Noah and his family emerged from the ark. The population of the world was gone. All the men and women who had heckled Noah on a regular basis were missing.
It was the same world that Noah had known. The Torah doesn't record Noah's emotions at that time. For us it would probably have been eerie, full of mixed feelings, overjoyed at the realization of survival, depressed at the massive destruction that lay before us.
The Torah records the first matter attended to by Noah. He planted a vine-yard. He drank the wine, he became intoxicated, and he carried on in his tent.
Our sages of blessed memory tell us that a miracle happened. On the very same day that Noah planted a vineyard, it grew to full maturity, the grapes became wine, and the wine became aged. All in one day!
Our sages also tell us that generations later the ten tribes of Israel were lost from our people as a punishment for Noah's actions. This is almost a contradiction. On one hand, Noah was privileged to experience a miracle. On the other hand, Noah with the same act caused the demise of 80 percent of the Jewish population.
The explanation is as follows. There are times in history where God has caused destruction. It has always been the case that, immediately following such destruction, He granted the world with abundant blessing and miraculous achievement. Either this is to help the world get back on its feet or it is a message fro God to show us He still loves us. The first project we do after a major destruction will enjoy unprecedented success. It's up to us to decide what that project will be.
Noah just survived the greatest destruction the world would ever see. He walked into the opportunity to take advantage of the greatest possible blessing. What did he do with this great moment? He planted a vineyard, made wine, and got drunk! It was blessed and went faster than ever before or after. Never was wine so good. But think of what he could have done and didn't. there was one chance and it was lost. For this his descendants were punished.
A more recent, collective, example. The holocaust was one of the greatest single blows to our people. The survivors were tired and war torn. They ran to America, to Australia, and to Israel, to wherever they could find refuge. They too were rejoicing over their survival but sick over their loss. But after such destruction would come a time of blessing, of supernatural success. Whatever we would do would prosper miraculously.
And look what happened: the State of Israel, Torah in the world. There have never been as many institutions of Torah as there are today. Schools that were started then have record attendance. For those that took advantage of the time and rebuit Yiddishkeit, Yiddishkeit was built. For those who put their energies into other movements and projects, they too succeeded. In under fifty years, as in Noah's vineyard, a miracle has occurred.
I believe that history will look at the half a century just passed as the rebuilding period. And rebuild we did with unprecedented success.
"Shimon HaTzadik was one of the survivors of the men of the Great Assembly". A period of 200 years since Ezra had ended. The Jews didn't know what to do next. As the founders of a new era they were dumbfounded. They flocked for advice to Shimon HaTzadik, the last remnant of the previous generation would funnel down. He told them to rebuild. Build and see blessing. "The world stands on three things," he said. "On Torah - go build yeshivos, on avodah - go build Shuls, and on acts of loving kindness. Build them and you will succeed!� And history shows that they did build and they did succeed.
The next generation had as it's leader Antignos Ish Socho. What was his message to the people? "Do not serve God for the sake of receiving a reward, you should have the fear of God upon you." Why was this his message?
Antignos came immediately after the generation of builders. He watched organizations be formed and buildings be constructed. He saw the remarkable success and rejuvenation of Torah. He then came and said, "now we are ready for the next step." Building institutions is a means and not an end. Now that it's built, lets put the essence, the neshama, back into Yiddishkeit. Let's not forget about the kavana, and the purpose of the mitzvos. Let's not stop growing. Let's not forget about God!
There was also a parallel in the post - holocaust generation. A few gedolim survived. Rav Aharon, Rav Moshe, Chazon Ish, the Satmar Rebbe, and Rav Solovetchik were a few pipelines through whom the wisdom of the past generation passed. Their message to the people was, "Rebuild! Don't despair!" That generation has passed. There are no more survivors of the Men of the Great Assembly, but their prophecy was born out. Torah has been rebuilt.
What is the message of our generation? Today we must echo the words of Antignos. Yes, we have rebuilt, we have schools we have Shuls, we have buildings and certainly we have organizations. There has probably never been a period of time in Jewish history that has published so many halacha books. On minor details of halacha, entire volumes are printed! We have arrived.
Today our program must be different. We must put the kavana back into these buildings. We have restored the body, now we must restore the soul. Today we must scream in the streets, it's not enough to be frum, it's not enough to keep halacha, we must become holy.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Yaacov Haber is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Orchos Chaim in Jerusalem http://www.orchos.org.il and President of TorahLab http://www.torahlab.org Comments and questions are very welcome: email firstname.lastname@example.org