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by Daneal Weiner
opens with, "These are the offspring of Noach. Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation...And Noach had three sons..." Why are the words "Noach was a righteous man" shtupped in-between "These are the offspring of Noach" and “Noach had three sons”? Rashi offers a couple suggestions. Rav Wolfson (l’havdil ben chaim l’chaim) has one too.
The end of Breishis lists the generations till Noach. Everyone had their first child between the vibrant ages of 60 and 180. Noach did not have his first child until he was 500 years old! What about his command to be fruitful and multiply? I’m not saying, chas v’shalom, he was the worlds first nihilist and wasn’t trying to have children. Rather, some things are from Hashem and there is nothing we can do about it while some things are from Hashem and there is what we can do about it! If, lo aleinu, someone has a hard time bringing children into the world what does the Torah suggest they do?
Three times a day we say in the Shema, "V’shinantem l’vanecha". Literally, "Sharpen your teeth on them to your children." Figuratively, "Learn Torah by teaching it to your children." From these words is derived our personal obligation to learn Torah, in this context of teaching! As Rabbi Berel Wein puts it, “The good thing about teaching is that it forces you to learn what you're supposed to learn anyway.”
Something else we learn from these two words is that a student of a teacher is considered as a child to the teacher. The words in the Torah which say to teach ones children is where we learn that WE must learn and that anyone we teach is like a child to us. Rav Wolfson applies these fundamental ideas to Noach. Noach saw he was not having children. He knows there is another way, by teaching. But in his generation, even a “Lunch and Learn” wasn’t going to attract a soul! The only one he had to teach was himself. Teaching ones self doesn’t make the aforementioned concepts go away. In other words, in Rav Wolfson’s words, one who teaches himself Torah makes the teacher and student one. For 500 years Noach was his own student. If he was his own student, he was his own son. And you thought Disney was the first to come up with the idea? (“I’m My Own Grandpa”) There is nothing new under the sun! As the Torah puts it, "These are the offspring of Noach. Noach himself, a righteous man for teaching himself Torah for half a millennia. Then came his three sons..."
There is the world famous question on why the Torah specifies Noach was perfect “in his generation”. Rashi brings two opinions, one praising Noach and one not. His praise is that even though he lived amongst the worst influences imaginable he stayed an Ish Yashar- a straight man in the eyes of Hashem. The other commentary feels Noach, was the perfect role model only in his generation. If he were alive in the generation of Avraham he would not match up to the accomplishments of Avraham.
The First Satmar Rav, the Divrei Yoel says both opinions are correct. In fact, they agree! If we took the accomplishments of Noach and put them in the generation of Avraham they wouldn't match up. So he was only perfect in his generation. But take the potential of Noach, take him as a child and let him grow up in Avraham’s generation, let him learn 500 years then without a world around him wicked to the point of destruction, then Noach would out shine even Avraham!
In the writings of Rav Chaim Vital, the best student of the Arizal, he recalls, "I asked my Rav how is it so that he tells me I had a very lofty soul when I can not reach even the heels of the Rishonim- Rabbis of the 10th, 11th century? They are like angels to me! He answered, `One small mitsvah of yours is worth many mitsvos of previous generations because in our time the Yetser Horah- evil inclination has unlimited reign. This was not the case in their times. If you, Chaim, lived then you would have out smarted their best."
These words were written about 400 years ago. If then the Yetser Horah was described as limitless, words couldn't describe it now. Well, we could use the words ‘50th level of Tuma’ but we have little appreciation of what those words mean. The flip side, the upswing, the silver lining, the incredible truth- 400 years after Rav Chaim Vital, one small mitsvah of ours is worth many many mitsvos of previous generations! The way Rav Wolfson tells it, drop a rock from your hand into mud and it will enter the mud a bit. Drop a rock from the roof into the mud and it will sink deep. Our generation is so deep in the mud that it must be our souls fell to earth from a very, very high place. In our time, just to believe there is a Creator is an incredible feat. To follow Torah and mitsvahs, wow! And a righteous person in our generation - "Holy Neshama, Batman!"
In Parshas Ha'azinu, a song of rebuke to Bnei Yisrael just before entering the Land of Israel, Moshe warns (D’varim 32:7), Z'chor yamos olam- Remember the days of the world, binu shnos dor vador- understand the years from generation to generation. A fairly straightforward message. History does have a purpose. Learn from past mistakes. There's nothing new under the sun! It's all been done before! The Sifri (a Midrash) says it better. The word shnos- years, can also be translated as ‘changes’! Now we have “Remember the days of the world, understand the changes from generation to generation.” Don’t think the Sifri is saying there is something new. It’s just focusing on the symptoms rather than the source of it all, the Yetser Horah. Moshe warns us to understand how the Yetser Horah changes its face generation to generation. The disease may show different symptoms but it is the same ailment and requires the same cure. We learn this from our parsha as well.
The end of the parsha talks about the generation of the dispersion, the Dor Haflagah, dispersed because they decided to build a tower to the heavens to do battle with Hashem. Verse 11:5, "And Hashem went down to see the city and the tower- asher banu bnei Adam- that mankind built." There are two ways to translate "banu". ‘Built’ and ‘amongst us’. The Arizal said it so we can repeat it. This alternative reading hints to us that the souls from the Dor Haflagah are always amongst us! They exist in every generation and try to draw people into battle with Hashem. They may have on a different face but they are nothing new.
Although a couple parshas away, now’s the time to mention the Rabbeinu Bechaya’s insight regarding the people of Sodom. After Lot invited guests into his house he was converged upon by (19:4), "the men of the city, the men of Sodom." Say one or the other. Why the double language? Because here in Noach the men of the Dor Haflagah said, "Let's build a city". Link city with city and the Torah is telling us where the souls of the Sodomites originated. “The men of the city”- that city built to do battle with Hashem- they were “the men of Sodom”.
The Dor Haflagah also said, "Let us make for ourselves a name." The second verse in Parshas Korach says, "And they arose against Moshe...250 princes...men of name." Smells like trouble already. Anyone have an incense pan?
Now that the Torah has warned us of the illness of the Yetser Horah, what does it recommend as the tried and tested remedy? Noach was commanded to build a taivah. Taivah can be translated two ways. Taivah means “ark” and taivah means “word”. Words of Torah and words of tfilah- prayer. The only words which can save the world. The greatest weapon we ever had and have is our Torah and tfilah. We are called the people of the book. Rabbi Wein clarified that the book being referred to isn’t the Torah. Everyone has that book. We are the people of the book because of the Oral Law. When France wanted to uproot Judaism from the Jews they didn’t burn every Torah they could get their hands on. They burned two dozen waloads of Gemorahs. Our strength is in our words.
There is one more spin on hataivah- the ark. It is the gematria of Bayit- home. The last weapon we have against the yetser horah and the destructive influences of our world is the sanctity of the Jewish home. One of the most effective tools in attracting a distant Jew to Judaism is the Shabbos experience, the quintessential expression of the Jewish home. The culture they were raised in and believe in has, for the past 30 years, sacrificed the home in the name of equality and has destroyed the family and their children. Licentiousness, drugs and guns are with what the modern man’s child will herald in the 21st century. Judaism releases women from the obligation of time bound mitsvos because it wants us to know every possible second must be spent nurturing the children. Every single second of love, influence and guidance strengthens a child’s armament, hopefully to the point of withstanding the flood of depravity which prevails in today’s civilized world in the name of human rights, freedom of speech and the pursuit of happiness. Hataivah- the Torah, Hataivah- the Tfilah and Hataivah- the home. Torah from the father, a home from the mother and a whole lot of tfilah from both.
The last holiday of Tishrei was Shmini Atseres. The greatness of that 8th day after Sukkos was the message that the Sukkah comes with us into the home. Comes along Parshas Noach and hataivah to remind us how critical the home is to Jewish survival.
Not only was Tishrei itself a time of tremendous potential for the Mashiach to come, it was also a time packed with holiday celebration. We now enter Marcheshvan- bitter Cheshvan, called as such because there are no holidays in Cheshvan. As we enter this month seemingly void of Jewish identity, Parshas Noach starts the month off with a message of how to maintain our identity in the face of the void.
Og, king of Bashan, was an arch enemy of Israel whom Moshe was scared to face. Not because the Torah describes his crib as being made of iron. Not because as a Midrash says, Moshe had to jump up with his sword just to strike Og on the back of his ankle. In other words, it wasn’t Og’s physical size that frightened Moshe. It was because Og brought Avraham the news that Lot had been taken captive. Moshe thought that merit would protect Og. This Midrash makes Og at least 500 years old. There’s more. Another Midrash says Og was from the time of Noach and survived by hanging onto the outside of the Taivah. Was Og 800 years old? And if he was who he was, how could he merit surviving the flood?
A Rav Milevsky z’l once offered the following explanation. The might of Israel is in her mouth. Balak sought Bilaam to curse the Jews to fight them on their own turf, so to speak. (Thank you.) Moshe, leader of Israel, the man who brought the word of Hashem into the world, was not a man into physical might. When he killed the Egyptian who was beating the Jewish slave he did so by uttering the Name of Hashem. Two times he did use physical means and neither time faired well for him. No doubt you are all thinking of his striking the rock and not speaking to it. I would like to add the time he saved the daughters of Yisro, fending of the other shepherds. The daughters reported to their father an Egyptian[!] had saved them. Not a man who’s strength was in his words but in his arms. [There is an opinion which says this was when Moshe lost the opportunity to enter Israel!]
Moshe certainly learned his lesson so to say he defeated Og with a sword in the ankle, doesn’t seem likely. The door is definitely open to take these particular Midrashim in an allegorical sense. As we said, Taivah means word. What saved Noach was the word of Hashem. Og was hanging to the outside of the taivah. He was outside the word of Hashem. He was wicked. For the world to exist with freedom of choice Hashem maintains a balance of the forces of good and evil in the world. For example, Yaakov was balanced against Eisav. The day Yaakov died was the day Eisav died. Two others now filled that role.
Even though Noach was saved and all the wicked were destroyed there had to be a balance. Whether Og was or was not born before the flood, the idea of him, the likes of him, the necessity of him was born before the flood. So while Noach survived within hataivah, the force of good in the world. Og survived holding on to the outside the taivah, the force of evil in the world. Moshe striking Og with a sword in the ankle? That will be your homework.
The aforementioned parshas Ha’azinu, read during Elul, is inscribed in the Torah as two distinct columns symbolizes the choices which had just been presented to Israel. Good and evil. Life and death. The way of Hashem and all else. No middle ground. Now that we come out of the High holidays, perhaps Noach wants us to remember that message. There is inside hataivah or outside. Good or evil. No middle ground. No ground at all!
People of the word, spread the word! Share some Torah, increase your tfilah, invite a Jew into your home, and have a Good Shabbos.