An Unfair Rap?

An Unfair Rap[1]?

Noah is not found in the FBI files, but in most religious circles[2], Noah still has a bad rap. He is known[3] as a drunk[4]. I hope to discuss whether this is a fair assessment of Noah’s overall character.

This week’s parashah, Noach [5] [Genesis 6:9 – 11:32], begins thusly:

These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, perfect among his peers [in his generations]. Noah walked with G-d[6].

Last week’s Torah portion ended with the phrase, “…but Noah found grace in the eyes of Hashem.[7]” There are two general interpretations of the phrase “perfect in his generations,” or as I translated it, “perfect among his peers.”

<1> The bad

R’ Yochanan said, “In his generations he was considered perfectly righteous, but he would not have been considered perfectly righteous in other generations[8].” R’ Chanina, who agrees with R’ Yochanan, illustrated the point by visualizing a vat of wine in the midst of vinegar. The sweetness of the wine is noticeable in the midst of the odors of vinegar. On the other hand, when the wine is not among the vinegar, it’s aroma is not so noticeable.

This line of thought indicates that had Noah been born during the time of other righteous individuals, he wouldn’t have been that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. His deeds would have been lost behind the brightness of greater men. In fact, his righteousness would have seemed like wickedness in comparison. Take, for example, his bout with drunkenness; this is indicative of spiritual lethargy. His inexcusable anger over Ham reveals a pattern of illicit behavior. This only proves that [overall] Noah was not a righteous man.

<2> The Good

Reish Lakish said, “If in his generations he was able to be righteous, how much more righteous would he be had he lived in other generations[9].” R’ Oshaya, who agrees with Reish Lakish, illustrates the point by comparing a flask of aromatic oil in the midst of filth. The sweetness of the oil’s aroma is noticeable among the odors of the filth. Its fragrance is even more noticeable when removed from among the filth. Earlier in the Talmud[10], we have this: “R’ Yirmiya ben Elazar said, “You may mention only a part of a person’s praise in his presence, but you may mention all of it only in his absence. Part of a person’s praise may be mentioned, as it is written, G-d spoke to Noah and said, ‘For it is you I have seen as righteous before Me in this generation[11].’ However, Hashem mentions all of his praise when Noah was absent, as it is written, “Noah was a righteous man, perfect among his peers.”

Later in the Talmud[12], a discussion arises as to the meaning of “perfect.” The statement, “Perhaps Noah was tereifah[13].” The text answers by stating, “It is written, Noah was perfect[14].” The Talmud continues by stating, “It is [also] written that Noah was righteous.” This, along with the statement, “And Noah walked with G-d” teaches us that his conduct and his manner was without defect. The Newer Testament provides a similar viewpoint, when it states, “By faith, Noah, being warned of concerning things not yet seen, moved with godly awe, prepared an ark to save his family, yet condemned the world meantime. He became an heir of righteousness which is based upon faith[15].”

While these are all great reasons to believe Noah truly was righteous and would have been even more righteous had he been afforded better company, I brushed twice on a phrase that best described Noah: Noah walked with G-d. Why this is so an important statement is because it is used before in the Biblical text:

Enoch walked with G-d three hundred years after he fathered Methuselah. He fathered sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty five years. Enoch walked with G-d, then he was not, for G-d took him[16].

The biblical text accredits both Enoch and Noah as walking with G-d. This is not an insignificant feat. When Enoch walked with G-d, he was taken up by G-d. When Noah walked with G-d, he was taken up by G-d as well… in an ark of gopher wood.

If Noah was a righteous man, what are we to do with, “And he drank from the wine, and was drunk[17]?” The phrase “drunk” is the Hebrew word vayishkar. This also means to be merry[18]. To assume Noah was a sinful man for drinking [like Jerome and Calvin] is an unfair use of the Biblical text[19]. In fact, “much wine” is considered a blessing from Hashem[20]. If drinking wine or even “a lot of wine” was sinful, then one needs to explain the events portrayed in John chapter 2:

Being short of wine, the mother of Yeshua said,” They have no wine.” Yeshua said to her, “What is that to Me and to you, mother? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do.” There were six stone urns of water standing, according to the purification of the Jews, each containing two or three measures. Yeshua said to them, “Fill the urns with water,” and they filled them to the top. He said to them, “Now draw out and carry to the master of the feast,” and they carried it. But when the master of the feast tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know from where it was (but the servants drawing the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom, and he said to him, “Every man first sets on the good wine, and when they have drunk freely, then the worse. You have kept the good wine until now[21].”

The keynote items to notice in this passage: the participants of the celebration were “drinking freely,” and Yeshua provided even more wine.

In the Genesis account of Noah’s merriment [or his drunkenness], is his nakedness. While most will view Noah’s nakedness as the support text that he was drunk to the point of being utterly stupid and uninhibited, there may be other factors that must be considered. For instance, if I’m in my own house – alone – and I decide to leave the shower and walk through my house and get a cup of coffee from my kitchen, it is not a sin to be caught naked. In fact, I have every right [in the privacy of my home] to lounge on my bed and fall asleep while completely nude – even after a beer or two. This is not the source of sin in the text. Where the narrative goes terribly wrong is when Noah’s son enters his father’s tent, finds him naked, and gossips to his brothers. This brings embarrassment upon his father Noah.

The nakedness is not shameful – what is shameful is the gossip.


[1] Officially, a RAP sheet is a Record of Arrests and Prosecutions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation

[2] “I rather suppose, that we are to learn from the drunkenness of Noah, what a filthy and detestable crime drunkenness is.” John Calvin

[3] Jerome states, “A morale judgment is passed, not on Noah’s but on Ham’s action.” This indicates a disagreement with the Biblical text. Jerome implies that the sin of Noah [drinking] is greater than the sin of Ham.

[5] Heb: Noah

[6] Genesis 6:9-10

[7] Genesis 6:8

[8] B. Sanhedrin 108a [Translation taken from The Schottenstein Edition Talmud Bavli Volume 49 by Artscroll]

[9] B. Sanhedrin 108a

[10] B. Eruvin 18b

[11] Genesis 7:1

[12] B. Zevachim 116a, b. Avodah Zara 51a

[13] Heb: in possession of a disqualifying blemish or defect that would eventually cause death

[14] Genesis 6:9; i.e., he was without physical defect.

[15] Hebrews 11:7

[16] Genesis 5:22-24

[17] Genesis 9:21

[18] Some translations of Genesis 43:34 use the verb “were merry” to describe the enjoyment experienced by the brothers of Joseph. See also John 2:10 where the concept of drinking, even in excess is not necessarily considered sinful, for Yeshua set forth even more merriment when He turned water into wine.

[19] See Psalms 104:15, Ecclesiastes 10:19

[20] Genesis 27:28, Numbers 18:12

[21] John 2:3-10

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