Thursday, October 27, 2011

The dangers of substance abuse

And Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. (Gen. 9:20)

The Medrash Tanchuma reveals what happened (adapted translation):

As Noach was planting the vineyard, the Satan came along and engaged him in conversation. 
"What are you planting?" he asked. 
"I am planting a grapevine," replied Noach. 
"What are grapes? What is their nature?" Satan asked. 
"Their fruits are sweet, whether they are dried or moist," Noach answered, "and you can make wine from them, which gladdens the heart." 
The Satan offered to enter in a partnership with this vineyard; Noach agreed. The Satan fetched a sheep, slaughtered it, and let its blood seep into the ground where the vine was planted. Next, he brought a lion, slaughtered it, and drained the blood into the same spot. Then he brought a pig, slaughtered it, and spilled its blood into the soil, before finally bringing a monkey and doing the same. The vines took in the blood, along with the nourishment that the soil offered. 
The Satan was hinting to Noach what the effects of alcohol are: 
Before a man drinks, he is gentle and unassuming, like a little lamb; the first few swallows deepen the mellow. When a person drinks a moderate amount, he gains courage, and confidence; he is like a lion, ready to take on any challenge. Once he imbibes too much alcohol, he becomes violently ill, and wallows in his own filth like a pig in a sty. Finally, when he has gone past a certain point of indulgence, he ultimately loses all inhibition. He jumps around like a monkey, out of control and hurling insults and profanity at everyone he encounters without shame.

When I saw the above medrash, I was floored; I think anyone who has ever gotten drunk or seen others drink too much recognizes these familiar descriptions.


One of the lessons I think we can learn from this account: never get into a conversation with the Satan.

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