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  • Rabbi Max Davis

It Could Drive a Man to Drink

Parshat Noach, 5779 – Anniversary of #Metoo Movement

Noach comes out of the teivah to a virtually desolate wasteland of a world.

It’s enough to drive anyone to madness and so...he drinks.

Of course, there is the Chatam Sofer who suggests that Noach planted the vineyard for a nobler purpose: To produce wine for libations to naccompany the offerings he will bring.

However, the pshat seems more inclined towards a more depressive scenario. The world is wrecked. Noach drinks.

And like so many heavy drinking scenarios, things get complicated, ugly…trouble begets trouble, tzuris compounds tzuris.

וַיֵּ֥שְׁתְּ מִן־הַיַּ֖יִן וַיִּשְׁכָּ֑ר וַיִּתְגַּ֖ל בְּת֥וֹךְ אָהֳלֹֽה׃

He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.

וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ׃

Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.

וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ׃

But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.

וַיִּ֥יקֶץ נֹ֖חַ מִיֵּינ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֕דַע אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥שָׂה־ל֖וֹ בְּנ֥וֹ הַקָּטָֽן׃

When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him,

וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָר֣וּר כְּנָ֑עַן עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְאֶחָֽיו׃

he proclaimed, “Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.”

The upshot in the text is family strife - strife that impacts generations - A curse for Cna’an, his grandson!

Why Cna’an, why not Cham? The 13th c. French commentary Chizkuni explains that Hashem had explicitly blessed Noach’s children, including Cham.

Vayevareich E-lokim et Noach v’et banav, v’ein kelala bemakom beracha – A curse cannot reside in the place of a blessing. Therefore, it was Cna’an who received the curse.

Cham along with all of Noach’s children so Noach could not curse him.

This hardly seems fair.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 70a seems to react to this, positing:

רב ושמואל חד אמר סרסו וח"א רבעו

Rav and Shmuel disagreed regarding what actually happened to Noach at the hands of his son. One says that Cham castrated Noach and one says that Cham sodomized him.

Whoa! If you haven’t heard that Gemara before, take a breath.

If you have heard that Gemara before, let’s also take a breath!

The upshot is that the first crime committed after the flood was sexual in nature. Best case scenario: Accidental voyeurism, indifference, and lashon hora on the part of Cham. Seeing that which he should not have seen, doing nothing about it, and spreading the news.

Worst case scenario, well, we have the Gemara in Sanhedrin. And if it seems farfetched, think of what follows: Noach curses all the generations of his grandson! I can think of little else that might compel a grandfather to such an unfathomably harsh decree.

Whatever it was that occurred, it was precipitated by heavy drinking and resulted in a heinous crime, sexual in nature, and gut-wrenching fallout.

And there’s more.

Consider the generations of descendents described in our parsha, as well as last week’s parshat Bereishit. There is a pattern, an elegant cadence to the reading of the respective generations unfolding one after another. Let’s pick it up towards the beginning of Bereishit 5:

וַיִּֽהְי֣וּ יְמֵי־אָדָ֗ם אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־שֵׁ֔ת שְׁמֹנֶ֥ה מֵאֹ֖ת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃

After the birth of Seth, Adam lived 800 years and begot sons and daughters.

וַיִּֽהְי֞וּ כָּל־יְמֵ֤י אָדָם֙ אֲשֶׁר־חַ֔י תְּשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּשְׁלֹשִׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת׃

All the days that Adam lived came to 930 years; then he died.

וַֽיְחִי־שֵׁ֕ת חָמֵ֥שׁ שָׁנִ֖ים וּמְאַ֣ת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֖וֹלֶד אֶת־אֱנֽוֹשׁ׃

When Seth had lived 105 years, he begot Enosh.

וַֽיְחִי־שֵׁ֗ת אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־אֱנ֔וֹשׁ שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֔ים וּשְׁמֹנֶ֥ה מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בָּנִ֖ים וּבָנֽוֹת׃

After the birth of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and begot sons and daughters.

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ כָּל־יְמֵי־שֵׁ֔ת שְׁתֵּ֤ים עֶשְׂרֵה֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּתְשַׁ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת:

All the days of Seth came to 912 years; then he died.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he begot Kenan.

After the birth of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and begot sons and daughters.

All the days of Enosh came to 905 years; then he died.

This pattern resumes with the description of Noach’s descendents through his son, Shem, going down the line to Avraham.

This is the line of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he begot Arpachshad, two years after the Flood.

After the birth of Arpachshad, Shem lived 500 years and begot sons and daughters.

When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he begot Shelah.

After the birth of Shelah, Arpachshad lived 403 years and begot sons and daughters.

We have the primary subject, his age upon becoming a father, an accounting of future years and future children and, at least in Bereishit, death. In Noach, the text doesn’t bother to inform us of death. The one exceptional case is…Noach himself!

וַֽיְחִי־נֹ֖חַ אַחַ֣ר הַמַּבּ֑וּל שְׁלֹ֤שׁ מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַֽחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃

Noah lived after the Flood 350 years.

וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ כָּל־יְמֵי־נֹ֔חַ תְּשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת:

And all the days of Noah came to 950 years; then he died.

This is exceptional and striking in two ways.

1. We ARE told that Noach dies.

2. We are told how many years Noach lived after the flood, and we are even given his total lifespan, a seemingly redundant number as the Torah already told us how old he was before the flood – 600 - and how many more years he lived post-flood - 350. There was no need to do the math for us other than to emphasize Noach’s longevity and highlight his death.

What is most striking, where Noach stands out from virtually everyone else in the 20 generation roundup from Adam to Avraham, is that there is no more mention of Vayoled banim u’vanot - and he had sons and daughters. No more kids for Noach post-flood.

That could be attributed to any number of factors, but it is certainly noteworthy as he is the only one in twenty generations missing that statement. Furthermore, it follows in the text immediatelyafter the sexual violence perpetrated against him.

This suggests that for Noach, there was life, there were children, there was an assault – assault of the eyes or assault of the flesh – perhaps deliberate and premeditated, perhaps not. But regardless, it was assault. It was a violation and Noach’s life would never be the same. And he endured 350-years of pain.

The first crime after the flood, the first crime of the new humanity, would stamp an indelible imprint on Noach with lifelong consequences for generations. It was a new dawn for humanity, one that anticipated society as we know it today. As an experienced local therapist recently shared with me regarding this topic, “#metoo is the tip of the iceberg for what’s really going on in society.”

October 15thfalls this week. That’s an interesting date for two reasons.

Firstly, this is the one year anniversary of the #metoo movement. We should note that the famous hashtag term was first coined by social activist Tarana Burke in 2006. According to the Washington Post, Ms. Burke stated that she was inspired to use the phrase after being unable to respond to a 13-year-old girl who confided to her that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke later wished she had simply told the girl, "me too."

That was 2006, but nobody really heard of the term, much less the movement, until October 15th last year. That was when actress Alyssa Milano began advocating the hashtag, following her accusations against Harvey Weinstein. So this week, we mark the anniversary of #MeToo.

October 15th is also the first day of BeHaB. For those who have not had a chance to read the Forward article by Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, Rabbi of Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights Shul and chair of YCT’s Talmud Department, Rabbi Katz discusses the upcoming trio of fast days known as BeHab. That is the acronym, bet-hay-bet signifying Monday-Thursday-Mnday.

The custom of fasting on Behab has largely fallen out of practice, but for those who do observe the fast, it is a twice annual occurrence. Three fasts shortly after Sukkot and three more after Pesach. Rabbi Katz observes that the origins and purpose of these fast days are debated and ultimately uncertain. However, one explanation derived from Tosfos in Kidushin notes that BeHaB is a communal response to sexual impropriety that might have occurred during levity of our recent festive season.

The Gemara quoting Rav Avin in a broader discussion of yichud and sexual impropriety declares sakva de’sha’ata rigla – festivals (rigla) are the wound of the year! In other words, these are times when appropriate boundaries and social mores are at their most vulnerable. Tosfos adds:

ימות הרגל [שיש] קבוצות אנשים ונשים לשמוע הדרשה ונותנין עין זה על זה וי"א לכך נהגו להתענות לאחר פסח ולאחר סוכות:

During the festivals, groups of men and women gathered to hear the derashot, and they cast their eyes upon one another, and some say that for this reason, the fasts of BeHaB were instituted.

What the Tosfos mentions sounds relatively benign to our ear, but it is possible that Tosfos is phrasing things euphemistically and, unlike modern tabloids, declines to spell out all the details of impropriety. It is also possible that inappropriate ‘casting of eyes’ is a fast-worthy offense and contemporary society has gone way off the tracks.

At any rate, the title of Rabbi Katz’s article is The Talmud Calls for Fasts to Repent for Sexual Impropriety. It’s time to Bring them Back.

The breaches we now are aware of go far beyond mere frivolity. A person’s sexuality is one of the most sacred components of their identity. It is where who they are and what they desire — and what they do not want — is felt most deeply. We now know that this innermost sense of self has been profaned repeatedly, by abusive clergy and by unscrupulous people with great power, who thought nothing of debasing other people’s existential essence. The perpetrators have hurt countless individuals and in the process crushed our society’s emotional and ethical wellbeing. We desperately need to devote time to figuring out how to offer healing to victims, and fixing that which is broken.

We need to interrupt our routines for a day to reflect on how to fortify our crumbling ethical infrastructure.

This Monday, October 15th, the anniversary of #MeToo, this Monday marks the beginning of BeHab. Rabbi Katz will be fasting. Some in our shul will be fasting. I will be fasting. Does this fast do anything for survivors? Probably not. Does an entire community fasting as a sign of grief, remorse, and caring – does that have an impact? Perhaps, on some level. Does Hashem take note? Most definitely! The God of righteousness, justice, and mercy that I worship; that God takes note.

Our sages saw a value in such fasts, interrupting our routines from time to time. This year’s interruption will be an act of solidarity with those who, like Noach, had their lives permanently, irreparably interrupted.

And I will be fasting for whatever healing Hashem can grant my friend, a survivor of sexual assault many years ago, who has never been able to come back fully from the trauma; who remains alone, without banim or banot.

And to look at this person, to speak with this survivor, to interact on a daily basis – one would never ever know.

Shabbat shalom.

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