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Dear Reader and Participant,
It is with great thanks to the Almighty that the previous Divrei Torah have been written and distributed, and that this new series commences. In doing so, I have altered the approach. In place of the usual lengthy D’var Torah, I am attempting to reach all the generations sitting around the Shabbat table with:
A short D’var Torah
Review questions on the text of the Parasha and Haftara – these should be especially suited for children aged six and upwards
Review questions on Rashi’s commentary on the Parasha
Questions from well-known points made by other leading Commentators.
Issues arising from the Parasha for thought and discussion
It is hoped that these materials will be of use to Mechanchim (Torah educators), and also the less formal educational setting.
The questions have not been written for the mere promotion of rote learning, but to help readers to focus on the eternal values contained in the sacred texts.
Please e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org any queries or comments.
With best wishes and Kol Tuv,
Jacob Solomon (G-d said) “In another seven days I will bring rain of the land for forty days and forty nights. I will utterly destroy all living thing… from upon the face of the Earth.” (7:4)
Noah accepted G-d’s universal death sentence on the world order without question. He appears to have acted with total indifference to other people. He did not, as Abraham, appeal to G-d with “Would You wipe out the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it from You, Judge of the Earth, not to do justice!” (18:25) He did not even plead with G-d to search for individual people worthy of being saved. Instead, he seems to have made no move whatsoever at that stage to persuade G-d to change His mind – against the spirit of Torah (and that matter basic human) ethics which despise those who refuse to intervene to help those in danger (c.f. Lev. 19:16). And like Abraham, Noah was in close touch with G-d. The text (20:7) states explicitly that Abraham was a prophet – one who received the Word of G-d. The Ramban (to 6:9) derives that Noah was also a prophet.
Surely Noah should have taken advantage of his closeness to G-d to attempt to persuade Him to change His mind about the terrible fate he was to bring on the Creation?
One approach to these issues may be found in the Midrash’s (Tanhuma 6) comment to the following:
Noah… (and his family) went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. (7:7).
The Midrash explains the words ‘because of the waters of the flood’ as a slur on Noah’s faith in G-d. It was the rising waters of the flood rather than G-d’s command to enter the ark (7:1) that actually pushed Noah inside. Up until then, the Midrash explains, Noah was not entirely convinced that G-d was going to carry out His unambiguously declared intention of mass destruction.
This fits into the Midrash’s observing (Gen. Rab. 30:10) that whereas Abraham walked before G-d (24:40), Noah walked with G-d (6:9). Abraham, derives the Midrash, did not need any spiritual support from G-d to walk in His ways, but Noah did.
Both Abraham and Noah were extremely honest. Abraham was unshaken in his faith in G-d: even in the long periods when he did not get His direct communication, he remained plugged into the Force that creates and maintains the world. That would develop the meaning of ‘walking before G-d’ He used his own spiritual efforts to perceive and come close to G-d though natural daily life, and not just the supernatural direct communications. So his closeness to G-d was not merely a product of His ‘visits’, but Abraham’s own efforts in climbing up the ladder. When, therefore, He announced His intention to destroy Sodom, Abraham had no doubt that G-d was speaking to Him and that He meant what He said. So he could appeal to Him on the fate of the people of Sodom…
Noah, unlike Abraham, was at a much lower level of spiritual development. He did not plug into G-d; he only responded when G-d plugged into him. Unlike the people of his generation, he reacted positively by ‘walking with G-d’, but he still hedged his bets. He built the ark as commanded, but he did not carry the spirit of urgency that would make an impression on others that the end was nigh. Still underlying his labors was the notion that, maybe, he got his command from a less than omnipotent source. Maybe He that Created the World would not carry out His threat… Noah did not have the conviction that G-d ‘does not swear falsely or change His mind’. (Sam. I 15:29) With all these doubts, Noah therefore lacked the closeness with G-d to pray with sufficient conviction and in his honesty he felt too far away from G-d for his prayers to make any difference… So he ‘hedged his bets’ once more…
This does not mean that a person who lacks Abraham’s closeness to G-d should not pray to Him. Spiritual honesty can be overdone. But two important points come from the discussion. Firstly, a person should view coming close to G-d from his own spiritual level as his life’s work. Secondly, people involved in kiruv rechokim – educationally and socially bringing Jews back to the Torah way of life, need to use Abraham as an ideal: to be sufficiently close to G-d to radiate the sincerity needed to impress those they seek to influence…
PARASHAT NOACH – FOR THE STUDENT AND FOR AROUND THE TABLE
1. Who said to whom, and what for reason?
Behold I will bring a flood… all that is on the Earth shall perish
I will never kill every living being as I have done
I have put my bow in a cloud
Cursed be Canaan, he shall be a slave of slaves to his others
Let us go down and mix up their languages
2. From where do we learn?
Noah knew the difference between a pure and an unclean type of animal.
When the waters went down, the ark settled outside the Land of Israel.
The seasons of the year will follow in the regular order we know today.
Man is the most feared creature in the Creation.
G-d reminds Himself and the people that He will never punish humanity in the same way no matter how evil people are.
Ham was the least righteous of Noah’s three sons.
Humanity feared that the Flood was not going to be Mankind’s last disaster.
3. In addition (outside this Parasha) where do we learn that Abraham came from a family of idolators?
1. (a) G-d to Noah, after giving instructing him to build the ark (6:13,17) (b) G-d to Himself, after He accepted Noah’s offering after he emerged from the ark (8:21) (c) G-d to Noah and his sons: the bow would be a sign of His promise to humanity and life that the Flood would never happen again (9:8,15) (d) Noah, as an open declaration of a curse, on finding that Ham had taken advantage of his temporary weakness in having drank to much wine (9:21,24-25). (e) G-d, to Himself (although the Talmud derives that He was speaking to His Heavenly Court – see Sanhedrin 38b): sentencing the people connected with building the Tower of Babel (11:5,7) 2. (a) G-d told Noah to admit two animals from the unclean species and seven from the pure species (7:2), and the Torah witnesses that Noah did as G-d told him (7:5). (b) The ark is recorded to have rested on Mt. Ararat (8:4), geographically outside Israel. (c) In accepting Noah’s offerings after the Flood, G-d emphasized that nature after the flood would follow a regular cycle (rather than include abnormal cataclysmic events) (8:21-22) (d) G-d, after the Flood, blessed the remnants of Mankind (namely Noah and his sons) that their ‘fear and dread’ (9:2) will be on all animal life. (e) The rainbow in the sky would be a sign of His promise to humanity and life that the Flood would never happen again (9:8,15) (f) Ham is stated to have advantage of his father’s temporary weakness in having drank to much wine (9:22,24-25). (g) The building of the Tower of Babel: people feared another disaster of ‘lest we will be dispersed over the face of the Earth’ (9:4). 3. When Joshua reminded the Israelites of their idolatrous origins in his final address, he stressed that Abraham’s family ‘served other gods.’ (Josh. 24:2)
Noah is described as ‘a righteous man in his generation’ (6:9) How great a personality was he?
What sin sealed the fate of the Generation of the Flood?
From where may it be learnt that one should not be too liberal in complementing an individual?
How did the human diet change after the Flood?
What may be learnt from the prohibition of murder being followed by the commandment to have children? (9:6-7)
How and why is Noah criticized for planting a vineyard after the Flood?
From where may it be learnt that Nimrod recognized G-d, but still attempted to defy Him?
Why did G-d actually descend to view the Tower of Babel, when He could just as well have judged it from where He was?
How were the sins of the Generation of the Flood worse that those of the Generation of Dispersion?
What well-known story does the city name Ur Casdim (11:28) hint at?
1. Bedorotav in 6:9 interpreted in two ways – being either a compliment (in Abraham’s generation Noah would have been even more remarkable), or a limitation (in Abraham’s time he would have been insignificant). 2. Theft – use of the word chamas in 6:13). 3. When G-d speaks to Noah directly (7:1), He addresses him briefly as a righteous man, but when narrating his achievements he adds the words ‘perfect, in his generation’ (6:9). 4. He was allowed to eat all types of food, including meat, so long as it came from a dead animal (9:3-4). 5. A person who willfully makes no effort to have children is regarded as having done an act of passive murder. 6. The verb used is vayachel (9:20 ) which may be translated as both ‘he began’ and ‘he defiled himself’. His first efforts in farming should not have worked towards producing intoxicating drink. 7. Nimrod, according to Rashi, is described as misleader of people before G-d: he recognized G-d and yet defied Him. 8. That is to teach Mankind that a Court must make every effort to examine the facts closely before passing judgment. 9. Both peoples defied G-d, but those of the Dispersion at least lived at peace and harmony with one another (see comment to 11:9). 10. The Midrashic story of the death of Haran, Abraham’s brother, who died in Ur Casdim – Ur being translated as ‘the fire of.’
How, according to the Ramban, did Noah ‘walk with G-d’?
Why did G-d not tell Noah that he was pleased with his offerings after the Flood? (8:21)
What are the Seven Noachite Laws? (as derived from 9:1-7 by the Talmud: Sanhedrin 56a)
Was the rainbow something new after the flood according to (i) the Ramban? and (ii) Ibn Ezra?
Why was did the people of Babel build the tower, according the Sforno?
1. He received the word of G-d as a prophet and thus had a close connection with Him (see Ramban to 6:9). 2. According to the Sforno (to 8:21), He told Noah that He was pleased with the offerings only after he and his family accepted the Seven Noahite Laws. [The Ramban (ibid), however, holds that this was something to be revealed to Moses, and not to Noah.] 3. The injunction to set up a Court system. The prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, sexual transgressions, theft, and eating a limb torn from a live animal. 4. According to the Ramban (to 9:12), the rainbow after the Flood was nothing new in itself, but it was then given the special significance described by the Torah. Ibn Ezra (to 9:13) states that the rainbow was created after the Flood, considering (on 9:14) that only then the sun became strong enough to produce the rainbow. 5. He connects the location of the Tower of Babylon with Nimrod, who is mentioned as ruler of that city (10:10). By building him a tall structure, they would make him into a deity, so that he might supervise the entire world… (compare and contrast with explanations brought by Rashi to 9:1)
When the dove returned back a second time, it had an olive leaf in its mouth (8:11). The Talmud (Eruvin 18b) brings the tradition that by bringing back a bitter olive leaf the dove was saying, symbolically, “Better that my food should be bitter, but from G-d’s hand, than sweet as honey, but dependant on mortal man.” This seems a very ungrateful attitude towards Noah – after all he saved the dove’s life. How may it be explained?
Why does the Torah make no direct reference to Abraham’s pagan origin, although the Book of Joshua (24:2) does?
Isaiah, in the Haftara states: ‘All your children will be students of G-d, and abundant will be your children’s peace.’ (Isaiah 54:13) What are the actual links between learning Torah and peace? Sadly, history shows many unpleasant controversies and communal divisions made in the name of the Torah…
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