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PARASHAS NOACHOnly Noach survived, and those with him in the Ark. (7:23)
Rashi quotes Chazal, who teach that Noach survived, but was physically spent. Alternatively, he was injured by the lion. Apparently, each animal had its individual feeding time. Noach was once late in feeding the lion, who did not take kindly to having to wait for his dinner. When Noach arrived late, the lion took out its anxiety on him with a powerful slap of the paw. Life was not easy for the human beings who comprised Noach's passenger list. Their involvement with providing chesed, kindness, to the animals led Avraham Avinu to realize the significance of such acts of chesed. He made a kal v'chomer, statement of a priori logic: If performing chesed with animals is so important, how much more so should one act kindly to human beings. This motivated him to establish his famous eshel, welcome center, providing rest, relaxation and sustenance to travelers.
Chazal say that Noach and his sons hardly slept during that difficult year traveling on the Ark. Did it have to be that way? Why did Hashem not arrange it that all of the feeding times for the animals coincide, so that they would all eat at one time? This way, it would be humanly impossible to feed them, and Noach and his sons could sleep in feedings. Was it really necessary for them to extend themselves to the point of superhuman exhaustion?
Horav Zeidel Epstein, zl, explains that the story of Noach is all about middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. The people of that generation sinned in a manner which indicated that they cared solely about themselves. They acted in complete opposition to the rule of olam chesed yibaneh, the world is built on (acts of) lovingkindness. Hashem created a world with the intention that its inhabitants would conduct themselves by caring for one another. He left no place in this world for selfish people.
Thus, the only way the people were able to survive the Flood was by adopting acts of chesed as a way of life. Especially during the year of Flood, when the Middas HaDin, Attribute of Divine Justice, prevailed throughout the world, the only means of surviving was counteracting it with acts of goodness and kindness. Middas HaDin demanded punishment for the lack of chesed. Noach and his sons could not let up for a moment, or they would fall prey to the effects of Din. Nonstop kindness was the only antidote to the Justice that was being meted out against society.
"Go forth from the Ark: you and your wife, your sons, and your sons' wives with you." (8:16)
Noach had been living in a sealed ark, together with thousands of animals for over a year. One would think that when the first opportunity to leave would present itself, he would run as fast as he could. Apparently, this is not what happened. After being in the Ark, slaving all day and night ceaselessly for a year, Noach was not ready to leave. It required Hashem's command to enable Noach to set foot outside of the Ark. Why? It is not as if he were living comfortably amid luxury. What was holding him back? Perhaps he did not know that the ground was dry! When he pulled off the cover of the Ark, he saw that it was dry outside. In any event, all Hashem had to do was to inform Noach that all was well; the Flood was over; the ground was dry. Why did he require a command in order to leave?
Horav Ben Tzion Firer, zl, responds with a powerful insight. Noach survived, while everyone else in the world perished. The world as he knew it was one large graveyard, with millions of bodies strewn throughout. These were his compatriots, people whom he knew, whom he had seen. He was alive - they were not. This could have catalyzed an overpowering emotion with which Noach had to grapple. Furthermore, to have survived when everyone else died, can leave one with an overwhelming sense of guilt. It is so much easier to hide, to shelter oneself from reality, and not have to confront a destroyed world devoid of life.
Noach knew that he was not guilty of their deaths. He had tried to tell people that a flood was coming, but they did not listen. Furthermore, his survival was not linked to their deaths. He did not live because they died. Nonetheless, he did not feel good about his survival, when he was the only one to have survived. The emotional turmoil within him was palpable. Was it any different in 1945 when pockets of survivors from the Nazi Holocaust looked around the death camps, and saw bodies of their friends strewn about, death everywhere? One was almost ashamed to have survived when others were not as fortunate. Noach went through the motions of sending out the raven and the dove to ascertain that the Flood was over and the ground was dry, but he was personally not ready to leave. Only after Hashem commanded him to leave the Ark did Noach leave the "comfort" of his past year's "home."
Perhaps another emotion enveloped Noach, limiting his ability to leave the protected shelter of the Ark. He might have been submerged in a feeling of hopelessness. The entire world had been destroyed. No one, except literally a handful of human beings, was left. The world that had been was no more. He did not want to go on. Indeed, Hashem commanded him to be fruitful and multiply - propagate the world once again. Why did Noach need a reminder from Hashem? Had not Hashem given Adam HaRishon a long-standing command to procreate? Noach was concerned that another flood or some other punishment would once again wipe out the world. He needed assurances. Noach was a troubled man. Whatever the reason-- survivor guilt, survivor shame, survivor despair-- Noach was a survivor and he required special treatment.
There is one more major reason that Noach might have hesitated. In an earlier Peninim, I quoted an inspirational insight from Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, which I feel is appropriate to reiterate. Shortly after the tragic, untimely deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two older sons of Aharon HaKohen, the Torah writes: "Moshe spoke to Aharon and to Elazar and Isamar, his remaining sons" (Vayikra 10:12). The words "Banav ha'nosarim", remaining sons, seem superfluous. Obviously, if Aharon had four sons, of which two had died, the two who remained were the surviving two sons. Why is their survival underscored? The Mashgiach explains that Moshe wanted to emphasize the fact that they were survivors. They were no ordinary people. Having survived a trauma which took the lives of their brothers means that they now had the obligation to carry on. They had an added responsibility: theirs and their brothers'. Indeed, as the Mashgiach points out, we are a nation of survivors, having seen six million of our brothers and sisters brutally wiped out in the Holocaust. We have a dual responsibility which weighs heavy upon our shoulders.
Perhaps Noach could not handle the added burden. The world had perished. He alone had to carry on for them. This, he felt, was simply too much, too difficult a role for him to bear. Hashem told him, "Noach, you must go out, pick up the pieces and rebuild the world. This is what survivors do. Veritably, it is done with great sadness and extreme difficulty, but it must be done. This is why you were saved."
Following World War II, there were survivors, both in America and Eretz Yisrael, who reestablished Torah and laid the foundation for thriving Torah communities. It was not easy for them. Many had lost their entire families, friends, yeshivos; everything was destroyed in the flames of the Holocaust. They could have easily locked themselves in their homes and be consumed by remorse. The list of survivors who achieved the elite status of builders of Torah is not large. It is comprised of indefatigable warriors who fought for Torah because it was who they were and was all they had left. Many of them had lost families and institutions that had constituted their life's work. Yet, they persevered and rebuilt, taking all of us with them.
The one person who stands out as the primary architect of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, the individual who taught others the meaning of building for Torah, was the Ponovezer Rav, Horav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zl. Horav Shlomo Lorencz, zl, once asked him how a person in his position-- having lost all of his family, his community and his Torah institutions-- could evince such an extraordinary degree of ingenuity and creativity, to an extent that he overshadowed men much younger and healthier than himself. From where did he derive his energy and enthusiasm?
"Your question is a valid one," he began. "The truth is, I am engulfed by dejection and despair, yet this is precisely why I am involved in building… In my situation, there are just two options: either I roam around and break windows; or I build and build without stopping!"
The Ponovezer Rav found that working to reestablish Europe's devastated yeshivos calmed his tormented spirit after the losses he had sustained. He did not permit the emptiness within him to fester and lead him deeper into despair. Rather, he harnessed his pain and employed it as a vehicle for unparalleled creativity.
In his hesped, eulogy, for the Ponovezer Rav, the Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Shmuel Rosovsky, zl, offered a similar idea that further illuminates the Rav's remarks. Rav Shmuel related that he had once asked the Rav how he maintained such extreme focus on constant achievement without allowing for a moment's rest or relaxation. The Rav told Rav Shmuel that essentially he considered himself to have been incinerated together with the six million kedoshim, martyrs, of the Holocaust: "If despite that, there is still life within me, it is only for the purpose of rebuilding and restoring the glory of our People." It was with this thought constantly in mind that he never wavered, never slowed down, until he breathed his last breath. It is what motivated him and imbued him with the energy to continue his noble and holy work on behalf of Klal Yisrael.
And Shem and Yafes took a garment, laid it upon their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and covered their father's nakedness. (9:23)
Rashi notes the singular term vayikach, implying that he - Shem - was the one who took the garment to fulfill the commandment of honoring his father. Because he exerted himself more than Yafes, his reward exceeded that of Yafes. Shem was blessed with the mitzvah of Tzitzis, and Yafes, who also participated in carrying out the mitzvah, was blessed with burial for his descendants. This refers to the war of Gog and Magog, during which the children of Yafes will be accorded burial in Eretz Yisrael. The commentators question the attribution of the mitzvah of Tzitzis to Shem's noble actions, when, in fact, we find that the mitzvah of Tzitzis is attributed to the merit of Avraham Avinu's retort to the king of Sodom, Im michut v'ad sroch naal;"If so much as a thread or a shoe strap; or if I shall take anything that belongs to you (king of Sodom...) (Bereishis 14:23)
The Sifsei Chachamim explain that Tzitzis are comprised of two colors of wool: the white wool in merit of Shem; the techeiles, blue wool, in the merit of Avraham. The general mitzvah of Tzitzis, which is a reference to the white wool, preceded the supplemental aspect of techeiles.
Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, distinguishes between the Tallis, comprised of a four-cornered garment that has Tzitzis as its fringes, and the actual wool threads, which comprise the Tzitzis themselves. The Tallis is a body covering; therefore, it makes sense that this mitzvah is derived from Shem's proactive act of honoring his father by taking the garment to cover him. Avraham who referred to a thread, warranted the reward of the wool threads which comprise the actual Tzitzis.
Rav Eliyahu Baruch posits that while the Tallis garment facilitates the mitzvah of Tzitzis-- since it is used in conjunction with the Tzitzis to provide a garment through which one is na'eh b'mitzvos, beautifies himself (for Hashem) with mitzvos-it, too, becomes a cheftza d'mitzvah, object of the mitzvah, no different than the actual Tzitzis.
Both Shem and Yafes merited the reward of a "covering": Shem, the covering of Tallis; and Yafes, the covering of the ground. The Tallis and the earth both cover the body. The Tallis covers a person when he is alive, performing a mitzvah, and he dons the Tallis himself. In contrast, the covering of the earth is for the corpse of the deceased, and this action is performed on his body by others. This underscores the difference between Shem's proactive taking of the garment to cover his father, and the participation of Yafes in acting along with Shem. One is rewarded for the mitzvah and also for his attitude in executing the mitzvah. Everything that one puts into carrying out a mitzvah will be rewarded.
Furthermore, as noted by Rav Eliyahu Baruch, Rashi writes that, as a result of Shem's actions, "his sons merited the mitzvah of and Tallis of Tzitzis." Regarding Yafes he writes, "He (Yafes) merited burial for his children." In other words, Shem's zchus, merit, was transferred to his descendants, because he exerted himself and thus warranted the mitzvah for himself-- it actually became his mitzvah, possession, so to speak. He could, therefore, transfer the mitzvah over to his children, who took possession of it in their own right.
Yafes who participated in this mitzvah but didn't take the initiative was rewarded, but he did not merit that an actual mitzvah would become his. Therefore, his children receive spiritual dividends for their ancestor's reward. However, they do not have their own merit.
Perhaps we might suggest a homiletic rendering of the distinction between the rewards received by Shem and Yafes. The Tallis is worn during one's lifetime as a garment that accompanies him during his prayer service to Hashem. Hence, the Tallis symbolizes mitzvah performance. When a person dies, his mortal remains are interred in the ground. His body, which is the physical container that had been home to his neshamah, soul, decays, and turns into the dust from which it was created. The corpse is placed in the ground, and covered by dirt, so that it eventually blends in with the elements. The corpse of a Jew is first dressed in tachrichim, burial shrouds, and then wrapped in a Tallis. The body decays, the Tallis withers, but it does not disappear/blend in with the earth. What does this signify?
I think this teaches us that, while the body of a Jew breaks down upon burial and putrefies, his lifetime of mitzvah performance lives on to eternity. This is where Shem's reward is distinguished from that of Yafes. Shem's Tallis covers him in the ground, as Yafes' reward is also a covering of "ground." Yafes' covering stays with him; Shem takes his covering before the Heavenly Tribunal as a symbol of a lifetime of service to Hashem. How sad it is that those who reject Halachah - and, instead, choose cremation-- either ignore or are unaware of this beautiful and meaningful verity.
When Noach awoke from his wine, he learned what his youngest son did to him. And he said, "Cursed be Canaan." (9:24,25)
Three sons - two acted appropriately - one did not. Noach acted in a manner unbecoming an individual of his sublime stature. It was a temporary lapse, an error in judgment, after having observed the destruction of the entire world. He did not commit an outrageous sin, but he should have acted in a more exalted manner. Vayachel Noach, "Noach debased himself" (Ibid 9:20). We see that even great people can lose control of themselves and act foolishly. The reaction of Noach's sons defines their characters. Crisis brings out a person's true essence. Some children are wonderful, as long as everything acquiesces with their comfort zone. If a parent acts in a manner that leaves children wondering, how/ why? their reaction will reflect their true character and also show the way in which they were raised. Parents are people, and people are not perfect. Children are not here to judge their parents; but rather, to give support and comfort.
In his commentary to the Chumash, Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, teaches us how children should act. Indeed, he posits that the way children act towards their parents will be reciprocated in the manner in which their own children will deal with them. The younger generation must stand reverently at the grave of their predecessors. They must take a garment (as did Shem and Yafes) and cover the 'nakedness', the weakness of their forebears, while simultaneously emulating all that was noble, great and true. They should adopt these good qualities as a precious heritage upon which to build their own lives and a future legacy to be imparted to the next generation.
If, however, the new generation is like Cham, who gloated over his father's nakedness, and broadcasted his father's shame, he will have the same end as Cham - a son like Canaan to follow in his nefarious footsteps. Those descendants who exult in the shortcomings of their ancestors- often as a reason to justify their own miscreant behavior, or as license to deride their spiritual traditions- will be repaid in kind. When the future generation scorns the past, and contemptuously break their bond with it, then their future plans will be but a dream, or a nightmare. As they jeered at the memory of their forebears, so, too, will their descendants mock them.
Rav Hirsch had strong reason to take umbrage with the attitude of members of his generation. It was during his tenure as Rav that the miscreant secular movements reared their ugly heads to break with the past, to usurp the holy Torah which had been our undisputed cannon of Jewish Law and blueprint for life for thousands of years. He was a wise man who saw the tragic consequences of their actions. They broke with the past which they labeled as archaic, out of touch, restrictive and undermining the future assimilation of the Jewish people with the rest of the world community. Ashamed of their past, their descendants severed their relationship with completely Judaism by marrying out of the faith, thus ensuring that their own biological children would not be considered Jewish. Cham was Canaan's father, and his moral turpitude seems to have been guiding the "Canaans" of future generations - until this very day.
The whole Earth was of one language and of common purpose. (11:1)
In his well-known commentary to the pasuk, Rashi gives us a perspective on the sin of the Dor HaFlagah, generation of the Dispersion. He asks whose sin was greater: that of the generation of the Flood, who did not plan a mass rebellion against Hashem; or the generation of the Dispersion, who did? He explains that the former, who were robbers that contended with one another, were totally destroyed by the Flood. The latter, however, who worked with one another, getting along amicably for the purpose of executing one goal, were simply dispersed. Apparently, the strife and contention that prevailed during the generation that was wiped out by the Flood did them in. They were worse. Achdus, unity, spared the evil doers of the Dispersion.
Hashem's punishments are always meted out middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. We wonder what the punishment experienced by the generation of the Dispersion was. The Torah writes that their language was mixed up, so that no one understood one another, leading to a complete breakdown of the unity that reigned among them. They were then dispersed around the world. Is this really a punishment? How is it measure for measure? True, the unity that catalyzed their sinful behavior was disrupted. But, what about the fact that their singular goal was to rebel and fight against the Almighty? Furthermore, if the unity that prevailed among them was so laudatory, why did Hashem disperse them? They had one good thing going for them; why take that away?
The Netziv, zl, notes that, concerning the sin of the generation of the Dispersion, the Torah writes only that they had one language and were of (one) common purpose. What is the meaning of this "sin"? He illuminates the entire parsha with his powerful insight into the idea of a "common purpose." They had one ideology; regardless of what that ideology might have been, the mere fact that they did not allow for individual opinion, personal expression, transformed their so-called positive unity into negative consequences. Unity must allow for diversity of thought with common goals. A unity that does not allow for distinctiveness, for multiformity of approach towards a common objective, is not unity.
Let me explain. A great thinker once observed that unity is often confused with sameness. We might think that if everyone thinks and acts the same, we would have perfect harmony. This is what Communism preaches, and dictatorships thrive on. Unity is a process, in which sameness is simply a state of being. If one were to play the same musical notes over and over again, it would become monotonous and even irritating. If, however, one allows for various instruments, some playing high notes, while others the low notes, together their blended music creates a perfect harmony. Unity allows disparate elements to work together, recognizing the varied qualities and attributes of each one, but working together harmoniously. Thereby, they create a common goal which is stronger and greater than the sum of its parts. "Unity," as a great man once said, is "the harmony within diversity."
When members of a society are compelled to think alike, to act similarly, to expunge individual thought and personal contribution, it is not unity. This is what brought down the generation of the Dispersion. True unity encourages recognition of the individual strengths of different elements and brings them together in such a manner that no one's individuality is impaired. This is true and possible only when all elements are focused on a common goal, such as serving Hashem in accordance with the Torah. Contriving one's own version of G-d, Torah and service, is not unity - it is destruction!
Horav Uri, zl, m'Strelisk asks a powerful question: It is well-known that every Jew is represented by a letter in the Torah. If a letter of the Torah is missing, it invalidates the entire Torah. If a fellow Jew is "missing" from his people, he must be restored. We know that if any letter in the Torah touches another letter, it must be separated in order to maintain the kashrus of the sefer Torah. Why? If the Torah's letters represent the Jewish People, one Jew adhering to his fellow Jew should not be a problem.
The Rebbe answers: "Yes, unity is of critical importance to the viability of our people. But this importance may not override the individuality of each and every Jew. Every person should be a distinct entity. Indeed, every person should take time out during the day to meditate upon who he is and what his mission is in life. Otherwise, he might lose his identity and fail to actualize his inherent potential."
Nora sehilos oseh peleh. Too awesome for praise, doing wonders.
We say that it is too awesome to begin offering praise of Hashem, when He performs so many wondrous deeds. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, offers a novel interpretation of this tefillah. We praise Hashem for all of the "good" things that He does for us. Sadly, we are not so quick to offer praise when we pray to Him for a miracle and the answer is "no." Chazal teach that one must bless for the "bad," as one does for the "good." Thus, when we praise Hashem for the good, we do so with trepidation, because when we praise the good - nora sehilos - we realize that we are ignoring the oseh peleh, the wonders - with which we are left when Hashem seemingly does not answer our prayers, when the answer is no. When one praises for the good, realizing that he does not act this way (when he should) regarding the bad, he is filled with fear. We know, however, that ultimately we will see clearly how the "bad" is really good, and everything that we thought did not work in our favor, really did. This allows us to praise now, knowing that one day the trepidation which accompanies our present prayer will be part of the joy of praising Hashem for the peleh, wonders, as well.
The Chida, zl, quotes the Maharash Primo, zl, who explains this tefillah in a practical manner. When Hashem creates a miracle, we do not realize that the many other miracles stem from it. For example: yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt was one miracle, but, in fact, it was the vehicle which would generate the final redemption from exile. We, however, see only one miracle, one peleh (singular), when, in fact, it is sehilos (plural), worthy of many praises.
In loving memory of our dear husband, Abba and Zeidy,
on his yarzheit
Mr. Zev Aryeh Solomon
R' Zev Aryeh ben R' Yaakov Shmuel z"l
niftar 8 Cheshvan 5774
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