Dedicated in Honor of My Wife Joyce
Last week’s Parasha Bereishit ended with Perek 6, Pasuk 7-8: "And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. And the Lord 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 chen be’enei adonei. “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 Motzei Shabbat: ve Noah matzah chen be’enei adonei. We want Hashem and others to find chen – favour – 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 Noah 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.. The question that's begging to be asked is: 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? Rashi answers this question, saying that the reason was to give the people of that generation a chance to repent as they watched Noach labor slowly over building 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 also had an opportunity to save his generation, but his failure to try and influence the people explains why the flood is called mei noach, the waters of Noah, suggesting, according to the Zohar, that he may have had some responsibility for the flood. There’s a Kabbalah that says that Moshe was a Gilgul (reincarnation) of Noach and when B’nei Yisrael sinned with the golden calf and Hashem threatened to destroy the Jewish people, Moshe, who lived 120 years (the same amount of years that it took Noach to build the Ark), prayed on their behalf and said to Hashem in Parashat Ki Tisse (32:33) mecheni na:“Erase me from your Torah” if you destroy this nation. The words mecheni na contain the same letters as mei Noach. So we learn from this that Moshe, as Noach’s gilgul, fixed Noach’s shortcoming of not reaching out to save his generation during the 120 years that it took him to build the Ark. Moshe on the other hand prayed to Hashem that if the Jewish people would be destroyed, he would also want to cease to exist.
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 also be held accountable.
Rebetzin Esther Jungreis tells of an amazing story in her book “The Committed Life” about a speaking tour that she was on in Israel. She needed some musicians to accompany her and out of nowhere she was approached by a few boys studying in yeshivah who offered their services. She asked them how they knew that she needed a band. The leader of the band answered, “Actually, we didn’t know, we just wanted to help”. With that, he began to tell his story. “A few years ago, when I was living in New York, I was totally assimilated. I had no understanding of Judaism. My life was music, and I was on my way to Paris to continue my musical studies. I was walking on Kings Highway in Brooklyn when suddenly I heard a crash and the screech of brakes. I looked up, and there in the street, covered with blood, was a rabbi who had been run over by a car. I rushed to his side and tried to talk to him, but he didn’t respond, so I stayed with him and held his hand until the police and an ambulance came”.
“As he was lifted onto a stretcher, I noticed that his lips were moving. It seemed like he wanted to tell me something. I leaned down and bent my ear close to his lips so that I might hear him. Rebbetzin, you’ll never believe what the rabbi said to me.” For a moment, the young man paused. Then he swallowed hard and continued with his story.
“’Son, are you Jewish?’ the rabbi asked me in broken English.
“’Yes, Pop,’ I answered. ‘I am Jewish.’
“’Son’” the rabbi whispered again - although it was obvious that it was very painful and difficult for him to talk. He mustered all his strength and said, ‘You must go to Jerusalem and study Torah.’
“Can you imagine? There was this rabbi, suffering from multiple fractures, his body bloody and bruised, and in his pain what does he do? He tells me to go to Jerusalem and study Torah! That experience changed my life. I realized that I had met a saint, a man who was so committed to his faith that he was able to overcome his suffering to reach out to me. So now you know why I’m here. The rabbi saved my life, and I want to give back.”
Rebetzin Jungreis listened to his story but had difficulty answering him. She recognized that story----She knew it well because that rabbi was her father. When he recovered from that accident, he told us of the incident and asked that we try to find the young man to thank him for his kindness in staying with him until the ambulance came. We never did find him, but now, years later, here in Jerusalem, the holy city, he came to thank me and offer his services in gratitude, and I was able to thank him in the name of my father. We see from this story how the rabbi had the wherewithal to reach out to another Jew and bring him back to Judaism. This is the trait of Avraham Avinu that Noach didn't practice in his generation.
Pasuk 12 says: “And God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth." In Rashi’s comment on this verse he writes that whenever you find promiscuity, 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 and the people were so corrupt that there were songs extolling the depraved behavior of that time. It was at that point that the generation of the flood was eradicated.
What does this mean? Until that point, although people were immoral, there was still at least a semblance of feeling that “what we are doing is illegitimate – sure, it’s wrong, but we’ll do it anyhow… behind closed doors. Sure, it’s corrupt, but I don’t go around bragging about it.”
When society legitimizes something by turning immorality into cultural entertainment, or into an acceptable “alternative lifestyle”, that’s when G-d says, “Enough!”.
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. We have had Hurricane floods in the Gulf states, brush fires in California and earthquakes and Tsunamis in all parts of the world that may be considered “Mini-Mabul's”. Maybe Hashem is sending these natural disasters to warn the people to stop their immoral and promiscuous ways.
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 the 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 God would not be able to destroy them.
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 many years ago that the two events are 58 years apart, which is the same Gamatria as the name Noah (nun chet has the numerical value 58). In the 1980s there was 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 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 the father of the Jewish nation, Avraham Avinu. May we also make a place for ourselves in the Shuls, Yeshivot and Bet Midrashiim of our community to learn Torah, so that we may keep far away from the immoral and decadent ways of today's society!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
Eliyahu Ben Rachel Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Sarah Bat Chanah Esther Bat Sarah
Shulamit Bat Helaina Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther Rafael Ben Miriam
Rav Haim Ben Rivka Moshe Ben Mazal
Yitzchak Ben Adele Avraham Ben Mazal
Chanah Bat Esthe Ovadia Ben Esther
Moshe Ben Garaz Rahamim Ben Mazal
Avraham Ben Garaz Avraham Ben Mazal
Yaakov Ben Rachel Avraham Ben Kami
Meir Ben Latifa Moshe Ben Yael
Malka Bat Garaz Mordechai Ben Rachel
Yaakov Ben Leah
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