The most dangerous part of a space shuttle mission, more than blast-off, is its re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. When the spacecraft has ended its space mission, it must re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at a precise angle or it will burn up.
When the waters of the flood subsided, Noach was instructed to leave the teivah (ark) and start the world anew. Noach, too, needed to properly re-enter the land and start a new beginning.
The Nesivos Shalom compares a Sukkah to the teivah. Both the teivah and the Sukkah cocoon its dwellers from the physical and spiritual dangers of the surrounding world. Rav Wolbe points out that at the close of the Yomim Noraim and Sukkot period in which we experienced a spiritual blast-off, we too must re-enter our “mundane” daily schedules properly, or we can lose all the gains from this entire time period.
Let us learn from Parshas Noach how to “re-enter” properly. Upon exiting the teivah, Noach offered sacrifices and thanked Hashem for sparing him and his family. He then set forth to work the land and planted a vineyard to start growing food. However, the Torah takes Noach to task for his planting priority, describing the planting as Vayachel Noach” (Bereishis 9:20). The commentators discuss the definition of this word “Vayachel”. Rashi says it is related to the word “chol“, meaning mundane or ordinary. The Sforno relates Vayachel to the word “techila”, beginning. All the commentators point out that this is a criticism of Noach for choosing to plant grapes as the first crop. Noach thereby debased himself by planting grapes, for wine, before anything else.
But why is Noach being criticized for planting grapes which are used to produce wine and tied to kedusha. All of our holy celebrations – weddings, bris milahs, every kiddush – are in fact sanctified over a cup of wine. Furthermore, Hashem commanded Noach to take vines into the teivah to replant after the Flood. So why is the criticism of Noach justified? Rav Yerucham Levovitz, famed Mashgiach of Mir Yeshiva in Poland, explains that if we analyze Rashi’s words carefully, we will see that the criticism is regarding Noach’s decision to plant the vines before a different crop…wheat.
Planting a vineyard was important for our holy ceremonies but it brought with it the danger of indulgence in luxury. In contrast, planting wheat was a necessity; wheat is the “mateh lechem” (Vayikra, 26:26), the staff of life, the basic staple of man’s diet. The Torah is criticizing Noach’s priorities- he should have planted wheat before the vines. By planting a vineyard first, he actually made the wine chol, not kadosh. It went from being special and luxurious to being common and ordinary; hence vayaCHeL. The Torah makes this clear with the words that precede his planting: “Noach became a man of the earth, and he planted…” He had been so spiritual previously (offering a sacrifice) and now he was “earthy.”
Prioritizing is crucial. We are involved in prioritizing each and every day: our jobs, family issues, calls, emails, texts and so on. It’s up to us to sort out what to do and when to do it. As we see from the Sforno above, beginnings are crucial! Beginnings set the course for the final destination; a small deviation at the beginning of a journey will cause us to arrive at an entirely different destination.
Now we understand why the Shulchan Aruch says that after Yom Kippur, one should immediately start to work on his Sukkah. Transitions – ending one event and getting off to the right start on another – are vital!
We must be careful to restart our year with the goals we set for ourselves during the Yamim Noraim. Many times, we shoot for the stars and fall flat. We then abort the mission. Small, but firm steps create a reliable new path. And often, we’ll need wise counsel to keep our new ways without stumbling. We need to build on our goals based on the foundations and concepts we have absorbed during the last two months of Elul through Sukkos and thereby continue to increase our closeness to Hashem.