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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation. (6:9)

Rashi cites a difference of opinion regarding the meaning of b'dorosav, in his generation. Some are of the opinion that Noach was a tzaddik in a generation that was evil, immoral and hedonistic. If he could ascend to spiritual leadership in such an environment, then he could certainly succeed in a generation such as Avraham's. Others contend that Noach seemed to be a tzaddik only because he was alive during a period of evil unparalleled in our history. Had he lived, however, in Avraham's generation, his righteousness would not really have appeared as great. Some interpret Noach in a positive light, while others dispute his righteousness in an absolute sense.

Nachlas Tzvi suggests an interesting twist to the meaning of b'dorosav, in regard to Noach. Chazal say in Talmud Eiruvin 105a that in the circumstances in which there are no Kohanim temimim, whole and healthy without any physical blemishes or impediments, to serve in the Bais Hamikdash, then any Kohen, regardless of his physical challenge, may represent Klal Yisrael in serving before Hashem. While the mitzvah is through temimim, it applies only if such individuals are available. If they are not to be found, then even a Kohen baal mum may serve. This is the meaning of b'dorosav. Noach was a tzaddik in the context of "his generation." Since no one else other than he was inspired to come close to Hashem, he was blessed with an extra shefah, spiritual outpouring, from Hashem. When "bnei aliyah," those who strive to succeed spiritually, are few, Hashem increases His Divine spiritual flow to the world. Hashem rewarded Noach with special favor, since he was the only one who cared.

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, once explained that those who studied Torah during the terrible years of World War II achieved incredible heights in Torah erudition, because so few studied. The dearth of students available and committed to Torah engendered a special, unprecedented Siyata Dishmaya, Divine assistance, to the point that whoever sat down to learn Torah became successful.

But the dove did not find for itself a resting place…and it returned to the Ark…so he put forth his hand, and took it and brought it to him to the Ark. (8:9,10)

Noach sent the dove out of the Ark in search of dry land to ascertain if the time had come to leave the Ark. The first time, the dove returned and Noach stretched out his hand, to take the dove back into the Ark. The Torah seems to be using this incident to tell us something. Why did the Torah find it necessary to point out that Noach stretched out his hand to bring the dove into the ark? Rabbi Yechezkel Munk Shlita, shared an insight with me which sheds light on the matter.

The generation of the Flood was guilty of various transgressions. There was a moral and spiritual breakdown of society. In the beginning of the parsha, Rashi tells us two significant points. He teaches us that the sin, which finally sealed the fate of that generation, was "chamas", theft in various forms. "Sheli, shelcha v'shelcha sheli," mine is yours, and yours is mine. They did not respect "boundaries". They took whatever they wanted without regard for the fact that it belonged to someone else.

Rashi also teaches us that the social conduct of animals is often a reflection of the way of life of human beings. Human hanhagah, activity, does not only influence humans, but also directly influences how animals live. The purpose of the Flood and all punishment is not merely to punish. Rather, it is meant to rectify the wrong and return the individual or society to the proper way of life. The year spent in the Ark was a year of education, a year of learning to live with one another under circumstances that were far from comfortable, a year of learning to respect each other's "space".

Noach sent the dove in search of dry land. When the dove returned, it would not enter the Ark on its own. The dove waited to be "invited" back in. It was necessary for Noach to stretch out his hand and take the dove back into the ark. This served as an indication to Noach that the concept of "boundaries" was again respected and that the sin of "chamas" was rectified. Soon they would be able to leave the Ark and again live on land.

Shem and Yefes took the cloak and placed it on their shoulders. (9:23)

Rashi notes that the Torah uses the word vayikach, and he took, in the singular, as opposed to vayikchu, and they took. This teaches us that Shem actually exerted himself more than Yefes for this noble deed. Consequently, Shem's descendants were privileged to receive the mitzvah of Tzitzis, while Yefes merited to receive respectful burial for his descendants. Rashi clearly teaches us that the difference between the reward received by Shem and that received by Yefes is directly linked with their relative actions on behalf of Noach. Shem received a "covering" of Tzitzis for the manner in which he covered his father. Yefes received burial for his descendants in a manner corresponding to the way he covered Noach. Horav Yitzchak Goldwasser, Shlita, points out four differences between the reward received by Shem to that received by Yefes, each one a direct result of the way each son performed his act of respect for his father.

He cites Horav Gedaliah Schorr, zl, who distinguishes between Tzitzis, which is a covering for the living, and burial, which is a covering for the dead. Shem exerted himself when he performed the mitzvah. He put his life into it. Therefore, his reward is a covering for the living. Yefes was not proactive in his performance. He simply followed along with Shem. There was no life to his act. His reward was a covering - for the dead. His corresponds with his behavior.

Second, it did not take long for Shem's reward to take effect. The Torah was given at Har Sinai to Shem's descendants, Klal Yisrael, and the mitzvah of Tzitzis became a reality. Yefes' reward will be fulfilled in the end of the days, after the war of Gog and Magog is fought. Measure for measure, the rewards coincides with the action. Shem wasted no time in performing the mitzvah. He moved forward with alacrity and covered his father. Thus, his reward was soon forthcoming. Yefes dragged; he was slothful in performing his good deed. His reward will arrive in a manner similar to his deed - at the end of the days, when the world as we know it is about to transform forever.

A Tallis -- and every garment for that matter -- performs a vital function in covering its wearer. Hence, the Tallis, or garment, becomes part and parcel with the person. It is like a part of his extended body. Indeed, a person's image, his outward appearance, changes with the clothes he wears. The grave, on the other hand, is not a part of a person. He is placed into it. The body does not change its appearance as a result of being placed in the ground. It deteriorates, because there is no life left in it. Once again, this reverts back to the way each one performed the mitzvah. When one executes a mitzvah with hislahavus, fiery passion and excitement, he becomes one entity with the mitzvah. He is elevated and sanctified by it and becomes a new person by virtue of its holiness. Conversely, when one performs a mitzvah without feeling, without interest, without enthusiasm, he does not become affected in such a manner. One takes from a mitzvah exactly what he puts into it.

Last, Tzitzis is a mitzvah, a reward that bears fruit, that catalyzes the performance of other mitzvos. Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos that s'char mitzvah - mitzvah; the reward for observing a mitzvah is the opportunity to carry out yet another mitzvah. As we don the Tallis everyday, we say, "Just as I cover myself with a Tallis in this world, so may I merit the chiluka d'Rabbanan, Rabbinical garb, and a beautiful cloak in the world to come, in Gan Eden." In contrast, burial is the final reward. It does not generate any other fruits. A mitzvah performed with zeal and enthusiasm engenders other mitzvos and good deeds. It is like a wellspring, a veritable fountain of ever-flowing waters. On the other hand, a mitzvah performed lackadaisically, without fervor or desire, is sterile. While one certainly will be awarded for his endeavor, the spiritual quality of the mitzvah is deficient. A strong, positive attitude produces the "next generation" of mitzvos, while a languid demeanor in mitzvah performance hardly has the strength to give this mitzvah viability.

The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose. (11:1)

We talk about achdus, unity, as the ideal ingredient for success among people. Yet, the Torah suggests that the sin of the people who built the tower of Bavel was precisely their unity - one language - one common purpose. Obviously, their unity was not an asset. When is harmony among people a detriment and when is it to their benefit? Moreover, In the Yerushalmi Megillah 1:9, Chazal clearly state that the people spoke seventy different languages, when in fact the Torah states that the punishment was to disperse them and divide them into different languages. Last, in giving a name to the place where the building of the tower took place, the Torah calls it Bavel, which means to disperse, because "from there Hashem scattered them over the face of the whole earth." If they spoke seventy languages prior to the dispersement, what changed after they were scattered?

Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that while unity is certainly a positive quality, it depends greatly on the purpose in which the unity is used. Let us first focus on the languages and the types of communication between people that existed at the time. Language is an expression of each individual nation based upon its culture, society, way of life and other various circumstances, which are endemic to that individual nation. While it is true that different languages existed before the dispersion, people were still able to understand one another, so great was the harmony among men. When people get along and there is a strong meeting of the minds, the language barrier just seems to fade away. Rav Schwab posits that even after the dispersion, when people and their lives changed to the point that they no longer understood each other, one common thread remained: music. Every country makes its own music, with its own individual sounds, notes and lyrics. Yet, one who is proficient in the area of music can read and understands anyone's music. It is a universal language. Hashem dispersed the people and mixed up their languages, but their music stayed the same.

As a result of the unique harmony among men that reigned at the time, people understood each other and became like one family. United, mankind began to think that "they" were "it." They thought that with everyone playing a supporting role to his friend and neighbor, each was actually self-sufficient. They no longer needed G-d. They could go at it on their own. Indeed, this is why the Torah does not clearly state their actual sin. It only writes that they were of one language and one common purpose. This common bond among men is what led to their infamy. Nimrod rallied the people against the Almighty. "We can do it ourselves!" he declared. "Why should we listen to Hashem?" In order to abrogate their misguided unity, it was essential that each person be acutely aware that in order to endure, he must have Siyata Dishmaya, Divine assistance. Unity does not take the place of emunah, belief in Hashem. It was necessary for Hashem to "descend," to bring Himself down, to give people a more penetrating understanding of His greatness. Hashem intervened and prevented the gap between Heaven and earth from growing. The pernicious goal of the tower's founders was halted.

Hashem confused their ability to communicate with each other. The Torah uses the word v'navlah som sfasam, "so that their language will become confused/dried up." Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the word, v'navlah, is a derivative of naval, which means to wither. The immediate result of Hashem's yeridah, descending / closing the gap, was the withering of their speech. There certainly was a confusion of their language, and consequent ability to communicate with each other, but it happened because people had a greater and more profound grasp of Hashem. The more they understood Hashem, the less they needed one another, because they now realized that they could not exist without Him. Thus, their prior ability to communicate with each other, to understand one another despite the gap created by variant languages, naturally deteriorated. Language became an insurmountable barrier, since the ability to act as one with one another decreased. This is why the place became known as Bavel, because there Hashem bolal, scattered them. Bolal also means to "mix in;" Hashem "mixed in" a perception of Himself into their ability to communicate with each other. The result was a dispersal of nations throughout the world. Unity among people is wonderful, as long as it is meaningful and produces achdus haBoreh, a belief in the unity of the Creator.


Noach had begotten three sons: Shem, Cham and Yafes. (6:10)

Horav Simchah Bunim, zl, m'Pesicha, interprets this pasuk homiletically: Noach begot - he imparted and imbued his personal virtue and good deeds - to others. He emphasized three principles: Shem: Name - a person should always remember the Name of Hashem. It should be with him constantly. Cham: heat/passion - Hashem's mitzvos should be observed with fervor and intensity. Yefes: beauty - A person's actions and deeds should be such that they are "beautiful," a credit to himself, and earning him the esteem of fellow men.

Now the earth had become corrupt before G-d; and the earth had become filled with robbery. 6:11)

"The earth became corrupt before G-d." The Mezritcher Maggid, zl, explains that the genesis of their sins was the fact that they prioritized the "earth" before "G-d;" they gave greater significance to their "aretzius," earthliness, base physical desires, than to the Elokim, spiritual ascendancy.

And the earth had become filled with robbery. (6:11)

Why did Hashem destroy the land? First He should have taken away their money. If that did not effect a change in their behavior, then the earth should have been destroyed. The Tiferes Shlomo, Horav Shlomo, zl, m'Radomsk, explains that Hashem metes out His punishment upon one's possessions only as long as they are his own. When the sin is thievery, the money that one possesses is not his own. Consequently, Hashem must deliver his punishment elsewhere. This is why the Torah places the decree to destroy the land alongside the statement that they stole from each other. Their money was not theirs; therefore, Hashem destroyed the land. j

Only Noach survived. (7:23)

Simply, this means that Noach and the inhabitants of the Ark were the only ones that survived the terrible deluge. The commentators offer various other explanations. At the Knessiah Gedolah held in Vienna in 1929, Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, Lubliner Rav and Founder of the Daf Hayomi gave a keynote address. He critiqued those rabbanim who remained sequestered in their own four walls. Although they studied Torah constantly, they did not reach out to their brethren. He felt that it was incumbent upon every Torah leader, regardless of position or status, to do everything possible to reach out to the alienated and disenfranchised. He said, Vayishaer ach Noach, Noach was left alone - without his original title or appellation. He was no longer Noach, the righteous and perfect. He saved himself, but the rest of his generation perished. A tzaddik is one who pointedly cares for the spiritual development of others, not merely addressing his own personal spiritual needs. He was now just "plain" Noach.

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