by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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This week's Parsha always brings to mind a theme made popular by the modern-day rabbinic sermon, the contrast between Noach and Avraham Avinu.
Noach saves only himself and his family, building his personal ark of salvation. Avraham involves himself with all the world, spreading the name of Hashem and influencing the pagan multitudes.
While Noach locks himself away in a cloistered world, impervious to the surrounding storm, Avraham travels the earth, saving it for posterity.
Does this sound familiar?
It's a catchy idea, and it sounds wonderful from the pulpit.
But, it's not Emes.
The critique of Noach for living in his own world may resonate with modern audiences (as does its not-so-subtle reference to present-day Yeshiva students), but it ignores Chazal's praise of this very special ark:
"What is the Teivah? This is the Aron HaBris (the ark of the covenant). Noach, and the ark below [on this world], are such, the precise parallel of its image above." (Zohar)
Let us explain.
"There were ten generations from Adam to Noach - to show the extent of G-d's patience; for all those generations increasingly angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the flood."
"There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham - to show the extent of G-d's patience; for all those generations increasingly angered Him, until our father Avraham came and received the reward of them all." (Avos, 5:2-3)
The Mishna juxtaposes Avraham and Noach, comparing their relative impact. While Noach is the sole survivor of a world that was destroyed, Avraham goes one step further, taking their portion as well.
As the Mishna explicitly states, the world of Avraham deserves a fate similar to the flood, but instead of devastation, Avraham inherits their place.
He too is a lone survivor. The difference is this: Noach is a Tzaddik, deserving of his just reward. Avraham is more. He fulfills the purpose of all creation, becoming sole beneficiary of a world that is now his, it having lost all merit of its own.
Man's reward is the role that he plays in the realization of G-d's plan for creation. Every physical entity in life has meaning and purpose, and in the fulfillment of this potential each aspect of the world achieves its place in existence.
What if a particular individual chooses to relinquish this role, opting instead to pursue his own desires? What is his place in the Divine scheme?
Unwillingly, he too serves an important function in the unfolding of G-d's will. He becomes the example of what man should not be, a manifestation of the evil that G-d abhors. He becomes an image in contrast, a negative. In his own obscene manner, he displays to the Tzaddik an evil alternative, an option to be rejected.
The righteous man inherits the world's due portion, for the revelation of G-d's will is actualized by himself alone. Stepping over the heels of the wicked, he uses them as a ladder to heaven, intensifying his own understanding of Hashem's word.
Let us now explain how Avraham Avinu acheives precisely that goal.
G-d looked at the Torah and created the world.
The Torah is the blueprint of creation, a black and white parallel of the physical world, with identical characteristics.
Torah study implies the understanding that nothing is as it seems to be. Whether it be a Talmudic discussion, or a vexing life situation, one's first impression is always mistaken. Truth lies beneath the surface. Only once the complexities have been unraveled does man glimpse the deeper purpose of existence.
G-d revealed to Moshe the future of the Jewish people, each generation and their righteous men, each generation and their evildoers. The Torah destined to be spoken by all future students, and even the mistakes they will make.
Moshe Rabbeinu is the repository of Torah, and what G-d reveals to him becomes Torah itself. The lives of the wicked, and the mistakes of future generations, are transformed as aspects of Torah, illuminating the world with their reflection of truth.
Proper study, both in Torah and life, entails the understanding that truth embodies rejection of all alternatives, the negation of ill-advised conclusions.
It is in this manner that Avraham finds G-d. He smashes the idols of his father, rejects the teachings of his country, and disdains the values of his youth. Though they have discarded all meaning of their own, in his pursuit of the One G-d, Avraham utilizes their phony existence to enhance his own recognition of truth.
In the library of Avraham, the tractate Avoda Zara contains four hundred chapters. In this area, he toils exceptionally hard, studying this Sugya well. He authors the definitive word, revealing the futility of an idolatrous existence.
As Noach, Avraham actually saves only himself and his family, failing to prevent the destruction of the cities that have earned G-d's wrath. But, his unique recognition of G-d's ways grant meaning and purpose to evil itself, providing a place in creation for both good and bad. He takes their reward, appropriating for himself and his descendants the portion that the wicked reject.
Avraham is not the modern Jew, happily indulging in the culture of a foreign civilization. On the contrary, it is his negation of society that enhances his hold of a world beyond our own.
True G-dliness is beyond the natural grasp of mortal man. In a world of light and darkness, it is the black of night that serves as backdrop, developing the sight of those who long to see.
Avraham and his children also live in an ark, alone with G-d, isolated from a drowning world. The difference is this: while Noach's ark is a world that's self-contained, the world of Avraham is permanently docked at the center of the earth, encompassing all of creation, from heaven above to the land below.
"Said Rebbi Yitzchak: A parable: a man is traveling for place to place, and he sees a burning tower. He says: can it be that the tower has no master? Immediately, the master of the tower glances at him: "I am the tower's master."
"So too, once Avraham questioned: can this world be without a master? G-d glanced at him and revealed: 'I am the earth's master'." (Midrash Rabbah 39:1)
Avarham is reviled and ridiculed for his unlikely belief, a hidden G-d that directs the world with unified vision and purpose.
'Perhaps I believe in something impossible', he says, 'but, what you believe is even more impossible.'
It is this realization, the knowledge that life as we perceive it cannot be, that opens up a new horizon, one of meaning, value, and eternal purpose, a world of true reward.
"Can it be that the tower has no master?"
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