Sunday, November 6, 2016

Parshas Noach

This Week’s Parsha – Noach: 

Baruch Hashem, we are starting the next cycle of our learning together through these D’var Torahs.  I would like to thank everyone for sticking with this still, even though I have missed some weeks.  And I am sorry I didn’t do a Bereishis one, but... nothing really I can do about that now.  It is very emotional to be able to begin the endless cycle of the Holy Torah again.  We have new Mefarshim/commentaries to list, new ideas of our own, etc. 
As the Chiddushei HaRim (the first Gerrer Rebbe; Rebbe Yitzchok Meir Alter zt”l) says, a new explanation on the Torah is sent down from Heaven each year. [1] So we have many new things to say.  B’Ezras Hashem/With the Help of Hashem, I would like to begin to say some of them now, in our new cycle of doing this together: 

Parshas Noach is the second parsha in the holy Torah, and already we were so corrupt that Hashem had to bring a flood upon the earth, and destroy almost everybody.  But the Torah testifies that Noach was a perfect Tzaddik/righteous person!  Can you imagine (you shouldn’t have to find out....) being almost the only good person in a generation, with everybody around being corrupt?! 

But I believe that the Torah is trying to teach us a very important lesson:  Even if, Chas V’Shalom, everybody around you is acting badly and going against Hashem (even in just one act), you have the power to not go along with them.  Hashem has given you the wherewithal and the control to stand up in the face of anything and everything bad, no matter how much pressure you are under to do it, such as Noach did. 

We probably can all count a descent amount of times that, unfortunately, we failed in this, and did something bad because we were under pressure to do so.  Or maybe we would be embarrassed in front of others if we didn’t do it.  But you know what; it only matters what Hashem would think of something.  In the end, who do we care about doing what they want more:  Hashem or people?  (True, we are supposed to act nicely to others and, of course, consider their wishes, and that is Hashem’s Will.  However, we do not listen to people or do what they “want us to” when it conflicts with Hashem’s Holy Will.)  Unfortunately, a lot of times we act like we care about how people see us more.  But that can and must change. 
If we truly thought about that we are always standing before of Hashem, the Blessed and Awesome King, we would definitely not fall prey to those times when it seems a lot easier not to do the right thing.  Everyone is always in the Presence of the Awesomely Great King of kings.  How can we not stand in awe of Him?  That is what true Yiras Shamayim/Fear of Heaven is. 

As the great Maggid of Mezeritch (Rebbe Dov Ber of Mezeritch zt”l) said:  Yiras Shamayim does not mean fear of being punished, but rather a feeling of awe at the Majesty of Hashem.  Fear of punishment causes a person to be distant from Hashem, as one runs away from a frightening object.  The awareness of Hashem’s Majesty gives rise to a desire to be close to Him.[2]

So, coming back to our original point:  Hashem has given us the power to make our own decisions no matter what influence or pressure we are under. 

Now, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, we will get on to the parsha together:  The first Passuk/verse is Eileh toldos Noach, Noach ish Tzaddik tamim hayah bi’dorosav; es HaElokim hishalech Noach/And these are the generations (or offspring) of Noach, Noach was a perfect righteous man in his generations; Noach walked with the G-d.There is an extremely common question that so many greats ask; why does the Torah say that ‘These are the generations (or offspring) of Noach’ and then go on to say ‘Noach was a perfect righteous man in his generations’?  Baruch Hashem, I have seen and heard many Mefarshim/commentaries on this Passuk, including a lot answering this question: 

1) Let’s first learn a Rashi HaKadosh to start us off:  He quotes from Midrash Tanchuma, which explains that this comes to teach us that the main children of righteous people are their good deeds. 

2) On this concept, the Divrei Yisroel (the first Modzitzer Rebbe; Rebbe Yisroel Taub zt”l) comments, and says that this teaches us that having good lineage is not enough:  You must have good deeds of your own.  In order to be a Tzaddik/righteous person, you must do good things and be a good person.  And as Rebbe Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Kesser Torah adds, having good lineage is a good thing.  But good deeds are the main thing.[3] 

3) HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l also comments on the concept of good deeds being like “main” children, and he explains that just as a parent loves his children very much, so too, you should love good deeds very much.[4] 

4) The Sfas Emes (the third Gerrer Rebbe; Rebbe Yehuda Aryeh Leiv Alter zt”l) explains another way that good deeds are like children:  He says that just like the more work you do on your children and the more time you spend developing them, the better they become, so too with good deeds:  When you work very hard and take a lot of time working on doing good things and having good traits, the good deeds you do and the traits you have become better and better.

5) On a different note, the Nikolsburger Rebbe (Rebbe Yosef Yechiel Michel Lebovits shlita) explains that the first letters (if you mix them up) of the words בּדוֹרתיו את האלקים התהלך spell the word ‘אהבה’ (which means ‘love’).  This teaches us, he explains, that Noach was able to maintain his righteousness even with almost everybody else around him being bad mainly because he had so much Ahavas Hashem/Love of Hashem.  And he even adds that the last letters (if you mix them up) of these words spell ‘תּוֹמך(which means ‘support’).  This goes to teach us further, explains Reb Lebovits shlita, that Hashem supported Noach, and helped him to stay loyal to Him.[5]  (The question might be asked, though; didn’t Hashem help the other people as well?  But the answer, of course, is that Hashem did help them.  But they didn’t accept the help.  Also, since Noach actually tried to serve Him, Hashem helped him even more to.  This is like what we are taught by our Sages about repentance.)

6) And one last beautiful Chassidishe answer:  The Noam Megadim (the Dzhikover Rebbe; Rebbe Eliezer Horowitz zt”l) explains a beautiful answer to our original question (about why the Torah talked about Noach’s righteousness right after it said ‘These are the generations (or offspring) Noach’).  He brings the Mishnah (2:11) from Bava Metzia that says ‘his father brought him into this world, but his teacher, who taught him wisdom, brings him to live [in] the World to Come’, and he explains that this provides our answer to the question:  The people is Noach’s generation were almost all bad, so who would teach him Torah and how to be good?  And he says beautifully that Noach taught himself! 

So, according to the Mishnah he quoted, Noach brought himself, sort of, into the World to Come, which means that he bore himself, so to speak, spiritually!  So this is how we can explain the apparent contradiction in the verse, according to this:  The first child, so to speak, of Noach, was himself!  His righteousness was almost like one of his kids! 
Now, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, we will get back to the holy parsha:  The Torah in the next verse lists Noach’s three sons:  Shem, Cham, and Yefeth.  The question is asked in Rashi HaKadosh’s commentary though; why does the Torah lists his kids in this order?  Yefeth was oldest! 

So there is a beautiful answer given to this question by the Kotzker Rebbe (Rebbe Menachem Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk zt”l):  He explains that the Torah is teaching us, by listing them in this order (with Cham in the middle), that Shem and Yefeth were trying to help Cham be a good person so much that they literally put him between them.  As we know, Cham was not such a great person, and so the Kotzker zt”l is teaching us that Shem and Yefeth “put him in between them” and kept trying to bring him closer to Hashem.  This is a very important thing to do in life if needed. 

Ok, now we get back to the parsha:  The Torah talks about how the earth (the creatures on the earth) had become corrupt before Hashem, and the earth was full of ‘chamas/violence’ (according to Rashi HaKadosh from Gemara Sanhedrin ‘robbery’).  Hashem told Noach that He was destroying the earth, but He instructed him to make for himself an ark of gopher wood, and He told him the specifics of how he should make it, etc.  And He told him that He would bring the flood and destroy every living being under the Heavens.  But, as Hashem said in the next verse, He would establish His covenant with Noach, his wife, his sons, and their wives.  Hashem also told Noach to bring with him of every food (into the ark).  And Noach did what Hashem said. 

At the beginning of Sheini/the second Aliyah, Hashem gave Noach the command to enter the ark with his entire household, and to take seven pairs of each species of pure animals (ones that were destined to be Kosher, according to Rashi HaKadosh quoting from Gemara Zevachim).  And of the animals that were not pure, he should take two – a male and it’s mate, and Noach did what Hashem commanded him.  So the Torah talks about how Noach was 600 years old when the flood came upon the earth, and about how him and his family and the animals which he was commanded to take, entered the ark. 

And in Shlishi/the third Aliyah, the Torah talks about the rain, the strengthening of the waters, and the death of the living creatures that were not in the ark with Noach and his family.  But then in the middle of the Aliyah, the Torah says that Hashem remembered (so to speak, because He never forgets anything, and nothing is forgotten before Him) and all the animals that were with him in the ark, and it talks about how He made the waters weaken and weaken. 

At a certain time, Noach sent out a raven to check if the waters were dry, and it kept going and returning.  And then he sent out a dove to check.  But it didn’t find a place to rest because the waters were still high (though the mountain peaks were already visible), and so it returned to the ark.  And in another seven days, he sent out the dove again.  But this time, in the evening, the dove came back with an olive leaf in her mouth.  So Noach knew, I guess, that the tops of trees were also now above the waters.  Noach waited yet another seven days, and then he sent out the dove, and this time, it didn’t return to him anymore, because it had found a tree to rest or live in.  And on the 27th day of the 2nd month (which, according to Rashi HaKadosh, quoting the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer from Seder Olam Rabbah, was the 27th day of Marcheshvan), the earth was dry. 

At the beginning of Rivi’i/the fourth Aliyah, Hashem tells Noach to leave the ark, with his family, and he should bring out every living thing that was with him.  Now, the Chassidishe Masters explain that just as it was a command from Hashem to enter into the ark, so too it was a command from Him to exit from it.  This teaches us, they say, that just as Hashem commands us to “enter the ark”, i.e. enter into the Sanctuary of holiness and Torah, so too He commands us to “exit the ark”, i.e. to leave it’s confines, so to speak, in order to spread Torah and holiness throughout the entire world.[6]  This is very important. 

Back to the parsha:  Noach and everybody and everything that was with him in the ark went out, and Noach built an Altar and offered sacrifices to Hashem.  And Hashem smelled, so to speak, the pleasant fragrance, and He said to Himself that He would never again curse the earth because of man, and He would never again smite all living things.  Also, in this Aliyah, Hashem tells Noach that he is allowed to eat animals.  Before the Mobul/Flood, we are told, people were not supposed to eat animals, and animals wouldn’t eat other animals.  But afterwards, things changed.  Hashem also told Noach that he should be fruitful and multiply, swarm upon the earth, and multiply on it.  At the beginning of Chamishi/the fifth Aliyah, Hashem tells Noach that He was establishing His covenant with him and his seed after him and with every living creature that came out of the ark with him.  And He said that there would never again be a flood to destroy the earth. 

Then Hashem told Noach the sign of the covenant:  The rainbow in the cloud.  And He said “And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud.” Rashi HaKadosh quotes the Midrash, which explains that ‘clouds’ imply destruction.  Meaning that when it comes to His “mind”, so to speak, to bring destruction on the world because we are doing so badly, then He will see the rainbow, and not destroy us, though we deserve it. 

Now, in his book, Oznayim LaTorah, HaRav Zalman Sirotzkin zt”l asks; isn’t a covenant supposed to be a two-sided thing?  The way Hashem is talking, it almost seems like the rainbow is just for Him to see.  What is going on here?  So, he explains beautifully that it really is two-sided.  Because what a rainbow implies is that at that time, we are doing bad things, and Hashem has to “remember”, so to speak, His covenant not to destroy us.  But we can also see the rainbow.  So this is the other side, he says:  Since we know what the rainbow implies, it is also a sign from Hashem, in His Kindness, that shows us that we need to get better and repent.  He wants to show us what we need to do.[7]  Blessed is He! 

Back to the parsha:  In Shishi/the sixth Aliyah, the Torah lists a lot of generations of people that came from Noach and his sons, and it goes through a pretty long list.  Now, in Shvi’i/the seventh Aliyah, the Torah talks about how all people spoke one language (Hebrew, the Holy Language – according to Rashi HaKadosh from Tanchuma), and they all spoke the same words.  What does this mean?  We will soon explain, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem. 

So, these people decided to build a tower “with its head in the Heavens” and make a name for themselves.  But Rashi HaKadosh again quotes the Midrash and Tanchuma, which explain that they “all spoke the same words”, meaning that they all agreed on something.  They were worried, he says, that Hashem would bring another flood on the earth, and they built this tower so that they could, Chas V’Shalom, wage war on Hashem (which, of course, is impossible)!  

And Hashem saw this, and He, in His Perfect Judgement, confused their languages, and made them all speak different languages, so that they couldn’t all get together and do anything like this again.  Now, the Sforno and the Ran, both zt”l, explain that this is an example of the fact that, actually, when the nations of the world get together, they cause the most trouble.  But when they are fighting amongst themselves and divided (such as in this case), they don’t do as much harm and it is better for the Jews.  So, anyway, after the incident with the tower, the Torah lists the ten generations from Noach to Avraham (Avram at the time).  In this parsha, we go from Noach, all the way to Avraham, and, B’Ezras Hashem/with the Help of Hashem, we will get on to talking about Avraham’s life next week. 
Have a wonderful, wonderful week everyone!!!

Refoel Berel

[1] Google Groups:  Be'er Mayim Chaim. 
[2] Four Chassidic Masters:  Page 28.  By Rebbe Avraham J. Twerski shlita.  A PocketScroll© book.  A Shaar Press© publication. 
[3]  Chassidic Gems:  Parashat Noach.  Shiur given by Rebbe Elyakim Rosenblatt shlita. 
[4] Stone Edition Chumash:  By HaRav Nosson Scherman shlita.  Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd.©.
[5]©Parshas Noach 5776 - Hashem Helps Those Who Want To Be Righteous.
[6]©Parshat Noach In-Depth. 
[7] Oznayim LaTorah:  Written by HaRav Zalman Sirotzkin zt"l. 

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