Dedicated Anonymously for a Refuah Shelema for Rabbi Diamond - Shlomo Ben Mazal and for the Protection of the Entire Community!
A Chance to Repent
Last week’s parashat Beresheet ended with, “And G-d regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. And G-d 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 G-d.” We start off our week by repeating this statement in our havdalah three consecutive times on motzei Shabbat. 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 teshuvah, 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.” Like Noach, Moshe was also given the opportunity to repopulate the earth and start a new nation. However, Moshe prayed to Hashem that if the Jewish people would be destroyed, he would want to be erased as well, thereby saving the Jewish people of his generation. 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.
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 continues 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 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 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.
Hacham David Yosef shlita told a devar Torah le’ilui nishmat his father, Hacham Ovadia Yosef zt’l. The midrash says that after the mabul, Noach went outside from the tevah, and looked around and cried for the loss of the world. Hashem told him, “You foolish shepherd. Now you’re crying?? If you cried before the flood you could have changed My decree. Why didn’t you cry before the flood?”
“The question is,” Hacham David Yosef asks, “why does this matter? The reason Hashem brought the flood is because of the sins of that generation, not because Noach didn’t cry. So why would his crying have prevented the flood? Noach also tried to go around to help the people of the generation for 120 years while he built the ark, but he never saw any results.” The rabbi continues to explain that there are many baalei teshuvah in the world now, and behind every baal teshuvah, there is a rabbi who is behind him, encouraging him to become religious. How could it be that there are rabbis today who helped over 100,000 people to become baalei teshuvah, but Noach, a huge rabbi that Hashem designated, couldn’t even get one baal teshuvah, even one student, under his belt? Hacham David Yosef said, “Zero, nothing, nada; he failed! The answer is in what Hashem asked Noach, ‘Why didn’t you cry before the flood?’”
Before the mabul, Noach would go around to the people of his generation and say, “You are bad people, and Hashem is going to destroy you. There is a flood coming and you will all die.” If we tried to make baalei teshuvah using Noach’s method, saying, “You are a bad man; you have to be religious, or Hashem will send you to gehenam,” then we will surely fail! The only way to bring someone back is to show him that we care about him, to cry with him, to empathize, to show him love.
Hacham Ovadia Yosef went from place to place to help the Jewish Nation. He was always helping to posek halacha, helping to bring people to become baalei teshuvah, and he was a gadol that was full of empathy. Rav David Yosef told a story about his father. Many years ago, there was a great rabbi who passed away in a car accident. He left a widow with eight children and one on the way. Hacham Ovadia Yosef, along with Rav Yehuda Sadka, worked extremely hard to collect money for the widow and orphans. Hacham Yosef used the money to buy an apartment for the family, then he put all the children into Yavneh to provide a strong Torah education, and he used some of the money to pay a hugely discounted tuition, which he organized with the school. After that, he set up a bank account for the almanah—widow, so she can take a small portion each month to buy for her family. Every month when the woman came to pick up the check, she would sit with the Chief Rabbi, for hours on end, and cry about her life alone with nine children. Hacham Ovadia Yosef would sit with her and just listen for hours and hours, and there would be tears streaming down his face to grieve with her for what she lost. He would give her words of chizuk and berachot, and she would leave. The Chief Rabbi’s time was incredibly precious, but he dropped everything every month for this widow to help her and to cry with her. This empathetic nature is exactly what Noach was missing!
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 are currently in the middle of a global pandemic that is wreaking havoc all over the world. Maybe Hashem is sending coronavirus to warn the people to stop their immoral and promiscuous ways.
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 today, COVID-19. 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?
Is COVID-19 the mabul of today? How can we improve upon ourselves during a global pandemic?
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.
If we tried to make baalei teshuvah using Noach’s method, saying, “You are a bad man; you have to be religious,” then we will surely fail! The only way to bring someone back is to show him that we care about him, to cry with him, to empathize, to show him love.
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
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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
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Chacham Shaul Rachamim Ben Mazal
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Saadia Ben Miriam
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Rabbi Aharon Chaim Ben Ruchama
Esther Bat Menucha
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