Dedicated to My Wife Frieda Farca, a True Eshet Chayil.
Parashat Noach A Failure or an Opportunity Last week, we celebrated Simchat Torah and started the Torah over from Parashat Beresheet. Rabbi Yoel Gold told a story in his video series What You See Tells Only Half the Story about a minyan celebrating Simchat Torah in Jerusalem. A group of about 30 families was in the middle of hakafot when the man holding the Sefer Torah bumped into someone, and the Torah slipped out of his hands and landed on the floor. There was complete silence; everyone was in shock. They went from Simchat Torah to Tisha B’av in one second. They picked up the Torah and wrapped it up. The man who was holding it ran outside, distraught and near tears. No one knew what to do. People were trying to figure out if they really witnessed it falling—if they would have to fast. The chazzan tried to rally the crowd and start hakafot again, but no one was really interested anymore; they were too shaken up. The baal koreh decided to try and give this Torah some dignity and honor. He opened it up to read the parasha, starting with “Beresheet bara Elokim.” He said Noten haTorah, everyone answered amen, and then… Nothing. “Hefsek hefsek, nu? Start!” the men from the shul said. The baal koreh pointed to the Torah and showed them. The words “Beresheet bara Elokim,” the very first words in the Torah were missing! It wasn’t a Sefer Torah! They were never filled in! The men ran out to console the man who had dropped it and told him that Baruch Hashem it was not a Sefer Torah, it was basically a chumash. It turned out that the sofer had left out the last few words, as was the custom, but he had told the person who bought it that he was going to leave the first few in the beginning out as well, because some people had the custom to bookend the Torah by filling in both ends. When the man realized that because of the fall, because of his blunder, a Sefer Torah became kosher, he was so relieved. Life is a work in progress. Instead of being devastated that we fail, we must take all our mistakes and utilize those “failures” to become something more kosher. Each time we fall is an opportunity to become even better. 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! 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. Empathy 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. Chacham David Yosef shlita told a devar Torah le’ilui nishmat his father, Chacham 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,” Chacham 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 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? Chacham 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. Noach’s 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 number 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. 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.” The Midrash says that Hashem brought the mabul because the people were legitimizing their corrupt behavior. Rabbi Twerski explains in his book Twerski on Chumash that the generation committed theft. But it was a unique kind of theft; they stole things that were worth less than a perutah—a few cents. Theft that is less than a perutah is not recognized by a court, so in the generation’s distorted logic, if it’s not recognized by a court, then it’s not forbidden. In Rashi’s comment on this passuk 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. 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! Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points
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.
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.
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