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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Was Noach a tzadik - or not? Rashi quotes a dispute in which yeish dorshin l'shevach, some interpret the phrase b'dorosav, in his generations, in a praiseworthy manner. Noach was righteous even in his corrupt generation. Certainly, had he lived in the generation of Avraham Avinu, he would have earned even greater accolades. Others, however, are critical of Noach, ascribing to him the title of tzadik only in comparison to the morally depraved generation in which he lived. Had Noach lived in a generation whose members were morally upright, he would not have been that noticeable. It all depends from which vantage point we are viewing Noach.

The Berditchever, zl, was wont to interpret the Kohen Gadol's prayer of Yom Kippur: She'lo yitztarchu amcha Bais Yisrael ze la'zeh v'lo l'am acher. Loosely translated, "That Your nation, Bais Yisrael, need not come on to the assistance of one another, or of another nation." Simply, this means that we ask Hashem to provide us with the means to be self-sufficient. We should be able to make it alone, without the assistance of others. Horav Levi Yitzchak explains this "assistance" in a novel manner. There are times when a Jew falters and, unfortunately, is not acting up to par. While he is not yet a sinner, he has certainly digressed from his previous spiritual plateau. Nonetheless, if this Jew is placed on a pedestal opposite another Jew who, in comparison, is spiritually deficient to him, the first Jew looks "good." Likewise, when Klal Yisrael collectively acts inappropriately, we can always counter that, in comparison to other nations, we are the paragon of moral rectitude.

This is what is meant by, "That Your nation need not come on to the assistance of others." We should be able to maintain our moral spiritual standing without requiring the support of a comparison check with others. Each Jew should maintain his own strong spiritual affiliation, so that he never needs to be compared to someone of a lesser standing. The nation should be on such a lofty spiritual perch that we never need to be compared to others in order for us to look good. Noach was a great man, but was this relative to others, or did he have his own spiritual standing? Did he require a comparison check, or was he free-standing? This is the question that Chazal dispute. It is also a lesson for ourselves. How do I look when I am "alone"? Do I need the support of being compared to others, or can I stand alone?

For the earth is filled with robbery. (6:13)

Rashi quotes the Talmud Sanhedrin 108A, which teaches that the sentence meted out to the dor ha'Mabul, generation of the Flood, was sealed on account of chamas, robbery. The people committed many reprehensible sins. Promiscuity was a leading sin, but it was robbery that sealed their verdict. Clearly, thievery of any sort is repugnant behavior, but should it have been the one behavior that sealed their verdict? The Tiferes Shlomo offers a novel insight into the matter. He begins by questioning why Hashem took umbrage over the fact that the wicked people were stealing from other wicked people. Was it any different than wild beasts in the forest attacking and stealing from one another? It was not as if they were stealing from good people. They were all the same, so why bother?

The Rebbe cites the Midrash that quotes a dialogue which took place between Avraham Avinu and Shem ben Noach. Avraham asked what the merit was which stood in their behalf to save them from the deluge that had destroyed the world. Shem replied that it was in the merit of their extraordinary compassion for the myriad creatures travelling on the Ark. Throughout the entire duration of the Flood, day and night, they toiled without rest, to provide for the needs of their many "passengers." In return, Hashem rewarded them with their lives. Kol ha'meracheim al ha'brios, merachamim alov min ha'Shomayim, "Whoever has compassion on the creatures (all of Hashem's creations), Heaven will have compassion on him."

Likewise, had the people of the generation of the Flood had the human decency to care for one another and not rob each other blind, Heaven would have spared them. Since they did not exhibit compassion for one another, they were not deserving of salvation. Indeed, robbery sealed their doom, because it demonstrated that the single characteristic which could have saved them was alien to them. They simply were not worth saving.

In an alternative exposition, the Melo Ha'Omer offers a practical explanation for chamas, robbery, being the last straw. Chazal teach that Hashem does not afflict a person until after He has first warned him by "punishing" his possessions. A person who observes his material possessions being taken from him for reasons unknown should consider this a "wake-up" call. He is next. There is one "drawback" to possessions going first: he must have material possessions. If, for instance, one's material trappings are not his because he has stolen them, then they can be of little assistance in deflecting his personal punishment.

The people of the generation of the Flood were sinners who had to pay with their lives because that is all that they had. Their material bounty did not belong to them, since it was all stolen goods. They stole and stole, but ultimately they had nothing, since stolen goods do not protect - they indict. Indeed, it was these stolen goods that served as their greatest censure. We think that we have made a deal, pulled off a big one. If our actions are not absolutely halachically correct, we have gained nothing. In fact, our greatest liability might be in our "possession."

The Brisker Rav, zl, distinguishes between the ramifications of theft and adultery, which reflect the severity of each sin. Clearly, adultery and moral perversion are grave sins. The moral bankruptcy exhibited by such deviant behavior is caustic and unequivocal. After all is said and done, however, the sinners are only hurting one another. Their sin is consenting to an act of debauchery. While it is true that there are innocent parties in every act of infidelity, they are the indirect casualties. It is the players who are the sinners.

In an act of theft, there is a victim who is hurt, robbed, humiliated, and violated. He has lost his possessions, and he is in pain. When a person hurts, he cries out to G-d. The Torah writes in Shemos 22:21, 22, "You shall not persecute any widow or orphan. If you will persecute him…for if he will cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his cry." The Mechilta focuses on the need for the Torah to write, V'hayah ki yitzaak, "For if he will cry out," and, Eshma tzaakaso, "I shall surely hear his cry." I might think that Hashem "hears" only when the orphan actually cries out. What if the orphan swallows his pain and does not cry out? Does Hashem still listen? Yes, Hashem listens, even if the orphan does not articulate his pain. Why then does the Torah use both phrases? If Hashem listens regardless of the orphan's cry, the Torah should have only written, "I shall hear his cry." The answer is that when the orphan actually cries out, Hashem hastens his response. We glean from here that Hashem's response time directly corresponds with the cry of pain evoked by the victim. Thus, we can understand the discongruity between adultery and theft. Adultery is a sin committed against man, with each individual participant acting willingly and with consent. There is no pain. There is no victim who cries out. When one is robbed, however, there is a victim who is hurt and humiliated. He cries out, and Hashem listens, quickly delivering His punishment. This is why the verdict against the dor ha'Mabul was sealed on theft. Theirs was not a victimless crime.

G-d said to Noach, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them." (6:13)

Chazal focus on the word mipneihem, "through them," written in lashon rabim, plural, implying that Hashem was weary with the actions of the gazlan, thief, and the nigzal, victim. This is enigmatic. While it is understandable that the actions of the thieves were at the point of disgust, what blame can be placed on the hapless victims? Is it my fault that someone decided to rob me? Apparently, the Torah has a dim view of the victim. Perhaps he is not as blameless as we would be led to believe.

Horav Arye Leib Bakst, zl, explains that we are all aware of the laws that apply to the robber/thief. We know that it is prohibited to steal; we understand the punishment and the reasons behind the laws. We do not realize, however, that some laws apply equally to the victim. Yes, a victim has to act with rectitude becoming that of a Torah Jew. When we think of the word "victim," it conjures up an image of a poor, broken-hearted individual, who was violated by another person. The thief is a scoundrel; the victim is a hero. It is not always like that. The victim remains a "victim" as long as he does not take advantage of his predicament. He does not have the right to do whatever he pleases vis-à-vis the thief. He may not take revenge. He may neither curse him, nor wish him any ill; nor is stealing from him permitted. He may not humiliate the thief - publicly or privately. The victim has to go literally against his human nature to transcend his feelings of vengeance and accept what has happened as G-d's decree.

The Rosh Yeshivah goes so far as to suggest that the laws applicable to the nigzal are more compelling that those which apply to the thief. The robber must pay the principal, and, under certain conditions, be fined double or even four or five times the principal. It is a "money thing." He stole; he must make reparations. Concerning the victim, however, the laws are much more demanding. We require the victim to look away, swallow his pride, overcome his feelings of animosity, and forgive and forget. He has to go so far as to pity the thief who has devastated him! Regrettably, all too often, victims of a theft or a scam feel that concerning the swindler, anything goes. He may be abused, humiliated, reviled, his children subjected to scorn and derision. Well, it is not so. This is not the Torah way. The nigzal also has laws. The Torah teaches that when Yosef HaTzadik finally revealed himself to his brothers, they trembled with fear, lest he seek vengeance for the ill treatment he had received at their hands. Yosef proved them wrong. Not only did he not seek vengeance, he did not humiliate or scorn them; rather, he went out of his way to appease and comfort them, to persuade them that they had done nothing wrong, that he was not angry. It was all part of Hashem's plan. He made them feel good concerning their selling him to the Yishmaelim, which led to his incarceration in various dungeons and the life of misery that is intrinsic to the prisoner's lot.

Rav Bakst observes that one should not counter that it is only someone who is on Yosef's spiritual plateau who is capable of acting so humanely; that this is not to be expected of the average Jew. The Torah does not just write stories. Everything in the Torah is written for us all. Thus, Yosef's behavior is the type of behavior expected of each of us. If the Torah records it for posterity, it is to be taken as a Divine message: This is how you are supposed to act. The victim has an awesome responsibility.

This was Hashem's critique of the dor haMabul - both thief and victim. The thief should not steal. Let him show respect for others. The victim also has a moral obligation to himself. He must transcend his innate desire to exact vengeance. Both the thief and the victim have deferred to their base instinct. The thief saw, wanted and took. The victim should not have pursued the case. What was done was done - it is over. It is G-d's device. He must live with it. Regrettably, this is a disease that affects us all. Who does not despise the fellow that violated and humiliated "me" by taking my money - either through blatant theft or through what was purported to be an innocuous loan for a short time, an investment in a "sure thing"? It is done - over with. Hashem wanted you to lose the money. The thief was the "messenger." Cursing him, his family, his children, will neither recover your loss nor will it really make you feel better. You are hurt; you are in pain. Swallow it and move on. The dor ha'Mabul did not. Thus, they were removed from the earth.

The Rosh Yeshivah notes that the feeling of being victimized finds its parallel in one's relationship with G-d. One may subconsciously harbor "questions" concerning Hashem's direction of the world. Sadly, there are "still" those who feel that they have to understand what Hashem does; that everything which He performs in the world must come under the rubric of their conception and comply with their own distinction between right and wrong. Furthermore, the individual who considers himself an "innocent" victim of Hashem's fury hypothesizes that he is now permitted to act with impunity, following his heart's desire with total disregard for Hashem's mitzvos.

Man must come to the realization that he is in this world for a purpose - Hashem's purpose. The Almighty determines right and wrong and who is deserving and who is not. Hashem provides every Jew with his needs. This does not mean that one may not want more. He just may not say that he needs more. If Hashem has not provided it, then he does not need it. "Want" does not equal "need." We often see instances, situations, occurrences which appear nonsensical to our little minds. This presents us with a challenge to our emunah. A Jew whose emunah is intact and running on "full" has no challenges. He believes that not everything Hashem does must make sense to him. He recognizes that he is not capable of determining what makes sense, since he is not privy to the whole picture. There is a Divine plan, and many considerations are factored into Hashem's decision. If man's plan does not coincide with Hashem's plan - it is unfortunate, but it does not mean that there is something questionable about Hashem's plan. Man is not privy to more than he can see, and, even then, that he can understand. We are limited people with limited faculties. How can we expect to understand Hashem Who is Omniscient? The following episodes, related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, is a classic example of how little we know, and how much less we understand.

One of Eretz Yisrael's distinguished philanthropists visited with Rav Zilberstein and shared the following story with him: "A number of years ago, the head of one of Yerushalayim's chesed organizations appealed to me to help defray the expenses of a wedding he was preparing for a poor orphan. The bride hailed from a large family whose mother had just passed away. The father was strapped with debt from which he had no way of extricating himself. The wedding expenses, along with the bridal trousseau and apartment, were far beyond his capabilities. Could I help?

"After listening to the story, I wrote out a check to cover the expenses of the entire wedding, including the apartment and furniture. I was especially moved by the man's appeal. This was a family that truly deserved my assistance. In fact, when the wedding day arrived, I participated personally. Upon seeing the abject poverty of the bride's family, I understood the value of the mitzvah I had performed. At the end of the wedding, one of the distinguished ziknei Yerushalayim, elders of the community, an honorable man who had been around for quite some time, came over to me and whispered, 'Since you merited to help this family in their time of need, I will share with you their incredible story.

"'The parents of the kallah, bride, are descendants of an esteemed Yerushalmi lineage of righteous Torah scholars. They personally have undergone much misery and travail. At one point, they were very wealthy. They lacked nothing, and their home was the address for chesed for Jews from all over. One thing hung over their heads; one source of pain and anguish did not leave them: They had not yet been blessed with offspring.

"'The wealthy man petitioned the Tchebiner Rav, zl, for a blessing. The Rav had recently emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and did not grant blessings. The man was relentless, begging, entreating, almost demanding a blessing that he and his wife be granted children. Finally, the Tchebiner Rav submitted to his request, but there was a contingency that first must be addressed. 'If you want to be blessed with children you have to give up all of your money. You cannot have it both ways: either children, or wealth. It is one or the other - not both. Additionally, loss of wealth does not mean middle class. You will be very poor, at times not having what to eat in your home. Perhaps, you should go home and think about it. Are you willing to give up all of your comforts, to literally become a beggar, so that you will have children?

"'Rebbe, I do not have to think it over. We want children and we are prepared to relinquish everything for this blessing." The Tchebiner Rav blessed him, and the following year the couple was blessed with a child. This went on for a number of years until they were a family of thirteen children. The other part of the blessing was also fulfilled, as they became so terribly impoverished they were forced to subsist on whatever food they could gather. Yet, they raised their children with dignity, accepting Hashem's Divine decree with love. This acquiescence continued on even after the man's wife became ill and died shortly after giving birth to their thirteenth child.

"At this point the elderly man turned to me and said, 'The bride whose wedding you paid for was their thirteenth child. You have a tremendous z'chus, merit. Heaven will certainly reimburse your kindness.'"

The philanthropist continued to relate to Rav Zilberstein, "I was truly blessed as a result of my act of chesed. Shortly after the girl's wedding, I became ill with an incurable disease from which I should not have survived. Yet, Hashem added years to my life, and the surgery to remove the tumor was successful. Two years later, it came back-this time with a vengeance. The doctors had little hope for a recovery. After consulting with the medical assistant organization, Ezrah L'Marpeh, I was told to have another surgery in New York. Apparently, there was one doctor who was willing to do the surgery on me. Rav Elimelech Finer, who is the director of Ezra L'Marpeh, insisted that I be accompanied by a young man who volunteers at the organization. He knew the various doctors and the 'ins' and 'outs' of the system. He would be an invaluable resource for me.

"We met at the airport, and, after speaking with the young man, I discovered that he was the brother-in-law of the young orphaned girl whose wedding I had paid for. Her husband was this man's younger brother. When I heard this, I realized that Hashem was conveying a message to me: It is all going to be fine. I left encouraged, filled with hope, that in the merit of my tzedakah, I would survive this ordeal."

Now let us return to the beginning of the story. We see a family whose lineage is distinctive, suffering the effects of abject poverty. We wonder, "Hashem, how could You do this to them? They are such special people who have contributed so much to Klal Yisrael." Little do we know that this family's poverty was a "trade" for their thirteen children. They joyfully accepted the poverty because of the "fringe benefits" it catalyzed. How little do we know, how much less do we understand?

Hashem descended to look at the city…which the sons of Man built. (11:5)

Rashi questions the use of the words, bnei Adam, "sons of man." Who else would they be? Were they the sons of donkeys? He explains that the Torah refers to their lineage ascending to Adam HaRishon, primordial man, who exhibited ingratitude when Hashem asked him why he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Adam replied, "The woman whom You gave to be with me - she gave me of the tree and I ate"(Bereishis 3:11). As he was a kafui tov, ingrate, likewise, his descendants rebelled against the One Who had spared them from the effects of the Flood. In other words, they were alive because of Hashem; yet, they were prepared to mutiny against Him.

Had they been spared from the Flood? They were born after the Flood, but anyone with basic common sense realizes that his debt of gratitude extends back to another place and time. Had Hashem not spared their ancestors, they would not be here. This is the Torah's concept of gratitude: hakoras hatov, recognizing /acknowledging the good one receives. All too often we do not show appreciation, because we are indifferent to the good from which we have benefitted. We refuse to acknowledge that we owe anyone. After all, it was so long ago; or he had to do it anyway-it is part of his job. These are all excuses for a repulsive character. Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, once stayed at an elegant hotel in Paris. He ordered a cup of coffee which cost a few francs. This was quite a bit of money at the time, especially for a Jew from Eastern Europe. After taking in everything that went into the coffee, however, he realized that it was not that much. True, the price of the actual coffee was minimal. There was also the elegant, clean building which housed the hotel. The ambiance of the restaurant-- the china, silver and crystal flatware-- was not to be ignored. The waiters and maître d, the staff that saw to the maintenance of the restaurant, were all included in the price. It was no wonder that a cup of coffee cost a few francs. All of these extras indirectly added to the "flavor" of the cup of coffee.

Afterwards, Rav Yisrael said, "How much more so are we obliged to recognize the benefits we enjoy in Hashem's hotel - the world. When a man drinks a cup of water, he enjoys the ground upon which he stands, the air which he breathes, the ambiance of the trees, grass and flowers that surround him. The music of the birds, the warmth of the sun, the fresh air: all of these are included in his cup of water. This is something that should course through our minds the next time we make a brachah, blessing, prior to partaking from Hashem's world.

Horav Yisrael Abuchatzera, zl, reverently known as the Baba Sali, visited France. While he was there, he developed a serious infection in his eyes. His students immediately rushed him to a Dr. Klitzi, who addressed the tzadik's needs and provided the necessary medicine which cured his ailment and saved his eyesight. The Baba Sali thanked the doctor profusely and remained close with him, extending to him every accolade and privilege.

A number of years later, one of the members of the French rabbinate visited the Baba Sali, petitioning him for a blessing for his wife. Apparently, his wife was very ill and her life hung in the balance. The Baba Sali blessed her, wishing her well. As the rav was about to leave, he casually mentioned that perhaps the Baba Sali was acquainted with his father-in-law, Dr. Klitzi. As soon as the Baba Sali heard this, he arose from his chair and said, "You should know that your father-in-law saved my eyesight. Had it not been for his excellent care, I would not have achieved all that I have over these last few years. Indeed, I owe him an incredible debt of gratitude. In way of some form of remuneration, I assure you that your wife will immediately enjoy instant recovery from her illness. She will become completely healthy, and all signs of ill health will disappear. When the rav returned home, he discovered that the Baba Sali's blessing had achieved immediate fruition. This is the power of hakoras hatov.

And the name of Nachor's wife was Milkah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milkah and the father of Yiskah. (11:28)

Rashi teaches that Yiskah was actually Sarah Imeinu, the Matriarch. She was called Yiskah, which is a name derived from the word, sachoh, meaning to gaze, to see. Sarah was able to gaze into the future, because she was endowed with Divine Inspiration. Also, everyone gazed at her extraordinary beauty. Rashi's second explanation, which focuses on the physical beauty of Sarah Imeinu, seems out of place. The Matriarch was a spiritual person, her life's purpose was to serve the Almighty in every possible way. Why should her extraordinary beauty play a role in identifying her by name? If Sarah would not have been physically attractive, would it have made her less righteous? Why does Rashi emphasize her outstanding physical appearance?

Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, offers us a powerful insight into the lives of our great leaders. Everything they do is for kavod Shomayim, the glory of Heaven. If they are endowed with unusual physical traits, such as beauty, charm, refinement, it is to be used for the purpose of enhancing their service to Hashem. Sarah Imeinu was endowed with physical attractiveness that turned the heads of an Avimelech and Pharaoh. She could have had anything from these men, so obsessed were they by her allure and stunning countenance. Yet, her devotion to Hashem prevailed, and she overcame the challenge posed by her unusual beauty, thereby catalyzing an incredible Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctification of Hashem's Name. Thus, her beauty is to be included in her many positive traits. She used her beauty for spiritual growth, not defilement.

Va'ani Tefillah

Lishmor v'laasos To guard and to do.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that lishmor, to guard, applies to all forms of guarding such as: A) Reviewing one's learning so that he retains it; B) Applying one's mind to all of the laws and ways of the Torah, so that when the occasion arises for performing a specific mitzvah, or halachah, it does not slip his mind; C) Employing strategies and erecting fences whereby one does not allow a mitzvah to fall by the wayside. This idea applies equally to prohibitive mitzvos. One who places himself in a position in which he might act "indifferently" to a prohibition is certainly not guarding himself. Chazal have provided us with a variety of fences all under the aegis of Rabbinic law. They are there for a purpose. D) Guarding ourselves against persuasion by the yetzer hora, evil inclination, whose guile and subterfuge focuses on our natural inclinations and gullibility. Being bribed by money or promises of glory can have a devastating effect upon a person's ability to guard himself from sin. Thus, we ask Hashem to give us the strength necessary to overcome these urges, so that we are able to carry out His mitzvos and uphold His Torah.

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