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PARSHAS NOACHNoach walked with G-d. (6:9)
Rashi contrasts the spiritual plateau of Noach with that of Avaham Avinu. Noach walked with G-d; he needed the Almighty's support as he walked. Concerning Avraham, however, it is stated (17:1), "Walk before Me and be perfect." Avraham was able to walk independently, without the added support. What is Rashi teaching us? The Piascesner Rebbe, zl, takes a novel approach towards explaining the distinction between Avraham and Noach. He feels that the difference between the two was in the areas of intellectual activity and creative endeavor under adverse circumstances. The Rebbe was an individual who might be uniquely qualified to expound on the issue, as he had been the Rebbe in the Warsaw Ghetto. He had written and delivered his brilliant innovative homilies in the darkness and devastation of the ghetto.
The Rebbe first cites a text in the Talmud Sanhedrin 104A which describes two Jews who had been taken captive and were now being led away as slaves. As they were walking along, they exchanged perceptive, insightful remarks. Their captor, who was listening to the conversation, expressed his amazement that the "stiff-necked" Jews were imagining themselves capable of wisdom even under the cruel circumstances of defeat and torment. The Maharsha explains that the trait of kshei oref, stiff-neckedness, is the only reason that the Jews are able to think rationally and creatively, despite being subjected to pain and misery.
The Rebbe explains that every negative character trait has a positive aspect to it. Thus, the constructive side to the quality of stiff-neckedness is the ability to remain steadfast and resolute, to maintain one's fortitude -- even at a time of crushing difficulty. The Rebbe adds that while remaining steadfast and committed during a period of anguish is in itself by no means a simple matter, the real challenge is to be able to engage in Torah study, specifically intellectual and conceptual analysis during these times. That is a greater achievement. Indeed, stories have been recounted of people putting on Tefillin and performing other mitzvos in times of trouble, but to study Torah, especially if one is involved in penetrating analysis, is particularly difficult.
This is the meaning of the dialogue that the captor overheard between his two Jewish slaves. The captor had heard of Klal Yisrael's character trait of kshei oref, stiffneckedness. Thus, he could understand their ability to maintain their conviction and carry out their commitment despite the pain and despair. What impressed him so was their ability to establish an intellectual dialogue, to think cognitively and express their uncanny wisdom at such a difficult moment.
Noach did not have an easy life. Rashi says that members of his generation declared that if they were to see him enter the Ark, they would demolish it and kill him. He certainly had his detractors and, obviously, he was not universally popular. Yet, he persevered - with Hashem's Divine Assistance. Every time he was about to fall, Hashem caught him and held him up. He did not have the degree of kshei oref that was intrinsic to Avraham's character. Avraham also had his enemies. After all, he was b'eiver echad, on one side, of the philosophic conviction, while the rest of the world was on the other side. He was alone in a pagan world, labeled public enemy number one. He, however, remained committed, as he reached out to others and encouraged them to accept monotheism. He was the first kshei oref, a man who was steadfast, resolute, committed with fortitude to his belief in Hashem. He never waned; he never fell. He did it alone.
My rebbe, the Veitzener Rav, Horav Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, zl, was like that. In the years 1943 and 1944, while he was still in Veitzen, Hungary, he heard about the exterminations carried out by the Nazis, killing towering rabbis, tzaddikim, scholarly Roshei Yeshivah, together with their students and families. Since the disaster arrived without warning, many of these individuals did not have the opportunity to publish their writings.
Rav Meisels had a large number of responsa from these rabbis in his possession. He considered it his duty to publish their treatises as an everlasting memory to these Torah giants. He published these works, along with short glosses which he added. Even when Hungary was overrun by the Nazi beasts, and Jews were confined to the ghettos, he continued ceaselessly to write, publish and disseminate their Torah thoughts. As he was about to complete his first volume, his entire family was taken to Auschwitz where his wife and seven of his children were put to death. As he stood before the furnace and was himself almost burned, he pledged that if he survived this terror, he would do his utmost to publish these Torah insights. He did. He survived, and he published the divrei Torah.. He exemplified kshei oref.
Upon entering Auschwitz, all of the Jews' possessions, including Tallis and Tefillin, were confiscated. Yet, someone was somehow able to procure a few small volumes of Tehillim with the commentary Tefillah LeMoshe from the Uheler Rav, Horav Moshe Teitelbaum, zl. The Veitzener used this sefer as a text, delivering lectures and commentary to the broken inhabitants of Auschwitz. I know, because my father, zl, was one of the people who benefited from these drashas. These lectures gave the inmates strength and hope with which to cope with the horrors they faced each day. These Jews developed the true essence of am kshei oref.
And the earth had become corrupt before G-d; and the earth became filled with violence. (6:11)
Was it only corrupt in Hashem's eyes, but not in the eyes of anyone else? This is what the pasuk implies: Hashem saw their corruption. They saw nothing wrong with their own actions. Were they that blind or that permissive? Horav David Feinstein, Shlita, explains that from their perspective, they saw nothing "corrupt" or "evil" about their nefarious activities. Chazal teach us that the word shacheis, corrupt, is almost always a reference to immorality and idolatry. Who is really hurt when someone decides to bow down to a stone? In reality, it is conceivable that society might view the actions of two consenting adults as a part of their private lives and, consequently nobody else's business. Who is actually hurt by the immorality of idolatry? Surely, the sinners of that generation viewed their actions as acts of personal discretion that had no effect on the community and would certainly not lead to any crime.
This is where they were wrong. This is why the pasuk continues, "And the earth became filled with violence." It suddenly became clear that these seemingly "harmless" acts of infidelity, immorality and godlessness were the precursors of a society that was out of control. An evil emerged that enveloped the entire generation. Where did it come from? Hashem knew all of the time what was happening. The signs were present all along. Unfortunately, people were not looking.
Sins between man and G-d do not remain that way. Otherwise, the world would have remained a viable place to live. In His supreme wisdom, Hashem knows that such transgressions of His law produce the bitter fruits of injustice and violence. Rav David supports his thesis with an intriguing incident from the Talmud Nedarim 91A. Chazal relate a story about a man who spent the afternoon in the company of a married woman. When the woman's husband suddenly came home, the unauthorized guest felt it prudent to hide himself, rather than attempt to explain his presence. While he was concealed, he noticed the husband raise a glass to drink from it. "Stop!" he cried out "I saw a poisonous snake drink from that glass."
Chazal deduce from this act of mercy that the visitor could not have committed a sinful act with the woman. They understood that the sin itself would have dulled his human compassion, so that he would have been able to watch the husband drink from the poisoned glass.
Hence, we see that sins which seem to appear as "private" acts do not remain that way forever. Slowly, the attitude they create creeps out into the open. This leads to a climate of anarchy and terror.
There is another aspect to immorality that we would be remiss to ignore: It is inevitably passed on to the next generation. Horav Mordechai Ilan, zl, distinguishes between the sin of the generation of the Flood, that brought about their deaths, and the sins of the generation of the Tower of Bavel, which resulted in their dispersal. The dor ha'mabul, generation of the Flood, lived like animals - immoral, depraved and debased lives. This lifestyle of corruption was likely to be transmitted to their children, who would eventually grow up to outdo their parents. In support of this idea, we have only to look around at contemporary society. In contrast, the generation of the dispersal was corrupt only philosophically. Their ideology was perverted - not their morals. While the parents erred in their beliefs, denying the existence of Hashem, it did not necessarily preclude their children from growing up with high moral standards and values. Indeed, they might eventually even disprove their parents and embrace a life of conviction and belief in Hashem. Once again, we have only to look around at the multitudes who are returning to a life of Torah and mitzvos. They have recognized the error of the ideology with which they were raised and have decided to do something about it.
Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood. (6:14)
Rashi teaches us that Hashem chose an ark which involved elaborate construction, because the prolonged process tangibly conveyed a message to civilization: repent while you still can. Noach labored and tried to inspire for one hundred and twenty years - to no avail. He did not succeed in reaching the people. One would think that this righteous, wholesome man would deserve the greatest plaudits. Yet, Chazal criticize him for not entreating Hashem on behalf of mankind. The waters of the Flood are referred to as "mei Noach," "waters of Noach," attributed to him, because of his failure to pray for the people. This concept begs elucidation. Are we to disregard his one hundred and twenty years of physical labor? Are we to ignore the abuse that he sustained during this period? Furthermore, why did he fail to pray for the people? After all, he was doing everything else. Why did he not go all the way?
Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, explains that Noach is described as an ish tzadik, righteous man, for a reason. He had a sterling character; he was upright and righteous, but, as a tzadik, he acted strictly in accordance with the letter of the law. A person of this caliber will not necessarily feel a sense of compassion for someone who does not legitimately deserve it. It is for this reason that Noach could not bring himself to pray wholeheartedly for a civilization that was undeserving. He tried to convince them to repent, so that he might find them somewhat deserving of his prayers on their behalf. Prayer is described as avodah she'b'lev, service of the heart. Hence, one must feel in his heart the emotion to pray - if it is to be a wholesome outpouring of love. Noach needed to develop a compassion that would facilitate a heartfelt prayer for the corrupt, perverted society in which he lived.
Avraham Avinu is lauded by Chazal for his ability to reach out to the people of his generation. How was he different from Noach? Avraham was known as the ish ha'chesed, man of kindness. This term implies that he went beyond the strict dictates of the law. He searched and delved deeply into the recesses of the hearts of the people of Sodom in order to find a mitigating factor, so that he could pray for them. He probed and he sought. He pleaded for mercy. He employed a technique that Hashem uses for us.
In the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy through which Hashem conducts Himself towards the Jewish Nation, there is one attribute - the last one - which Hashem uses when all else fails. This is the attribute of Mimei Kedem. Hashem recalls the "days of old," and the love He once had for us. This arouses His Divine compassion and, once again, we are spared. Every person should remember the "beginnings," the "days of old" of those around him. There was a time when the individual was worthy of compassion. That is "Mimei Kedem." To paraphrase the Tomar Devorah, "This way he will not find a single person unworthy of kindness, prayer or compassion."
Avraham Avinu was able to beseech Hashem to have mercy even on the evil Sodomites. He was able to recall the times when they possessed G-dliness and, through this recollection, he was able to have compassion and pray for them. During Noach's yearlong journey in the Ark, much was demanded of him, especially in the area of kindness. His attribute of chesed honed and developed. During this year of constant giving, he also became an ish ha'chesed. Regrettably, it was too late for the civilization of the mabul, but the new world could be rebuilt on chesed, kindness.
Make the Ark with compartments. (6:14)
While kinim is translated here as compartments, the root word "ken," is a nest in Hebrew. This brings the Midrash to comment, "Just like a ken, nest of birds, serves as the vehicle for purifying a metzora, spiritual leper, so, too, shall the Teivah, Ark, purify you." Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, explains the connection between a metzora and the Ark in the following manner. The punishment of tzaraas, spiritual leprosy, is visited upon a person for his propensity to speak disparagingly of people. Such a person must be secluded from society. He is, therefore, punished with a disease that drives him out of the community. This will motivate him to repent and correct his ways. Likewise, Hashem was intimating to Noach that when the spiritual climate "out there" is challenging, when he is surrounded by people that are evil and who seek to bring him down,he should either leave or seclude himself, so that he would not be vulnerable to popular opinion.
Rav Shternbuch goes on to use this idea to explain why Shevet Levi, prior to their induction, were completely shaved, similar to a metzora. Why? What relationship do they have to the metzora? He explains that the Levi possessed neither land nor sanctuary. His garments were compliments of the wool he received from the Reishis ha'gez, first-wool shearings; his meat came as a gift from the various parts of the korbanos that the Jews offered. In other words, he lived off the people. While we know that this is neither right, nor appropriate, people are human. Certainly, some of them could perceive the Levi to be a shnorrer, beggar, who lived off the dole. The Levi must be prepared for this negative reaction. The human ego is a fascinating aspect of our personality. For some, it gives them the ability to rise above adversity, to cope with challenge, to maintain self-confidence in circumstances that can otherwise be crippling. For others, regrettably, their ego can play havoc with others, putting people down in the pursuit of elevating themselves. Let's face it: There are some people that are very insecure and, unless they look down on those who do not have what they possess, they cannot function.
Shevet Levi is the name given to the tribe that served in the Bais HaMikdash. At the end of his treatise of Hilchos Shemittah v'Yovel, the Rambam writes that the term Shevet Levi is applicable to anyone who decides to dedicate his life to Torah study and dissemination. This person is not concerned with the material aspect of life. He is devoted to enhancing his spiritual dimension and seeing to it that others are also availed this opportunity.
Just as Hashem was conveying His message to Shevet Levi, preparing them for the attitude of some of their brethren, so, too, should the contemporary members of the legion of Shevet Levi -- those who are willing to forego financial bounty, to devote their lives to Torah -- be duly prepared. It is not going to be easy- neither from a financial perspective nor from the perspective of peer acceptance.
While I certainly agree with Rav Shternbuch's thesis, I must add that people can be "taught" respect. If the ben Torah demands respect, he will receive it. There is no reason for anyone to feel inferior simply because he does not have a large portfolio of stocks and bonds. His function in life, his dedication to Torah, his commitment to elevating the spiritual persona of the community in which he lives, should be sufficient reason for him to have at least equal status with anyone else. If he does not manifest this aura of majesty and dignity, then he has no one to blame but himself.
Zivchei shalmei tzibur v'ashamos - Communal Peace offerings and Guilt offerings.
There are only two ShalmeiTtzibur: the Shnei Kivsei Atzeros, two sheep of Shavuos; which accompany the Shtei Ha'Lechem, two shewbread. There are six Ashamos, Guilt offerings: Asham Gezeilos, the theft Asham, which is brought by someone who, after owing money to another person, has sworn falsely that he did not owe it; Asham Meilos, the Meilah Asham, which is brought by someone who unintentionally used property of Hekdesh , Sanctuary, for his own personal use; Asham Shifchah Charufah, the Asham brought by someone who committed adultery with a maidservant who is half-slave / half-free and betrothed to an eved Ivri, Hebrew servant (the situation of a shifchah charufah occurs when a gentile slavewoman was owned by two Jewish partners, one of whom freed her, leaving her half-slave/half-free); Asham Nazir, the Asham brought by a nazir who has come in contact with a corpse, thereby causing him to end his period of nezirus prematurely; Asham Metzora, the Asham brought by a Metzora, spiritual leper, after he has become ritually purified; Asham Talui, the Asham brought by one who is in doubt whether he has become liable to bring a Korban Chatas, Sin-offering (he is in doubt whether he has unintentionally transgressed a sin which, had it been intentional, would have resulted in the punishment of kares, Heavenly excision). The Matanos, blood applications, for these Ashamos are the same as for the Korban Olah, Burnt-offering. Only the sacrificial parts are burnt on the altar, however, and the rest of the meat may be eaten by the Kohanim.
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