The tragic ‘almost’ is a poignant commonplace of epic literature. The Iliad tells how the Trojan War was almost brought to a close by a single combat between Paris and Menelaos. How many lives would have been spared had not Apollo intervened, and for the most petty of reasons!
Paradise Lost shows us Satan seriously considering whether he is making a huge mistake by initiating the temptation in the garden….but, alas, he decides to go ahead with it after all. But nowhere is this motif more forcefully present than in the biblical narrative.
Since the Fall of Adam humanity has come close to ultimate fulfillment and redemption on several occasions. Even now just one small righteous action may be all that separates us from reentering Eden. Noah certainly had his chance to restore humanity. The Flood was like a huge mikveh – a ritual bath for all creation, in which evil was subjected to a series of irresistible hot and cold ‘washing cycles’.
Rabbi Yehuda said that in Gehenom the wicked are punished with water for six months and with fire for six months. Why, during the flood were they punished only by water for twelve months? Six months should have been enough. Rabbi Yosi told him that they were sentenced to both punishments: water and fire. They water that fell upon them from above was cold as snow. And they were also punished by fire because the water that spouted from the deep was scalding.
Thus, they were punished for twelve months, receiving the full sentence of Gehenom. This continued until they were completely removed from the face of the world. During this time, Noah was hidden in the ark. As a result, the Angel of Darkness did not approach him, and the ark roamed upon the waters, as it is written: “And they bore up the ark, and it was lifted above the Earth.” (Genesis 7:17), The Zohar, Vol. 2, pp. 388-390.
But when at last the waters had receded, Noah made a tragic mistake. It was, in fact, the same mistake Adam had made, and it came about in much the same way. Popular belief to the contrary, the forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve was not an apple. it was a grape.
Come and behold: Adam’s wife pressed him grapes and bought death upon him, Israel, and the whole world. When Noah came upon these grapes, he was not well guarded, as it is written: “He drank of the wine, and was drunk; and he was uncovered within his tent.:” (Genesis 9:21)
After the Deluge: Temperance, The Essential Zohar, Rav P S Berg