Deracheha Darchei Noam

Shlomo HaMelech (Mishlei 3:17) teaches us a major principle regarding the Torah, namely, that “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי נֹעַם — its ways are ways of pleasantness.” This central idea finds expression in every area of learning and understanding Torah. Although we will discuss this principle at length in later parshiyot, it is most worthwhile to note at this stage how it can already be observed from the beginning of Chumash Bereishit. Let’s begin by seeing how “deracheha darchei noam” affects signon hakatuv — the way the Torah expresses itself.

In his peirush to our parshah, Rabbeinu Bachye discusses the way the pesukim describe the Mabul (7:11, s.v. nivke’u):

It is for this reason the Torah does not write “Hashem brought the Mabul on the earth for forty days and forty nights,” for it did not wish to mention Hashem’s Name explicitly in connection with calamity, although the matter is known that it is He who brought the Mabul, as He already said (6:17), “וַאֲנִי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא — and behold, I will bring,” nonetheless, the Torah, whose “ways are ways of pleasantness” (deracheha darchei noam) judged it appropriate to refer to Hashem here in an indirect manner and not mention Him explicitly. Similarly, it says (7:23), “וַיִּמַח אֶת כָּל הַיְקוּם — He wiped out all existence” and does not say “Hashem wiped out all existence.” However, when it comes to matters of salvation and mercy, the pasuk mentions Hashem by Name, as it says (7:16) “וַיִּסְגֹּר ה’ בַּעֲדוֹ — Hashem shut (the door of the teivah) on his behalf,” and it says (8:1)[1] “וַיַּעֲבֵר אֱלֹקִים רוּחַ עַל הָאָרֶץ — and God caused a spirit to pass over the earth.”

Similarly, we find that when He punished Adam and Chavah, the pasuk stated nonspecifically, “אֶל הָאִשָּׁה אָמַר — to the woman He said” (3:16), “וּלְאָדָם אָמַר — and to Adam He said” (3:17), and did not mention Hashem’s Name when they were being cursed. However, in matters that relate to the Attribute of Mercy, when He had compassion on them and clothed them, Hashem’s Name is mentioned explicitly, as it says (3:21) “וַיַּעַשׂ ה’ אֱלֹקִים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם — Hashem God made for Adam and his wife garments for their skin and He clothed them.”

We should note that this idea of Rabbeinu Bachye has its roots in the words of Chazal themselves. Commenting on the pasuk in Bereishit (1:5) “וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹקִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה — God called light ‘Day’ and darkness He called ‘Night,’” the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 3:8) notes that the Name of Hashem appears in the pasuk only with reference to light and not darkness, and explains, “אין הקב"ה מייחד שמו על הרעה אלא על הטובה — Hashem does not attach His Name to evil, only to good.”

Darchei Noam and Taamei HaMitzvot

Taking the discussion one step further, we will discover that the principle of “darchei noam” affects not only the way the Torah writes about things, it also expresses itself in the reasons for mitzvot.

In his commentary to our parshah (9:7, s.v. peru u’revu), the Meshech Chochmah writes:

It is not implausible to suggest that the reason the Torah exempted women from the mitzvah of peru u’revu, and only obligated men,[2] is because Hashem’s ways are “ways of pleasantness” (darchei noam) and do not obligate the body in something that it cannot manage. Thus, in every category where the Torah forbade something, it permitted a corresponding item in that category.[3] It is for this reason we find the Torah commands us to fast only one day a year [Yom Kippur], and [even then] exhorts and commands us to eat beforehand.[4] Similarly, the Torah did not withhold people from marital relations, with the exception of Moshe who, due to his exalted status, had no need for them. So too in the case of women, for whom pregnancy and childbirth can involve an element of danger, perhaps even of death — see Tosafot Ketubot 83b, s.v. mitah shechichah[5] — hence, the Torah did not impose the commandment of peru u’revu on women. [/bq]

We see from these words of the Meshech Chochmah that “darchei noam” can be a determining factor in the rationale for a mitzvah, even one that is written like all other mitzvot with no explicit rationale given in the pasuk.

In later chapters, we will discuss how the principle of “deracheha darchei noam” can express itself in a third area of Torah, namely, as a factor used by Chazal to determine the correct interpretation of a mitzvah.

[1] [As a prelude to the waters subsiding after the Flood.]

[2] See Yevamot 64b, and Rambam Hilchot Ishut at the beginning of perek 15.

[3] See Chullin 109b; “Yalta said to Rav Nachman, ‘Consider that for everything the Torah has forbidden, it has allowed an item which is similar; it forbade blood — and permitted liver; it forbade niddah blood — but permitted blood of purity; it forbade the fat of animals — and permitted the fat of beasts.’”

[4] See Berachot 8b commenting on the pasuk (Vayikra 23:32) “וְעִנִּיתֶם אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּתִשְׁעָה לַחֹדֶשׁ בָּעֶרֶב — and you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month, in the evening”; “Do we indeed fast on the ninth? We fast on the tenth! Rather, it comes to tell you that anyone who eats and drinks on the ninth is considered as if he fasted on the ninth and on the tenth.”

[5] “Perhaps it is because in most cases she endangers herself during childbirth” (Tosafot ibid.).