noah wasn't just looking for a good time, and it wasn't just a passing idea. His actions were part of a grand plan to fashion society on the foundations of spiritual enlightenment. It just didn't play out the way he imagined.5

The Reaction

On finding out about their father's intoxication, Noah's three sons had three different reactions, ranging from pious to deplorable.

“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness, and he told his two brothers outside.”6

Seems innocent enough. But as Rashi is quick to inform us, "saw his father's nakedness" means that he either sodomized him or castrated him.7 Neither of those being your average son's reaction to finding his father sprawled on his bed in a drunken stupor.

Ham lost no time in telling his brothers of their father's shameful state. Shem, the youngest of the three, sprang into action and grabbed a garment to cover their father. Japheth, following his younger brother's lead, also held onto the garment:

Shem and Japheth took the garment, and they placed [it] on both of their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and they covered their father's nakedness, and their faces were turned backwards, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.8

Rashi explains that the seeming redundancy in the verse teaches us that Shem and Japheth made additional efforts to avoid seeing their father in a state of nakedness even for just a moment.

And Noah awoke from his wine, and he knew what his small son had done to him. And he said, "Cursed be Canaan; he shall be a slave among slaves to his brethren." And he said, "Blessed be the L‑rd, the G‑d of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them. May G‑d expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be a slave to them."9

There are a number of explanations offered as to why Canaan, Ham’s son, is the one to bear the brunt of Noah’s curse:

1) He was cursed because he was the one who initially informed his father, Ham, of the situation. (And not in the “Oh my word! Whatever are we to do about this?” kind of way. More like in the “Dad you gotta check out what I just found! You're gonna love this” kind of way.)10

2) Because Ham tried preventing Noah from having a fourth son, Noah cursed his fourth son.11

3) Noah didn't think it was appropriate to curse his son after G‑d himself had blessed his children.12

4) Ham actually learned his perverse ways from his son Canaan.13

Our rabbis teach, that both Shem and Japheth were rewarded for their actions, but in different measures. Shem, because he initiated, was rewarded in both body and soul by meriting to have his descendants receive the special mitzvah of tzitzit. Japheth, who merely went along with Shem’s actions, was rewarded in body by meriting the burial of his descendants during the war of Gog and Magog.14 Ham, who not only didn't assist his father but added injury to insult, was punished through his descendants when they were stripped naked and disgraced in the war with the King of Assyria.15

The Punishment Fits the Crime

What's interesting to note is that all the rewards and punishments dished out as a result of this event are related to clothing. This is in keeping with the Torah’s general principle of "an eye for an eye," the idea that consequences are meted out measure for measure. If you're a good doctor, getting a taste of your own medicine isn't so bad. (But if you're a bad doctor...)

Mirror, Mirror

Chassidic teachings tell us that when one sees negativity in others, it's really a projection of the seer’s own negativity. However, is this true across the board? Is it not possible for a really good guy to happen upon a really bad guy? Is it not possible for a completely selfless person to interact with selfish people? (It's okay if you're picturing yourself right now.) The answer is yes, it is possible. The key to knowing if the negativity you see is a reflection of you is in the kind of reaction it is.

When Ham saw his father's disgrace, the thought of helping him didn't cross his mind. Shem, on the other hand, saw the issue as one that needed to be rectified, and instantly got to work doing that.

One's reaction to negativity is very telling. If, when coming across it, you react like an amateur food critic and just say "that's bad" and move on your way, then something's wrong. The negativity didn't bother you enough to attempt to get rid of it. It didn't rattle your proverbial cage. Negativity has to clash with everything you stand for. It has to shake you to your very core until you have no choice but to correct it.

If it doesn't do that, then there's some of that negativity in you as well.

For Shem, there was no buffering time. The second he heard of his father's compromised situation, he got to work fixing it. Finding out about the issue and finding a solution were one and the same for Shem. Because he was completely free of any of that negativity, he instantly rejected it and went about trying to change it.

So when you come across evil in the world, you have a decision to make: do you want to be a part of it, or do you want to be a part of bringing it down?16

Seder Hadorot, p. 25.
Midrash Rabba 36:3; see Eitz Yosef.
Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat, vol. 2, Vayihyu Chayei Sarah (pages 148-149)
See Rashi ad loc. See Talmud Sanhedrin 70a. See also Rashi to Genesis 9:25 where it is explained that Ham castrated Noah because he said, “Adam only had two children and they killed each other over inheriting the earth. My father has three children already and he's still looking for more?”
Rashi to 9:22.
Rashi to 9:25. See The Punishment Fits the Crime. What’s interesting is that Ham judged Noah for having so many children when he himself had more.
Kli Yakar 9:24.
See Ezekiel 39:11. For more about this war, see The War of Gog and Magog.
See Isaiah 20:4. In the year 3221, Sennaherib, king of Assyria, started an imperialistic campaign, conquered many nations and spread them across the world. For further reading: Sennaherib's Debacle.
Likutei Sichot, vol. 10, Noach II (pages 24-29).
Rabbi Zalmy Labkowsky grew up in LA and currently lives in Brooklyn where he studies Talmud.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Efraim Great Neck October 22, 2017

As opposed to those commentators who denigrate Noach and say that this was the first thing that Noach did as soon as he left the ark, this story clearly took place many years later. Aside from the time for the grapes to ripen, there was the involvement of Noach's grandson Canaan (who is cursed by Noach) in the story. He was not on the ark, and for him to participate in any meaningful way in this story, he had to already be several years old.
And remember - despite Rashi placing an asterik on the glowing praise of Noach in the first pasuk of the parsha (by raising the issue of "in his generations" implying that he might have amounted to nothing in the generation of Avraham - a time which he actually did live), the simple meaning of the pasuk is that he was always Tamim and a tzadik - even when he got drunk. So there is clearly more to this story. Reply

John Osborne October 17, 2017

One aspect of Noah is he is the father to all. A likeness of The Almighty. As the Hebrew nation and the gentile nation walk(read) backwards to each other Isaiah forms a prophecy we both must adhere to by working together in solving a dilemma: Isa 46:2 They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.

All points to an agreement we all must make to deliver the garment. So we have no shame in the eyes of our creator. Reply

Anonymous November 11, 2016

The Subtle Yet Diametrically Opposed Difference Great Article

As I recall the point the Rebbe (whose opinion this article is based on) made, is somewhat different.

When a person sees negativity in another, there are two possible reactions - the first is negative - invariably all emotions are self-generated, hence though the stimuli comes from outside of you, it reflects your own self - hence when we see something that is negative in another, it is actually, as the Baal Shem Tov says, your own mirror image.

However there is a mature state (whereas, a naive person sees no evil, and an angry person see only) a mature person understands that evil is not my problem - only goodness; so as Judaism so clearly teaches, if I have the capacity in a gentle compassionate way to assist another through showing them a better path, that then was the reason this was shown to me; but if I cannot, then obviously I mustn’t even think say, or do anything. Reply

Shiphrah Aubert Long Beach November 6, 2016

Questions on garment and master of the soil My curiosity is really peaked with this story. The garment place on Noah, was this the same garment placed on Adam by HaShem after the Fall? Did this garment somehow enable Noah to be master of the soil and the grapes became so infused with divine power? Is it possible that Noah became too drunk from the divine power within the garment and vineyard? So drunk that he was no longer able to function properly on earth, and seeing this, Ham tried to reason to himself and the others, that Noah was unfit to have this garment, and he was cursed for that? Reply

Sheila USA November 6, 2016

An answer to prayer I have been fighting with myself over a couple of issues for a very long time, and this has given me my first solid answer. I believe it was very difficult, because I was always taught to never judge another, to see the sin, and stay away from it, but never to judge someone else. I have always found it hard to see something I knew G-d is against, and know how handle it. I desire to be kind, and love others, but it's not enough anymore to turn my head and ignore some of the actions I see today. To see a problem or wickedness and ignore it, is never going to be a problem for me again. I have known all my life that this made me feel bad, and frustrated. Taking a stand, and making a decision right then, is my answer from now on. I refuse to not see wrong, when it's before me anymore. I've never condoned wrong doing, but I have not made my self accountable for my own actions. I will have to acknowledge my mistakes, and change. Thank you So very much, Reply

John Osborne October 17, 2017
in response to Sheila:

Judging is the ultimate goal. I tell you The Almighty says not to eat a pig or you shall die. I am able to give you life through him. Moses wrote “this Torah is your life”, “ to give you long life” Reply

Dov South Florida November 5, 2016

My question is....was the ripening of the vineyard grapes miraculous? I ask because we are told the first thing Noach did upon exiting the Teivah was to plant a vineyard. But would it not take time for the grapes to grow and then ferment in order to produce wine? So how can it be he immediately got drunk after exiting from the Ark? Reply

Anonymous CA November 5, 2016

This has got to be the zannyiest, crazy take on Noah that I have ever read! I think you really need to look at the Torah and really read what's there.

As far as Noah being so terrific and "perfect" this is a take on him I've never heard. At best he was less awful than most around him, but the Torah also says there were other good people as well. Noah was so far removed from Prophets like Abraham or Moshe, that to call him perfect is mind boggling to me. Unlike Moshe or Abraham, he never once pleads with G-D to save others from the flood who were also good.

I don't even know where to begin on your theory about his getting drunk! It was way out there but I want you to know this article was great! Reply

Michael NY November 4, 2016

With All Due Respect-- to Both Noah and the Author. . . The first event to occur after the Flood was Noah building an altar and making an offering to G-d.

Then G-d introduced the covenant of the rainbow.

(It also took time for the grapes to grow and then ferment.)

Just to be clear--Noah didn't walk off the ark and go on a bender! Reply

Pete WA November 3, 2016

Noah's drunkenness Whatever it actually entailed, its cause was the evil of his imagination which he gathered from his youth.

To remain juvenile, not accountable to the laws but to persons and political entities, to popuarity contests like voting in the guise of exercising free choice. He did not want his Bar Mitzvah but desiredd to remain forever subject to the whims and fancies of his own, and others, desires. In effect, the be like the cursed Canaan, a slave of his own desires and public servants. Which is why the Rebbe has reminded us to teach the Noahide laws to the Gentile nations.

And if we are Gentiles, then to study the laws that are applicible to us and observe them, like the US Constitution. Reply

Robert Barron Canada November 3, 2016

The judgement of Ham and Adam and Eve. I see in your arguments that you presume facts not included in the original accounts. This is human rationalization of the crime, and presumption. To condemn the whole human race because Adam and Eve disobeyed gods orders not to eat from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil is horrendous. To condemn the descendants of Ham to slavery for seeing Noah naked and drunk is also horrendous. I despise both judgements as injustice. I cannot believe that a deity would do this . Only malicious and spiteful humans would. Reply

jim dallas November 3, 2016

very interesting a lot in a small space, but down to earth possible. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel November 3, 2016

Why Noah Got Drunk -- Another Theory The implied reason of why Noah got drunk is that having helped to clean the world of evil people, he could see from the way his children were behaving that his efforts with the ark and the rest of the animals were going to be ineffective in the long-term. At any time during the flood, Noah could have ended all life by sinking the arc, but he didn't. He saw that his care in saving a small part of humanity was not going to stop more evil being done and G-d had promised not to repeat the flood. So Noah became frustrated that his efforts had been ineffective and gave way to his feelings. Reply

Rajiv R Pune India November 3, 2016

Touche... Shalom ! As a recovering alcoholic who's been clea so far with HaShem's grace, the Chassidic masters insight strikes a chord within. Seeking that elusive higher experience, a spiritual experience, albeit incorrectly.
Thank you ! Wonderful. Reply

Efraim Weinblatt New York November 2, 2016

Drunkedness While there are many comments about Noach's drinking episode, most of them negative, one has to keep several things in mind. Firstly, this is not the first action he took after leaving the ark - he first offered a korban todah, an animal sacrifice, to God; in appreciation, God promised never to flood the earth again, saving countless numbers of people over the years. Secondly, the Torah tells us that Noach was Tamim, completely righteous, in all of his generations - so clearly Noach has not degenerated into a drunk.

Finally, this event clearly had to happen several years after exiting the ark because a critical role is played by Canaan, Noach's grandson, who was not on the ark - so grape vines were not the first thing Noach planted after leaving the ark. The Torah here describes him as Ish Ha'adamah, a man of the earth - the word Ish is used in the Torah as description of an important personage. He invented farm tools before the flood, and now reverted to what was needed after the flood - someone to work the land. All of this should put proper perspective on this story. Reply

Anonymous NJ November 2, 2016

I think Noah WAS trying to be independent from the nightmare of being on that ship. I believe it was a sign that he was ready for his end. Also it was his most potent thing avaible for rest. Reply

Bracha spring valley November 2, 2016

Beautiful! Thank you. Reply

David Minooka, IL November 2, 2016

I liked the conclusion, but all the speculation about why Noah got drunk and what and why Ham did what he did, and why Canaan was the one cursed is just that--speculation. The more important point (which we find throughout the entire Tanach) is that Canaan was going to be a servant and a thorn in the side of Shem (Israel) forevermore. Reply

Anonymous Toronto via November 2, 2016

Thank you This information is helping big time. t.y. Reply

Zalmy November 2, 2016

Source Request The requested sources were added in footnotes 5 and 16. Enjoy! Reply

Anonymous November 2, 2016

Alcohols Numbing He go drunk to numb his feelings. He realized all the destruction that had taken place, and only he and his family survived Reply

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