Rabbi Neil Schuman

Marriage and Relationships 1.0 and 2.0
After a year of confinement on the Ark, tending to animals, mourning for lost friends and wondering about the future, Noah and his family disembark.
God tells him, “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” (Genesis 9:9-12)
So what’s Noah’s first act of settlement and rebuilding?  Wine!
וַיָּ֥חֶל נֹ֖חַ אִ֣ישׁ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וַיִּטַּ֖ע כָּֽרֶם׃
And Noah, a man of the soil, began and planted a vineyard.
The rabbis are intrigued by the language of “began וַיָּ֥חֶל”, for although it does mean to begin, the same root can also mean חולין: secular, mundane or even base.
They recognize in this wording a hidden message that Noah denigrated himself by planting a vineyard first; he should have started with something else.
The 20th-century sage Rabbi Simcha Wasserman asked: What was wrong with planting a grapevine? The Torah itself praises wine, as it is written in Psalms, “Wine brings joy to the heart of man.” One can imagine Noah’s despair and loneliness when he left the ark and saw the whole world in utter desolation. Can he be blamed for having sought comfort in a glass of wine?
Reb Simcha explains that in planting a vineyard, Noah was focusing on his own emotional needs rather than on his mission to rebuild the world. Instead of the vine, he should have planted wheat to sustain the new world in the face of such ruinous destruction.[1]
Yes, Noah was in pain and looking for some relief, but he initially should have been looking at the grand scheme. A great person such as Noah should have been looking beyond himself.
I think this message is highly pertinent to the covenant of marriage (this Shabbat was Jason Leichtling and Alaina Ingram’s Aufruf). My marital experience tells me that thinking of the other first leads to a greater happiness and harmony. When each spouse is thinking of what the other needs or likes, it then creates a beautiful system of reciprocity.
But marriage is not just for satisfaction, it’s also for enabling us to be our best. I saw this idea written in a very wise book:
“Relationships are constantly challenging; constantly calling you to create, express, and experience higher and higher aspects of yourself, grander and grander visions of yourself, ever more magnificent versions of yourself. Nowhere can you do this more immediately, impactfully, and immaculately than in relationships. In fact, without relationships, you cannot do it at all.”
Furthermore, “the purpose of a relationship is not to have another who might complete you (which is why many people marry) but to have another with whom you might share your completeness.”
Lastly, “Marriage is a sacrament. But not because of its sacred obligations. Rather, because of its unequaled opportunity.”[2]
Let’s take these and Noah’s lessons into our own marriages and relationships, and I’m sure we’ll not only be happy but fulfilled as well.
Have a great week,
R’ Neil
[1] Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, Something to Say, Mesorah Publications 1998
[2] Walsch, Neale Donald. The Complete Conversations with God (Conversations with God Series) (p. 109). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.