Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 23 October 2009

A Tool in the Hands of the User

Warning: Any idiotic comments about the alleged historical problems with the story of Noach and the flood and/or with repetitive and false claims about how the Torah was copied from other cultures will be deleted. Thank you.

"And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and was drunker and he was uncovered within his tent." (Bereshis 9:20-21)

There are two thoughts I'd like to share on this parasha.
The first is to mention the parallels with the story of Creation. According to many commentators, the purpose of the flood was to return the world to its primeval state in which everything was covered by water and only the spirit of God floated above it (cf. Bereshis 1:2). The main difference between the original Creation and this do-over was the presence of Noach in his ark, floating on top of the deluge. Then, just as God gathered the oceans the first time to make land disappear, the flood gradually receded to reveal the Earth.
Yet it is here the parallels significantly end. In the first Creation, the land immediately brings forth plants, fish, animals and all the rest of life. In the post-flood world however, it does nothing. Noach and his family disembark from the ark to discover a barren, empty world, save for one olive tree somewhere that only the dove knows about.
As opposed to the first time when Man is plunked down into the Garden of Eden in a fully formed and stocked world, Noach is presented with something far different. If he wants to see a fruitful, growing world, he has to be the one to make it so. The world that will come into being will be a result of his efforts.
Perhaps the reason for this is because of the way the original bounty provided by God was used. Despite being given a powerfully fertile world in which scarcity was rare, the antediluvian civilization became rotten to the core. Like spoiled children who never appreciate any gift, no matter how generous, they used the goodness God had showered with them to reject His rule and descend into anarchy.
This time the message from Heaven would be different. Perhaps if people actively worked to build up the world, they would appreciate the effort that went into creating it a little more. Perhaps there would be more responsibility.
Certainly we see that difference at the end of the parasha in the story of the Tower of Bavel. The midrash explaining why this generation survived its insurrection against HaShem while the antediluvians were wiped out is well known. While before the flood society was rife with theft and violence, the generation of the Tower was known for its high level of cooperation. The only thing preventing it from being an ideal society was its opposition to God's rule.
Why didn't the post-flood generation society the way the preceding one had? Perhaps it is because of this fundamental change in how the world was built up.

The second thought relates to the same verse. According to one opinion, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a grape vine. According to this view, Adam and Chavah drank a nice cup of pinot noir before realizing their attire was... lacking. Once again in this do-over of creation, we find man stumbling with grapes and wine. It's enough to make one ask: why are grapes kosher? Having caused man's downfall twice it might have been prudent to make them a forbidden fruit. Yet we see that the Torah has done the opposite. Of all the fluids in the world, it is the only one (other than water at Sukkos) that gets status as a sacrifical offering on the altar.
According to Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, zt"l, wine represents comfort and physical pleasure. By offering it as a sacrifice, we show that we dedicate all our efforts in those areas towards our service of God. Pleasure for its own sake is to be frowned on but as an element of Divine avodah it has a role.
This leads me to this of the concept of tools. There is an old saying: "Guns don't kill people, people do" which is relevant to this thought. A tool is, at its root, neither good nor evil. It is simply an object. What makes one perceive it as good or evil is how it is used but that is not a reflection of the nature of the tool but rather the user. This can apply to a gun, or a sledgehammer, or even electronic media and the Internet. As tools they simply exist to be used. It is up to the person using it to decide whether he will choose a good or bad purpose.
In the hands of Noach, the grape became a tool for the degradation of humanity. In the hands of his descendents, the kohanim in Yerushalayim in our Holy Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt), it was a tool for drawing closer to the Ribono shel Olam.
This is why the grape was not banned from use by our people. God relies on us to use our free will to make the right decision but does not prevent our making mistakes so that right decision has value.


SJ said...

Will any non-idiotic comments about the alleged historical problems with the story of Noach and the flood be allowed? XD

Garnel Ironheart said...

No. I'm not interesting in opening a debate with this post and want the comments to remain relevant.