Dedicated in Honor of Karen and Joey Terzi’s Wedding by Joe Chehebar
A Chance to Repent
Last week’s parashat Beresheet ended with, “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 things, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them (6:7).” The next and very last passuk of Beresheet closes, “Ve noach matzah chen be’enei Hashem—But Noach 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 Noach matzah chen be’enei Hashem.” We want Hashem and others to find chen –favor – in us!
Because Noach stood out among all the people in his generation, Hashem approached him with His plan to destroy the entire world, except for Noach and his family. Hashem told Noach 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 asked is, why did Hashem burden Noach 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 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.
Noach 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 Noach, 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. He said to Hashem in parashat Ki Tissa, “Mecheni na mesifrecha—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.
Ish Tzadik Tamim—A Righteous and Perfect Man
Parashat Noach opens with the passuk, “Noach was a righteous man, he was perfect in his generation; Noach walked with Elokim.” The Torah uses two adjectives to describe Noach's character traits: tzaddik and tamim—righteous and perfect. Rabenu Bachiya defines a tzaddik as a person who is careful with other people’s property. Tamim is defined as perfect in all character traits or ethically flawless. But the passuk ends with an exception, “in his generation.” Many of the commentaries compare Noach to Avraham Avinu. Some sages say that if Noach 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 Noach lived in the time of Avraham, he would have been insignificant, living in Avraham's shadow. So how can these opinions both be correct and understood if they contradict each other? Is “in his generation” something that might be considered derogatory, or is it praiseworthy for what could have been?
Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch connects both opinions perfectly in his book On the Parasha. According to both opinions Noach was righteous because he withstood trials daily while being surrounded only by wicked people. This alone entitles him to be awarded with the title of a righteous person, and if he would have had the opportunity to engage in avodat Hashem in a generation that did not require him to constantly withstand tests, he would have been even more righteous. On the other hand, those who say he would not have been considered a person of stature had he lived in the generation of Avraham contend that he was righteous in his generation specifically because he exercised tremendous dedication, determination, and self-discipline by refraining from sinning in such a challenging environment. Therefore, although the opinions contradict each other, they both praise Noach for his righteous behavior in his lifetime.
Noach and Avraham
However, Noach was missing an important quality that Avraham had. Noach did not try to influence the others around him as Avraham did 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. He understood that it was his duty not only to be the beneficiary of Hashem's kindness, but to emulate Hashem in every way he could. As great as Noach was for being a tzaddik 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, Noach 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. ’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 his children of the incident and asked that they try to find the young man to thank him for his kindness, for staying with him until the ambulance came. They never did find him, but now, years later, here in Jerusalem, the holy city, he came to offer his services in gratitude to the rabbi, and the rebetzin was able to thank him in the name of her father. We see from this story how the rabbi reached out to another Jew even in an incredibly difficult time and was able to bring him back to Judaism. This is the trait of Avraham Avinu that Noach didn't practice in his generation.
The Pitfalls of Celebrating Corruption
“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 comment on this verse he writes that whenever there is promiscuity, catastrophe comes to the world and kills the good along with the bad. Noach’s generation was so corrupt to the point where even domestic animals, beasts, and birds mated outside their species, and the people would sing songs praising the wicked behavior of that time. It was unquestionable that the generation of the flood was to be eradicated.
Until that generation, although people were immoral, there was still at least a feeling of “What we are doing is illegitimate, but we’ll do it anyhow… behind closed doors. I won’t go around bragging about it.” When society legitimizes something and turns immorality into cultural entertainment or 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 brutal hurricanes in the Gulf states, wildfires in California, and earthquakes and tsunamis in all parts of the world that some may consider to be “mini mabul's.” Maybe Hashem is sending these natural disasters to warn the people to stop their immoral and promiscuous ways.
Unfortunately, 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 G-d 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 gematria as the name Noach (nun chet has the numerical value 58). In the 1980’s there was the AIDS virus, and a few years ago we had a Zika scare. It seems that if Hashem wants to destroy us for our sins, He has many 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 haven, our Noach's Ark of today!
May we all walk in the ways of the righteous Noach, 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 midrashim of our community to learn Torah, so that we may keep far away from the immoral ways of today's society!
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
If there is someone in need of direction or guidance, do we go out of our way to perform acts of kindness, like inviting someone for Shabbat or offering to learn with someone, in order to help bring them closer to Hashem?
Because of the corruption of Noach’s generation, Hashem instructed Noach to build an ark. The building process took 120 years, giving Noach a chance to influence the people to repent. He failed to do this, which is partly why the flood is called mei Noach.
“Perfect in his generation” means either Noach would have been even greater or completely insignificant in a good generation like Avraham’s. However, both opinions agree that despite his surroundings, Noach possessed righteous qualities in his lifetime.
In a world where corruption is normalized and even celebrated, in order to help protect ourselves from the next mabul-like punishment that Hashem inflicts upon the world, we must strive to learn and live by the Torah and bring our fellow Jews closer to Hashem, like Avraham Avinu.
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah
Esther Bat Sarah
Avraham Ben Mazal
Shulamit Bat Helaina
Rabbi Meyer Ben Chana
Rahamim Ben Mazal
Batsheva Bat Sarah Esther
Rafael Ben Miriam
Ovadia Ben Esther
Rav Haim Ben Rivka
Moshe Ben Mazal
Moshe Ben Yael
Yitzchak Ben Adele
Avraham Ben Mazal
Meir Ben Latifa
Chanah Bat Esther
Yaakov Ben Rachel
Malka Bat Garaz
Moshe Ben Garaz
Avraham Ben Kami
Yaakov Ben Leah
Mordechai Ben Rachel
Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal
Natan Ben Rachel
Saadia Ben Miriam
Eliyah Ben Latifa Simhon
Margalit Bat Mazal
Ovadia Haim Ben Malaky
Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama
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