We read in Parashat Noach the disturbing story of Noach’s inebriation following the flood. The Torah tells that Noach planted a vineyard, grew grapes, and produced wine, from which he drank to the point of intoxication. In his drunken stupor, he undressed himself, and one of his sons – Cham – delighted in Noach’s disgrace, for which he was later cursed.
One question that arises in this story is why Noach became inebriated. Had he never drunk wine in the past, before the flood? Was he unaware of the intoxicating effects of wine?
Sefat Emet (Likutim, Parashat Noach) suggests a creative answer, attributing this unfortunate incident to the biological changes that had taken place as a result of the flood. He writes that “the generations and nature changed,” such that small quantities of wine which Noach had been accustomed to drinking now caused intoxication. Noach drank the same quantity of wine which he would normally drink before the flood – not realizing the physical changes that occurred and which lowered his level of alcohol tolerance.
The Tolna Rebbe commented that the Sefat Emet’s understanding of this incident has broader implications, teaching us of the need for awareness of the differences between different periods and different ages. Methods, techniques and practices that were effective in one generation may be “intoxicating” in other generations. The Tolna Rebbe gave the specific example of educational approaches, which need to be adapted to suit the particular characteristics and realities of every era. The educational techniques that were used in the past are not necessarily appropriate for present-day realities, and can, like Noach’s wine, do more harm than good. The Tolna Rebbe applied this lesson also to our individual lives, noting that conduct and practices which are suitable in one stage of life are inappropriate at other stages. We must avoid the tendency to conveniently stay the same, to blindly assume that what we’ve done in the past is what we should be doing now, and we must instead carefully determine the proper mode of conduct for our current circumstances, and make the necessary changes in our behavior when necessary.