Constant Connectivity

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The Torah introduces us to Noach as “a righteous man, perfect in his generations. Noach walked with God.” Rashi immediately picks up on the qualifier, “Righteous in his generations,” and asks whether he would be considered righteous if he lived in another generation. Would he have been considered righteous when compared to Avraham Avinu, for example? By focusing on this description and comparing it to a similar description of Avraham Avinu, we will notice a difference that will prove to be quite informative: “Noach walked with God,” while Avraham was commanded to “walk before Me and be perfect.” It is this variation that we will explore.

What this difference in terminology implies, explains Rashi, is that Noach needed someone alongside him for support, while Avraham Avinu was able to forge ahead on his own.

But why criticize Noach for needing help? Don’t we all need some help? Rabbi Pam explains that Noach’s generation was so wicked in all areas, that he needed support to withstand their effect. Avraham Avinu, on the other hand, was so strong in his own righteousness and convictions that he was able to defy his father Terach, the tyrant Nimrod, and his entire generation on his own, even influencing and transforming his generation. Even so, there remains a positive side to Noach as well. After all, as the second father of all mankind, great tzadikim descended from him.

To be a righteous person, one must begin with an awareness of, “Shivisi Hashem lenegdi tamid/I have set Hashem before me always,” (Tehillim 16:8) writes the Sifsei Chaim. This is the most fundamental tenet of Yiddishkeit. Citing the Rema, the Sifsei Chaim notes that this must constitute the path of your life, the mindset that is both a means and a goal throughout the day and through all your days. Every time we perform a mitzvah, we should constantly strive to feel Hashem beside us and always act with striving to do His will. When we visualize ourselves in God’s presence, we begin to scrutinize every detail of our behavior to test if it meets the proper royal protocol. If this becomes our conscious behavior, continues the Sifsei Chaim citing the Vilna Gaon, then we are implementing the verse, “Bechol derachecha daehu/In all your ways know Him” (Mishleh/Proverbs 3:6) If we seek Him in everything we do, we will feel the closeness, we will develop an intimate relationship with Hashem. As Rabbi Bernstein notes, a mitzvah should be done with full mindfulness, not by rote, not while planning other tasks. A mitzvah should be experienced, not just performed.

Noach had this mindfulness, writes the GR”A. He always felt Hashem beside him. He always felt he was doing the will of God. The same phrase is used regarding Henoch. He too walked with God. The Sifsei Chaim cites the medrash that Henoch, as a cobbler, would put a spiritual intention to each stitch he sewed into the shoe. He would connect heaven and earth. Perhaps he was saying he was emulating Hashem. with providing clothes and shoes for mankind. This idea, although seemingly difficult, is not too far fetched for us to emulate. When we cook for our family, we can bear in mind that we are providing for others as Hashem provides for all, or when we do laundry, we are giving our family the dignity to serve Hashem properly dressed. The key is to know and recognize Hashem’s presence in all that we do, da’ehu/know Him, whether it’s in mitzvah performance or doing the mundane tasks of life. We too have the power to unite our physical existence with our spiritual essence that is connected to Hashem.

So we have Noach walking alongside God, and Avraham Avinu walking before God. Rabbi Wolbe now cites a third related verse. In Devarim 13:5 Hashem commands Bnei Yisroel acharei Hashem telechu/Follow [after] Hashem. The message seems clear: Walk with Hashem, either alongside Him, before Him or behind Him, just don’t walk without Him. This must be true not only in your actions, but also in your mind.

This leads us into the second major component of our phrase, halicha/walking/conduct. While awareness of Hashem’s presence is essential, it is equally important to keep moving and progressing. Stagnation brings regression and descent. The first command to the first Jew, to Avraham Avinu, was lech lecha/go, and as the Netivot Shalom interprets it, “Go to your destiny.” Hashem commands Avraham three times to go. First, go from the land, then go before me and perfect yourself through circumcision, and finally take your son and go to the place I will show you. Each represents a different stage of life, youth, middle age, and old age. Yet, in spite of life changes, we must continue to move forward. Our relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu begins with awareness, but must continue to progress from esoteric, spiritual awareness to bringing that awareness into the physical aspects of our lives and elevating our physical activities by inculcating them with spiritual significance. If we remain complacent and do not strive to rise, gravity will pull us down, much like standing still on a descending escalator.

What is the difference between needing assistance and support, as Noach did, and forging ahead on one’s own, as Avraham did? Rabbi Wachtfogel gives us an insight into how humans perform. When one keeps forging ahead without stopping, one gains momentum and no longer needs support. On the other hand, if one takes multiple breaks in one’s work, each time one starts again, he needs that additional push and support to get back up to speed. Noach was complacent, taking breaks from his work, never truly building up momentum, and therefore he needed Hashem continually at his side giving him strength. Rabbi Reuven Fein adds to this that with this loss of momentum, Noach regressed from being an ish tzadik/righteous man to being an ish adamah/a man of the [mundane] earth.

The difference between Noach and Avraham Avinu can be traced all the way back to their birth, notes the Shem MiShmuel. Tradition tells us that Noach was born circumcised, already in the perfected state, while Avraham Avinu is commanded to circumcise himself. Noach was born with inherent kedushah/holiness, while Avraham Avinu had to create that holiness. Therefore Noach is compared to Shabbos, which brings its kedushah to the world every seventh day regardless of man’s intervention. Noach needed only to guard that holiness, not to bring it down from heaven. Our Patriarchs on the other hand, are compared to the three regalim/festivals. These require man’s intervention, for the Sanhedrin first must declare the New Moon, after which the day of the festival can be calculated. And our Patriarchs had to work on bringing Hashem’s kedushah to earth. Avraham is the prime example. His father was a master idolater, yet Avraham renounced these beliefs and sought to spread knowledge of the Creator. He had to be constantly moving forward. And as Avraham’s descendents, our mission and our legacy is bringing knowledge of God’s presence to the world.

Since constant movement is our legacy, this was the challenge Hashem presented to Bnei Yisroel when He offered us the Torah, a challenge that was arguably as difficult as “Thou shalt not kill,” and, “Thou shalt not steal,” was to the other nations, writes Rabbi Ezrachi, citing the Squever Rebbe. We were commanded to remain at the foot of the mountain, to stay put. But man lives on the aretz/earth, the root of which is ratz/run. The nature of man on earth is to run, for only after death can he arrive there/sham in shamayim, adds Rabbi Tatz in Living Inspired.

So how do we strive to serve Hashem? Rabbi Ezrachi in Birkat Mordechai identifies two paths one can take. One can work on a particular negative character trait that is someone’s personal yetzer horo, such as laziness or anger, or one can turn one’s entire body into a tool for avodas Hashem. Here one’s entire being is suffused with that desire so that each limb can act against its own nature to observe the will of God, so that Avraham Avinu, the man known for loving kindness, can will his hand to take the slaughtering knife to obey Hashem’s command. In contrast, Noach knew intellectually that he had to enter the ark, but he could not act on his own; he needed God’s support and an extra push. We need to be aware of Hashem’s constant presence and remain focused in every situation, whether it’s in daily conversation, or recitation of berachot.

How much of our avodas Hashem is a result of our own effort rather than of our conditioning since childhood, asks Rabbi Wolbe. The true sign of doing mitzvoth for the sake of Heaven is by taking the initiative rather than rote copying what we’ve seen. When one performs mitzvoth on automatic pilot, one eventually regresses. Personalize the mitzvoth. Create a full Shabbat environment in the home. Dance with the children in front of the Shabbat candles. Or have a signature dish that is your chesed for a new mother or, God forbid, for a house of mourning.

Rabbi Scheinbaum presents an insight into the psychology of man that sheds light on the differing characters of Noach and Avraham Avinu. When one goes on a mission, one may have been sent on that assignment as an agent for someone. On the other hand, one may initiate the mission himself as an act of love or respect for another. If one is merely an agent, he falters when he encounters difficulty, for it was not part of the deal. However, if one undertook the mission on his own, he will deal with any challenges that come his way out of his desire to please the other. Noach viewed himself as God’s agent, and therefore needed Hashem’s constant encouragement and support. Avraham was taking his own initiative, and nothing was going to stand in his way. Further, Noach, while wanting to maintain his own purity, did not try to purify others. Avraham Avinu continually gained strength as he worked on perfecting others as well as himself, adds Rabbi Moshe Igvi in Chochmat Hamatzpun. As Rabbi Bunim adds, if you lead others to virtue, you create support for yourself. After all, how can others reap the reward you have brought them without the leader at the head. How can parents, teachers and other mentors not reap the rewards of placing their children or students on the right path. In fact, Rabbi Nissel adds, we are often unaware of the impact of our small acts on others. The greatest acts of kindness are not those that help another physically, but that help another’s soul and give them olam haba.

Along these lines, it seems that one who is working only on himself without trying to influence others is not serving Hashem l’shem Shamayim/for Heaven’s sake, but rather for his personal reward, opines Rabbi Lopian. Rather, if one truly loves Hashem, one will constantly strive to bring others to love Him as well, writes Rabbi Frand in It’s Never Too Little, It’s Never Too Late, It’s Never Enough. This is where Avraham excelled, for “he created souls in Charan.” Their merit was a strong support for Avraham Avinu, enabling him to go forth on his own.

We must always set Hashem before us, we must keep ourselves constantly aware of His presence throughout our day, but we must also strive to reach ever higher levels of avodat Hashem. These higher levels can be reached more easily if we make our service personal, if we create excitement within our service, and if we share our excitement and experience with others. Then Hashem’s support will always be there as we move forward on our own initiative. Hatzlacha/May we be successful.