Last week’s Parasha Bereishit ended with Perek 6, Pasuk 7-8: "And the Hashem regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. And then Hashem said: I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them.” The next Pasuk opens: ve Noah Matzah Hen Be’enei Amonei. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord". This is the reason we start off our week by repeating this statement in our Havdalah three consecutive times on Motzaei Shabbat: ve Noah Matzah Hen Be’enei Amonei. We want Hashem and others to find hen – favor – in us!
Because Noah stood out among all of the people in his generation, Hashem approached him with His plan to destroy the entire world, with the exception of him and his family. Hashem told Noah to build an ark according to specific dimensions so that it would hold and protect his family and all the pairs of animals that would then populate the earth after the Mabul. According to the Midrash, why did Hashem burden Noah with constructing an ark that would take a hundred and twenty years to build, instead of performing a miracle to accelerate the process? The Midrash answers this question by stating that this was to give the people a chance to repent while they watched Noah slowly build this tremendous Ark on dry land. But instead of seizing this opportunity to change their ways and make teshuva, they scoffed at him and called him crazy. Noah had an opportunity to save his generation, but his failure to try and influence the people explains why the flood is called Mei Noah, the waters of Noah, suggesting, according to the Zohar, that he may have had some responsibility for the flood.
The Parasha opens with the Pasuk, "Noah was a righteous man, he was perfect in his generations; Noah walked with Elokim.” The Torah uses two adjectives to describe Noah's character traits: Tzadik and Tamim. Rabenu Bachiya defines a Tzadik as a person who is careful with other people’s property. Tamim is defined as perfect in all character traits; that is, ethically flawless. But the Pasuk ends with a qualification: "in his Generations". Many of the commentaries compare Noah to Avraham Avinu. Some sages say that if Noah was so great in his corrupt generation, how much greater would he have been had he lived in a generation that was good. But according to others, had Noah lived in the time of Avraham, he would have been insignificant, living in Avraham's shadow.
One of the differences between Noah and Avraham is said to be that Noah did not try to influence the others around him as Avraham did, for example by taking in guests and performing acts of kindness. Avraham was the first person to recognize that there is a G-d who runs the world but more than that, Avraham understood that it was his job not only to be the beneficiary of Hashem's kindness but to emulate Hashem in every way as a part of our lives. As great as Noah was for being a Tzadik who was righteous enough to be saved, he did not have it in him to help those around him to repent. Some commentators say that maybe he did not really believe that the flood would come. According to this reading, Noah was not sufficiently strong in his convictions, and therefore he was not persuasive enough to help his generation make Teshuva and ultimately to save them from the great flood.
We too must realize that we are faced with a similar test and that we all have an opportunity to influence our fellow Jews in some positive way. And if we do not do this, we may be held accountable after hundred and twenty years!
There were many times in my life, when I was influenced in a positive way by another individual who had an everlasting affect on me, and to whom, as I look back, I am truly grateful. Back in the spring of 1987, I was fortunate enough, along with a close friend of mine, to start a class given by Rabbi Ozeri on Pirke Avot. That Wednesday night class quickly became the highlight of my week. The class attracted many others as well, and over the next few months it grew from the two of us to nearly a hundred. That class has lead me and many others to other classes, and served as a catapult, for all of us, to a life of learning and growing in Torah for many years to come. Amen!
We learn from this Parasha, that it is not enough to be like Noah; rather, we must also try to emulate Avraham, who searched for opportunities to perform acts of kindness. We all have an obligation to help our fellow Jew grow in his Torah and Mitzvot observance. This is not a job that can be left exclusively in the hands of the Rabbis, but a responsibility for each and every one of us to assume in our own way. The most effective way of doing this is by setting a good example, first for our families and then for our community. As Rabbi Diamond teaches us: "When you wear the uniform of Torah, weather it be a kipah on our head or a beard and for the woman a skirt or a head covering, people are watching you and observing you, so you must be careful to set a good example as a Kiddush Hashem!" As Hacham Yosef Raful would always say: "Fix Yourself First!"
Pasuk 12 says: “And G-d saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth." In Rashi’s commentary on this verse he writes that whenever you find promiscuity, then catastrophe comes to the world and kills the good along with the bad, to the point where even domestic animals, beasts and birds mated outside their species. After the Mabul that destroyed the world, Hashem promised never to bring a Mabul again, and He sent a rainbow as a sign of this covenant. Unfortunately, today we are also living in an immoral and promiscuous society, but Hashem is keeping His promise. He has not sent a great flood to destroy the entire world, though there are many natural disasters these days that some see as warnings. Unfortunately, we don't get it and our society chooses to identify 'Climate Change' as the culprit of these natural disasters. Some may think that we can run away and hide from G-d, as in the story of the Tower of Babel at the end of this Parasha. According to Midrash, the building of that tower was an attempt by the people of that generation to inoculate themselves against disaster. They assumed that the tower would protect them from future floods, and that G-d would not be able to destroy them.
In December of 2004, one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history triggered a series of tsunamis that killed 230,000 people in fourteen countries, including over 1900 vacationers from Sweden who were sunbathing on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Sweden has grown in prosperity and peace over the past decades, immunized by its policy of political neutrality. They believed they could protect themselves from the world’s troubles by being a neutral country void of the disastrous effects of wars. Their idea was to create a cradle-to-grave society through socialism. They sought to escape the cold winter of Sweden for the warm climate of Thailand. That unfortunately was the week that the Indian Ocean earthquake took place, and the Swedish tourists perished in that disaster.
In 1987 the stock market lost 508 points in a single day, one of the greatest crashes since the Great Depression of 1929. Someone pointed out to me back then, that the two events are 58 years apart, which is the same Gamatria as the name Noah (nun chet has the numerical value 58), so this shows that losing money can also come in the form of a Mabul. In the 1980’s we had the AIDS virus, a few years ago we had an Ebola scare and today we have the Zika virus spreading in southern Florida and the Caribbean. So it seems that if Hashem wants to destroy us for our sins, He has many different ways to do so, and there is no way that we can hide. But there is one way that we can protect ourselves, and that is by finding our way to the Bet Midrash to learn Torah, which has become our safe haven, our “Tebah” (Noah's Ark) of today!
May we all walk in the ways of the righteous Noah, but may we also emulate Hashem by performing acts of kindness, following in the footsteps of our father of the Jewish nation, Avraham Avinu. May we also make a place for ourselves in the Shuls, Yeshivot and Batei Midrash of our community to learn Torah, so that we may keep far away from the immoral and decadent ways of today's society!
Jack E. Rahmey with the Guidance and Teachings of Rabbi Amram Sananes Leiluiy Nishmat.... Eliyahu Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah Malka Bat Garaz
Shulamit Bat Helaina Yaakov Ben Rachel
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Meir Ben Latifa
Yitzchak Ben Adele Esther Bat Sarah
Chanah Bat Esther Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Moshe Ben Garaz Rafael ben Miriam