A few life lessons from the worlds first seafaring prophet


Genesis 6:9-11:32

Isaiah 54:1-55:5

Everyone knows the story of Noah. Let me begin with a lesson we can learn from Noah after he came down off the ark. The Torah says that they came out onto dry land, and Noah planted a vineyard and harvested the grapes from it — then got roaring drunk and wallowed in his tent. So why did Noah get drunk?

Rabbi Daniel Gordis offers an explanation. He claims that Noah got drunk not because he could not handle grief, but because he could not handle success. For years he had been occupied with building the ark. He must have worked feverishly for he knew he was in a race against time. He was probably mocked and made fun of for what he was doing, but he kept on building. And then the floods came, his mockers were destroyed, and he was saved. Can you imagine the feelings of triumph that he must have had as he came down off the ark?

But now, the question that came into his mind and soul, the question that gnawed away at his sense of triumph and gradually wore it away, was: now what? What can I do for an encore? What will I ever do in my life that will equal what I have already done? And that may have been what drove him to drink.

Rabbi Gordis calls that the “Noah Syndrome.” At some time in our lives, all of us — if we are fortunate and if we work hard — will achieve the goal that we are striving for, whatever it is, and then we will have to deal with the question: now what? What do we do for an encore? What do we do with the rest of our lives now that we have achieved what we thought was our goal?

Noah raises the question of what you will do after you have made it, whatever “it” is. He ended up drunk because he could not cope with success. He could not find meaning in his life after his big achievement.

The truly fortunate people in the world are the ones who not only achieve their goals, but who then go on to find challenging reasons to work and to live — those who are wise enough to create second careers for themselves after they have reached the limits of success in their first career, those who are wise enough to understand that “making it” does not mean much until and unless you know what “it” really is. God bless these people, and may we all learn from them.

In addition, there are a dozen very simple lessons from the story, the flood and the ark that I think we can learn for our own lives.

The first 12 lessons have been floating around — no pun intended — for a while. Perhaps you have seen them. I heard them some years ago from Rabbi Jack Riemer.

One: Don’t miss the boat. If you do, you will be sorry.

Two: Remember that we are all in the same boat, so try to get along.

Three: Plan ahead. It was not raining when Noah started building the ark.

Four: Stay in shape. Noah was 600 years old when the call came, so you can never tell when someone may ask you to do something really big and important.

Five: Don’t pay attention to critics. They turned out to be all wet, so just get on with the job that needs to be done.

Six: Build your future on high ground.

Seven: For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.

Eight: Speed is not necessarily an advantage. The snails managed to get on board just as the deer did.

Nine: When you’re stressed, float for a while.

Ten: Remember, the ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals.

Eleven: No matter how stormy the trip may be, there is always a rainbow waiting when it is over.

And one more: If God tells you to take all the animals aboard the ark, and your ark is made of wood, double check and make sure that God really wants you to take two woodpeckers along on the trip.

Rabbi Larry Raphael is the senior rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.