Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. — Genesis 9:20
The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–55:5.
I think it’s a safe bet to say that the Queen of England doesn’t take out the garbage. The Queen is prim and proper, and let’s face it, royalty. It would be undignified for a person of such high status to get her hands dirty with lowly tasks. Her job is to sit on the throne. There are plenty of workers to take care of the rest.
Likewise, Noah was the king of his world. As the eldest survivor of the flood, he was the head of his family and the leader of the new world. Even before the flood, we meet Noah as a stately and dignified man who “walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9). Noah lived his life on an unbelievably high spiritual plane. But that didn’t mean that he was afraid to get down and dirty. The Noah who we encounter after the flood is called “a man of the soil.” God’s world needed to be rebuilt, so Noah got down on his hands and knees and planted a vineyard.
A story is told about a husband and wife who went to see a rabbi about a family dispute. The wife was angry and frustrated because there was only one thing in the house that she asked her husband to do – take out the garbage – and he refused to do so because he was busy reading the Torah. The husband was insulted and horrified that she could be so insensitive to his Torah learning. How could she expect him to leave the holiness of Bible study for the lowly job of taking out garbage?
They decided to let a rabbi decide who was right. They presented the case before the saintly rabbi, but he didn’t give them an answer. Instead, he said, “I’ll have an answer for you later,” and he sent them home without a resolution.
That evening, as the wife finished dinner preparations, and the husband sat immersed in study, the garbage sat by the door. It was a stormy night, but suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The husband opened the door and there stood the rabbi. “What are you doing here, Rabbi?” asked the startled man. “I’m here to take out the garbage!” came the reply.
The true sign of greatness is someone who isn’t too great for anything. All service to God is holy. Taking out the garbage so that someone else doesn’t have to is holy work. Doing the dishes so other people can have clean plates, cups, and silverware is holy work.
When we serve God, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty. No job is too mundane and nothing is beneath our dignity because our actions serve a greater purpose, and our mission is to serve God.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President