The opening Passuk in this week's Sedra, in describing Noach, tells us נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו –Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Rashi offers two explanations of this verse. According to the first, the Torah is emphasizing the context: it was only in relation to his generation that Noach was particularly righteous. In other words, if Noach were to have lived in a moral generation he would have been simply ordinary. The second explanation calls attention to just the opposite: If Noach was such a righteous person in a generation as immoral as his was, he would without doubt be even greater in a moral generation.
Rashi presents the former as Gnai - as a drasha with a negative connotation, and the latter as a shevach – as praise of Noach. The source for Rashi is a gemarah in Tractate Sanhedrin. The gemarah presents both interpretations without qualifying them as negative or positive.
The passuk’s intent is definitely to praise Noach; the question is only: to what extent? Rashi’s first 'negative', explanation is still praise: at the very least Noach rose above his generation. While his generation was completely immoral, he maintained a certain level of decency. This is praiseworthy in its own right. If one ignores the ‘negative’ connotation as the gemarah does – then the difference between the two interpretations is minimal. The Gemorah seems to be saying that there are those who explain the Passuk's praising Noach as meaning: Noach was a Tzadik in a generation of evil. If Noach was able to be a tzadik in such a generation it would stand to reason that in a generation of Tzadikim he certainly would be a great a man. The Gemorah's second interpretation goes a step further. The Gemorah tells us that not only was Noach a Tzadik in his generation of evil, but even in a generation of Tzadikim his Tzidkus (the level of tzidkus he attained in his immoral generation) would be great even in comparison to other Tzadikim.
Rashi, it would seem, feels for some reason compelled to view one explanation positively, and the other negatively. The question is: Why?
Chazal tell us that a person must ask himself: “when will my deeds reach the levels of my forefathers' deeds, those of Avrohom, Yitzchok, And Yaakov…” Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov are the pinnacles of tzidkus, of righteousness, and we are obligated to strive to attain their levels of tzidkus. Chazal are telling us that we must always strive for absolute perfection, and not just settle for relative goodness.
Reb Zishe was famous for saying, “I worry not of Hashem’s asking why I was not as great as Avrohom, Yitzchok, or Yaakov, or any other great man. I worry about Hashem asking me, why I wasn’t as great as Reb Zishe could have been”. Reb Zishe is not contradicting the aforementioned Chazal. To the contrary, he is emphasizing its very essence. How can it be that we should be like Avrohom, Yitzchok, or Yaakov? We know that they achieved greatness that no one can reach. Reb Zishe is telling us the secret to understanding this Chazal. Reb Zishe tells us not to be afraid of not being Avrohom, Yitzchok, or Yaakov; he tells us that we must strive to be the best we can be. Chazal are essentially telling us that in order to strive to be great we must constantly ask ourselves when will we be like the Avos? i.e. when will we reach perfection? Thus by setting perfection as our goal we will end up being the best we can be.
Perhaps this is why Rashi feels compelled to explain one approach in negative manner. If Noach could have been greater than he was and somehow fell short of it there is a valid claim against him. Why wasn’t Noach as great as he could have been?
We will never become perfect, but by striving for perfection we become the perfect we.
After the world was flooded by continuous rain and the water was allowed to envelope and flow around the world, the Passuk tells us that Elokim, The Omnipotent, remembered Noach. Generally, when we use the word Elokim to refer to Hashem, it means God in the capacity of strictness; whereas when we use “Hashem” it means God in the faculty of His mercy. This leaves us with the question as to how it could be that God remembered Noach in strictness. Shouldn’t it be that Hashem of compassion and mercy remembered Noach?
Rashi comments on this point and explains that when a tzadik davens he can actually cause Hashem to act in sheer compassion and mercy, even while He is in a state of strictness. Rashi further explains that the inverse is also true—through evil acts, a rasha can cause Hashem to act in a strict and harsh way, even when He is in a state of pure mercy.
Perhaps if we would better understand what Divine Mercy means, we would better understand why it is that a tzadik or rasha can somehow remove themselves from Hashem’s current attitude and evoke another. Maybe then we will understand why it was Elokim that remembered Noach. (continued on other side)
My Rosh Yeshiva, Hagaon Rav Shalom Spitz Shlita, once explained that Rachamim (mercy) really means more than merely feeling bad for another person. Rather, it means actually attempting to fill another’s lack. If this is indeed the meaning of Rachamim then it is clear why a tzadik can evoke mercy through Tefillah, even while Hashem is acting in strictness. When someone davens to Hashem he is in essence recognizing that he lacks something and that Hashem can give him that which he lacks. Therefore, it makes no difference to him what Hashem’s mode of action is right then, because he recognizes that Hashem always has it within His powers to fill his deficiencies—to act with true Rachamim. On the other hand, a rasha affects an inverse situation. When Hashem is in general acting in a merciful manner and a rasha seems to ignore Hashem’s Desire and Will, it is as if he is saying that he does not need Hashem to do anything for him. Therefore, Hashem acts strictly towards him, giving him exactly what he deserves.
Noach was spared the fate of the Mabul (flood) because he didn’t take part in his generation’s sins. While all the people in the world were going about doing as they pleased, Noach wasn’t. They all ignored Hashem’s will and followed their own desires, but Noach recognized Hashem and therefore followed Hashem’s will. Once Hashem began the actual Mabul he put Himself completely into Midas HaDin—into acting strictly. Noach however, through his constant recognition of Hashem, was able to transcend Hashem’s attitude of strictness and merit salvation for himself, thus resulting in Elokim remembering him.
We also have it within our power to constantly make sure that we tap into Hashem’s overwhelming mercy even in the hardest of hours. We must simply recognize Hashem and comply with His Will.
This week’s Sedra gives the account of the Mabul (the Flood), of how Hashem destroyed the then existing world – with the exception of Noach, his family, and of a male and female from each of the animals to regenerate after the Flood. Hashem saved them by sending them all into an Ark (Teiva) that He had commanded Noach to build for the purpose of shelter during the Mabul.
The Torah tells us that Hashem remembered “Noach and all the beasts and all the animals that were with him” in the Teiva after 150 days. This is given as the reason as to why Hashem caused the waters to settle and then to recede. The Passuk insinuates that Hashem only allowed the waters to recede for the sake of Noach and the beasts and the animals that were with him. What would have happened had Noach not been in the picture? Would Hashem have let the water stay forever? Would Hashem not start the world anew? Furthermore, the text states “Noach and all the beasts and all the animals that were with him.” We could have understood had the text said that this was being done for Noach’s sake since he was a righteous man. The animals, however, were being saved simply for procreation. Why does the Torah make it sound as though Hashem wanted to release the animals from the Ark because He had some sort of Rachmanus on them?
Without this Passuk the assumption would be that after Hashem had destroyed the entire world and wiped out all of the living aside from those aboard the Teiva – that indeed Hashem would allow for the waters to recede and for those aboard the Teiva to emerge to start a new beginning not so much so for their sake but for the sake of starting the world anew. Noach may have been the man chosen to be saved for his virtuousness. From the fact that there were at least two of every animal saved, however, it was quite evident that the purpose in saving man was in order for the world to have a fresh beginning without having to be recreated.
The Targum Yonoson strengthens our questions by adding in a few words in his translation of the Passuk. The Targum Yonoson explains that Hashem mentioned Noach and all the animals with him, and Hashem had mercy on the land. It seems that Noach and his animals were the entire reason for the mercy on the land, but were the animals really a reason to have mercy on the land?
It may be true that it was necessary for some people to have been saved. What is of importance, however, is that the Passuk still stresses the importance of Noach, and even of the animals that were with him in the Ark. What is being stressed is that Hashem remembered the importance of every living thing aboard the Teiva, and that their remembrance alone was sufficient to necessitate the waters to recede. It may be true that Noach and all aboard were Shluchei Makom – Divine Emissaries, yet nonetheless they were individuals with individual significance. Hashem didn’t view these Shluchei Makom as merely His pawns; rather He marked each one with his own individual importance.
If Hashem tagged all the animals aboard the Teiva with their own individual importance then Hashem certainly tags each and every one of us with that individual importance. While in life we may function as Shluchei Makom to carry out Hashem’s Master Agenda we still nonetheless at all times maintain that level of individual importance. Thus everything that happens to us is just – just for us.
If Hashem, while in the midst of using even animals as Shluchei Makom treats them with regard, then we must always make sure to treat all others no matter where they fit into our agenda with such respect. We may never use other human beings, and more particularly our fellow Jews as tools or human pawns.
In this week's Sedra Noach is commanded to build a Teiva (Ark) to shelter him and enable him to survive the cataclysmic Flood (Mabul) Hashem tells Noach that He will bring to the world. Noach obeys Hashem's command and builds the Teiva. Noach persists throughout the lengthy construction period in spite of the taunting for his belief in Hashem and in the forthcoming Flood. Chazal tell us, however, that despite his fervent trust and belief in Hashem Noach didn't go into the Teiva when the Mabul started, but rather waited until he could no longer stay outside the Teiva (see Medrash Rabba and Rashi). As the text states it - ויבא נח... אל התיבה מפני מי המבול – “and Noach etc came (entered) the Teiva because of the flood waters” [and not because Hashem had ordered it].
Chazal explain that although Noach had great faith in Hashem and therefore followed Hashem's command (despite the fact that it made him highly unpopular among his generation) – he nonetheless had a flaw in his Emuna and for that reason waited for the waters to almost literally push him and his into the Ark. While Chazal derive this idea from the passuk it seems almost incredible. Noach, who fervently believed in Hashem and followed Hashem's instructions to the last detail (see Passuk 7, 5) -- who was being mocked for it – would now at the last minute somehow hesitate? If anything, in light of the years spent in building the Ark, of being ridiculed for it, would it not have made more sense for Noach to be relieved, and to be glad that he could now say to all the doubters “didn’t I tell you that it would happen?” Shouldn't he have run into the Teiva with glee?
In life we are all in a sense ‘prisoners’ of routine. We have certain day-to-day expectations and we don't really expect things to change. Noach wasn't any different. While he listened to Hashem's instructions and built the Teiva, he still lived in a world of routine. This world of routine was so powerful that it (almost) overpowered his trust in Hashem. Noach somehow allowed routine rather than his faith in Hashem to take charge. Noach couldn't imagine the flood actually coming and thus denied it until he no longer could.
We are surrounded by the entrapment of routine. We don't expect anything more or less from tomorrow than we got today. We need to realize that this is a mistake and that change does happen, and that it could happen to us as well. May we be Zoche to experience the Ultimate Change and may we merit the Geula Asida Bekarov.
Haftorah of Noach:
This week's Haftorah is a Nevua in Yishayahu. It is explained that the reason this Nevua is read as the Haftorah of Parshas Noach is because the flood in Noach's time is mentioned in this Nevua. While this may be the common factor between the Sedra and the Haftorah there seems to be little in common between the theme of Yishayahu's Nevua and that of our Sedra.
The Sedra talks about Hashem's anger at the generation of Noach. The Sedra tells us of how Hashem brought the Mabul to destroy the world, about Noach's ark, and about how Hashem saved Noach and some of every species of animals. The Torah also tells us about how the world started anew after the flood. The Haftorah, however, doesn't discuss the ruin of the world or the magnitude of the world's evil. The only mention of Noach and the Mabul in the Nevua is for purposes of analogy – to express the extent of Hashem's promise never to be angry with Klal-Yisroel again. The Navi tells us that just as Hashem made an oath never to bring a flood like that of the days of Noach to the world ever again, so too Hashem Is promising never to be angry with Klal-Yisroel ever again. Thus while there is a clear reference to Noach in the Haftorah the actual link is rather weak. Is this really the most befitting Nevua for this Sedra?
Historically, Haftorah reading was instituted during a period of time when we were forbidden from reading the actual Sedros. The Chachamim of the time decided that we should read a portion from Navi every week that would somehow correspond to the week's Sedra. It could therefore be argued that the Haftorah need not parallel the Parsha at all so long as there is some sort of mention or association with the actual Sedra, however minor. The Ksav Sofer however endeavors to explain the purpose of this Haftorah on a deeper level. In doing so, he makes an extremely important point (see the entire answer in Kesav Sofer). The Kesav Sofer contrasts the analogous use of Hashem's Oath regarding the Mabul in Noach's time to that of Hashem's Oath not to be angry with Am-Yisroel in Yishayahu. When Hashem promised never to bring a flood to the world in order to destroy it – Klal-Yisroel did not yet exist. Hashem Swore not to destroy the world; seemingly this has nothing to do with Am-Yisroel directly. Chazal (see Bereishis Rabba and Rashi in the beginning of Parshas Bereishis) tell us that the world was created for Klal-Yisroel's sake. This means that everything that transpired up until Klal-Yisroel's becoming an entity was all just a means of leading up to the inception of Am-Yisroel.
If the purpose of the world’s existence is for Am-Yisroel's sake then the only reason that it should not be destroyed is really only to allow an Am-Yisroel to come to be. This seems to be the message of the Navi. Hashem Swore never to destroy the world by flood – why? – Because one day there would be an Am-Yisroel for whom the world was created.
We live in a world in which we can easily understand that Klal-Yisroel affects the world strongly. While we are a relatively small nation there is never a day that goes by without Jews being discussed in all the media. Newspaper headlines focus on Israel every single day. Nonetheless, so long as Hashem is still angry with us it is hard to recognize the fact that the world was created for our sake. The Navi is telling us that l'Asid lavo it be clear to all that the world was created for our sake. The Navi is in essence telling us that when Hashem swears not to be angry with us Hashem is really completing His promise not to flood the world.
May we merit never to know Hashem's Wrath and only to know Hashem's Glory.
Haftorah Shabbos Rosh Chodesh:
This Shabbos is also Rosh Chodesh and as such we depart from the normal Haftorah of this week’s Sedra, and read a special Haftorah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. This special Haftorah (from the end of Yishayahu) is chosen because towards the end of the Haftorah the Navi tells us “and on each Shabbos and each Rosh Chodesh all of mankind will come to bow to Me (Hashem)” – hence a perfectly suitable Haftorah for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh (as both are mentioned).
The subject matter of the Haftorah is the Ge’ula. The Navi informs us that as part of the Ge’ula not just Am-Yisroel, but all of mankind will gain a new understanding and appreciation of, a new bond to, Hashem. The Navi, it would appear, wishes to convey this idea of the nations’ future bond to Hashem through the prophecy that they will one day come to the Bais Hamikdash on Shabbosos and Roshei Chodoshim. The question is why are Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh the particular times that “all of mankind” will come to the Bais Hamikdash to worship Hashem? Why not on Yom-Tov, and why not during the week?
Shabbos is a day in every weekly cycle. However, Shabbos is set aside for Am-Yisroel and Am-Yisroel alone as a day of rest. Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, is also a part of the regular lunar monthly cycle; nonetheless it is a day that is sanctified only by Am-Yisroel.
The second Rashi in the Torah (based on Midrashim) tells us that the world was created for Am-Yisroel. This means that anyone who wishes to understand Hashem’s Creation of the world has to realize that the purpose of its creation is Am-Yisroel. Were “all of mankind” to come on to the Bais Hamikdash on a Monday or Tuesday they might realize that Hashem is the Almighty, but they would not necessarily be recognizing Am-Yisroel as being the purpose of Hashem’s creating the world.
Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh are Am-Yisroel’s days. The nations’ coming to the Bais-Hamikdash especially on “Am Yisroel Days” signifies their understanding that Am-Yisroel is the purpose of Creation.
May we merit seeing the words of this Nevuah come to life in the nearest future.