שבת טעם החיים נח תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Noach 5771
Noach and his generations
אלה תולדת נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את האלקים התהלך נח, these are the offspring of Noach – Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d (Bereishis 6:9)
In this week’s parasha, Noach, the focus of the commentators is on the righteousness of Noach in contrast to how righteous he would have been had he lived in other generations. Rashi cites the Medrash that offers two dissenting opinions. One opinion posits that had Noach lived in a different generation, he would have been deemed even more righteous. The second opinion, however, maintains that had Noach lived in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been deemed significant. One must wonder why it is significant to contrast Noach’s righteousness in his own generation with what he could have been in other generations. In fact, our Sages teach us () that Yiftach, who was not considered to be a great person, was in his generation the equivalent of Shmuel the prophet, who was one of the most righteous people in Jewish history. This being the case, we must understand why there is such a great emphasis on Noach’s righteousness and what he would have been like had he lived in a different era.
The Soul of Life is speech, which is the power of prayer
Regarding the demise of man and animal during the Great Flood, the Torah uses explicit language to describe the destruction. It is said (Bereishis 7:21-22) vayigva kol basar haromeis al haaretz baof uvabiheima uvachaya uvichol hasheretz hashoreitz al haaretz vichol haadam kol asher nishmas ruach chayim biapav mikol asher becharava meisu, and all flesh that moves upon the earth expired – among the birds, the animals, the beasts, and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all mankind. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, of everything that was on dry land, died. Once the Torah states that the birds, animals, beasts, creeping things and mankind died, why is it necessary to state that all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life died? Do not all species contain within them the spirit of life? The Ibn Ezra writes that the words “all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life” refers back to mankind. Regarding the creation of man it is said (Ibid 2:7) vayitzer HaShem Elokim es haadam afar min haadamah vayipach biapav neshama chaim vayehi haadama linefesh chaya, and HaShem G-d formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being. The Targum renders the words linefesh chaya, a living being, to mean liruach memalela, a talking spirit. Thus, we see that the primary function of man is his power of speech. This ability to speak only has value when one uses his speech for Torah study and prayer. One of the contrasts between Noach and Avraham is that Noach did not pray for his generation, whereas Avraham even prayed on behalf of the wicked people of Sodom and surrounding cities. According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 3b) the definition of man is to pray. Thus, while Noach was certainly deemed to be a righteous person in contrast to his generation, he did not maximize his power of speech for which man was created.
Avraham was able to sustain the world through prayer and kindness
While we normally employ the concept of “Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation,” Noach’s actions were measured side by side with Avraham. The reason for this is because it is said (Bereishis 2:4) eileh soldos hashamayim vihaaretz bihibaram, these are the products of the heaven and the earth when they were created. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 12:9) states that the word bihibaram, when the letters are rearranged, spell out the name Avraham. This teaches us that the world was created in the merit of Avraham. The Mishnah (Avos 5:1) states that with ten utterances the world was created. What does this come to teach us? Indeed, could it not have been created with one utterance? This was to exact punishment from the wicked who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, and to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous who sustain the world that was created by ten utterances. Noach lived in a generation of wicked people, and the world was essentially destroyed in his lifetime. Avraham, however, was able to sustain the world through prayer, as he capitalized on the power of speech, reflected in prayer. Although Avraham’s prayers were insufficient to save Sodom and the outlying cities, Hashem created the world through kindness, and it was Avraham’s acts of kindness that sustained the world.
Noach infused the world with new life
There is, however, another opinion in the Medrash that maintains that had Noach been in another generation, he would have even been greater. We can explain this opinion according to the words of the Sfas Emes, who explains the statement that the righteous sustain the world that was created with ten utterances. The Sfas Emes writes that this means that the righteous provide a force in the world that allows for every object to cleave to its root of life, and subsequently every object reflects the wonders of HaShem. This creates a new shefa, bounty, in the world. The ten generations that existed from the time that the world was created until Noach negated all the life that was contained in the Ten Utterances, and Noach who was righteous and perfect, brought back the life and the renewal into the world. We can now understand how if Noach had lived in a different generation, he would have been deemed even more righteous. The reason for this is because Noach, being righteous himself, would have infused the righteous of his generation with even more power of life and renewal.
The Shabbos connection
The Zohar states that Noach was in the category of Shabbos. The simple meaning of this statement is that the word Noach is similar to the word Menucha, which means rest. On a deeper level, however, we can explain this statement to mean that Shabbos is the source of life for the six days of the week. According to the opinion that posits that had Noach lived in a different generation he would have been even more righteous, we can understand how Noach was like Shabbos. Noach was the source of life for his generation of wicked people, and he would have been even a greater source of life had he lived in a different generation. We all can emulate Noach and be a source of strength and life for those around us.
“Shave off your beard!”
The Belzer Rebbe zt”l did not as a rule allow his followers to leave the bitter life of pre-War Europe in order to find their fortunes in America, Land of Golden Sidewalks. “America,” he would say, “is a tumene land – a country full of corruption and impurity. You will go there and you will shave off your beards, and cast off your Jewish clothing, and forsake your heritage (which is indeed what happened to the vast majority of frum Jews who came to America before the post-war exodus from Europe). Rather a poor and persecuted Jew in Poland, than a rich ‘gentile’ in America!”
Once, an audacious chassid travelled to America despite his Rebbe’s warnings. Years later, he returned to Poland a wealthy businessman. His long beard was still intact, as was his Jewish attire and his faith. His dedication to Yiddishkeit had not waned. He went to see the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked for a razor. “Here – shave off your beard.” The chassid was dumbfounded. He had kept his beard unshaven through years of tremendous sacrifice and dedication, and now the Rebbe was telling him to shave it off?! “If you will return from America looking like you do, others will look at you and say, ‘See – it can be done! America’s not so bad after all.’ Shave off your beard, so that everyone knows this is what happens in America!”
In His Sukkah
In the forests around Buczacz on Sukkos in the Jewish calendar year 5703, a mere 67 years ago, the following personal account was given by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Horowitz: The tramp of the storm troopers came suddenly to our ears. It was the third day of Chol HaMoed, and I was sitting with my son Shmuel in our Sukkah in the midst of the forest. All the Jews who were with us hurried out and escaped to their hiding places. We two, however, could not do this, since our hideout was only a little away from the Sukkah, and if we went there we would could easily be tracked and found by our searchers. I decided that we would do best to stay in the Sukkah and leave the rest to HaShem.
Circumstances had brought me to such a level of faith as I had never before experienced, and I think I never will again. I said to myself that if HaShem wished us to be revealed to the enemy and be killed, I was prepared to accept this. I only asked that it not happen here in the Sukkah. What a Kiddush HaShem it would be if I could tell my fellow Jews that the Mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah had saved me from death! The non-believers in our group, seeing this, would be convinced too. They would all see that “one who keeps a Mitzvah will come to no harm”. “Not for my sake, HaShem”, I prayed, “but do it for Your sake (Tehillim 115:1) that Your Name may be sanctified before everyone.” I recited Tehillim in a whisper and mentioned the names of my ancestors back to the Baal Shem Tov, which tradition says helps to draw down divine protection.
Then we saw the evil ones approaching. The thud of their boots came closer and closer. They walked back and forth in front to the Sukkah three times- but they did not seem to see anything. It was as if they had been struck blind. We peeked out through the cracks in the Sukkah’s walls. We saw them standing right next to us. We saw every detail of their uniforms, but they could not see the Sukkah. Suddenly one of the evil ones pointed off to the distance, indicating that he spotted something suspicious, perhaps a Jew’s hiding place. Immediately they all set off and disappeared into the forest. We took a deep breath, thanking G-d for taking us from death to life. Later on others were all wondering where we had been while the thugs were searching the area. When they heard that we had been in the Sukkah, they were astonished, and agreed that a miracle had occurred. Even the scoffers among them admitted that G-d’s hand had been at work. King David’s words had come true for us: “He will hide me in His Sukkah on the evil day.” (Tehillim 27:5)
The Nazis did not find who they were looking for that day but Rabbi Horowitz discovered something very rare, even in this day and age. He found himself a safe place in His Sukkah!
Torah Study-Delight amidst Devastation
The Tchebiner Rav, HaRav Dov Berish Weidenfeld zt”l, was a Torah scholar of great renown, and a leader of Torah Jewry after the Holocaust. During the War, he lost his wife, two sons, and three daughters – may Hashem avenge their blood – narrowly escaping the jaws of death himself. Two of his daughters also survived. One of them married Rav Goldshtof zt”l, and the other married the renowned Torah giant Rav Baruch Shimon Shneerson zt”l.
One night in Jerusalem, his son-in-law Rav Goldshtof paced nervously outside the door to the Rav’s study. Recently, the Rav’s family had been in high spirits, after a son had been born to Rav Shneerson – a first grandson for the Rav! It was, in some way, a degree of consolation; a statement that although the Nazis – may their names be blotted out – might have extinguished the lives of most of their family, they had now begun to build anew. However, just days after the child’s birth, doctors had informed them that the baby’s life was in danger.
The Tchebiner Rav was sitting in his study, wrapped up in Torah study, when the devastating news came from the hospital: The baby had passed away. The dreadful task of relating the news to the Gaon had been placed on the shoulders of Rav Goldshtof.
Anxious and grieving, he knocked on the door. When it opened, he found himself standing face to face with the splendorous figure of the Rav, deep in thought. A volume of the Rashba’s commentary lay open on his desk. Rav Goldshtof’s eyes began to well with tears when his father-in-law asked him, “How is the child?” Without saying a word, the look on his face said it all. “It’s all over.”
No doubt, this must have razed the Rav’s universe all over again. During the horrors of the War, he had lost the people dearest to him. Now, hoping to rebuild and breathe new life into the family, his building had once again collapsed.
Years later, Rav Goldshtof described the encounter: “I had no idea what kind of reaction to expect. When I broke the news, my father-in- law placed a hand upon the door frame, and leaned his head against it. There was a terrible silence as he stood there, absorbed in his thoughts. Then he turned to me, and quoted the words of the Psalmist (Tehillim 119:92), ‘If not for Your Torah, my delight, I would have perished in my distress.”” The horrific news must have scorched his heart; his first grandchild was gone. His only refuge was the delight of Torah study. (Me’oros HaDaf HaYomi – Kiddushin 69.) (www.Torah.org)
[The following true stories were told by Rabbi Elazar M. Shach, a leader of 20th century Israeli Jewry.]
Simplest Actions Rewarded
The Vilna Gaon’s wife and a close friend used to go door to door collecting tzedakah (charity) for poor families in Vilna, Lithuania. The two women made a solemn pact that whoever passed away first would come back in a dream and tell the other one what awaited her.
As it happened, the other woman passed away first. Sometime later, she appeared to the Vilna Gaon’s wife in a dream and said, “I’m not allowed to tell you what goes on in Heaven, but because of our pact, I have been allowed to reveal one thing to you.
“Do you remember the time the two of us went to collect tzedakah from a particular woman and did not find her at home? We went on to our other stops and later we saw that woman coming toward us on the other side of the street. You remarked that she was coming and lifted your finger to point her out to me, and we crossed the street and asked her for a contribution. Do you remember that?
“Know that the money we collected from that woman is recorded in both our names, since we both had a part in that mitzvah. Every step each of us took on our way to get her contribution is recorded equally for the two of us. But in addition to that, there is recorded in your ledger alone the fact that you raised your hand and pointed a finger to call my attention to her. Even that small gesture has not been overlooked.”
The mutual respect that existed between two great 19th century rabbis ― Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos ― cannot be imagined.
One time, the two of them were traveling together by coach. As they neared their destination, all the Jewish residents came out to greet these two Torah giants. In their zeal to honor the Torah and its princes, some of the men untied the horses from the coach and began pulling it themselves.
When Rabbi Akiva Eiger realized what was happening, he immediately jumped out of the coach and joined them, convinced that the honor was meant entirely for the Nesivos. The Nesivos was equally convinced that the honor was meant entirely for Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and he too jumped out to help carry the carriage. Thus everyone was carrying an empty carriage.
Remove Stumbling Blocks
One time Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel (the Alter of Slabodka) saw a boy walking in the street. Suddenly the boy stopped, picked up a scrap of paper, looked at it for a moment, and then immediately let it drop from his hand. The Alter went up to the boy and asked him to explain his actions.
The boy answered that he had noticed Hebrew writing on a scrap of paper and thought it might be from a holy work and require burial. But when he saw that it was of a secular nature, he immediately dropped it.
The Alter chastised him. “Did it not occur to you that someone else might come along and have the same thought as you? By leaving the paper on the ground, you might have caused someone the unnecessary trouble of bending down to pick it up, just as you did. In other words, you left a stumbling block in the street. What difference does it make whether you cause someone to trip, or to bend down to the ground? You should have disposed of the paper yourself.”
Nothing But the Truth
When Rabbi Aharon Kotler founded the yeshivah in Lakewood, New Jersey, he acquired for this purpose a small house. The walkway leading up to the door of the house was lined with trees, two on one side and three on the other. Receipt books were ordered for the yeshivah, and it was decided that a picture of the yeshivah building should be printed on top of the receipts. But the graphic artist who designed the receipts felt that the picture would look better if another tree were added to the walkway, so that there would be three trees on either side, and the extra tree was drawn into the picture.
When the receipts were delivered and shown to Rabbi Kotler , he was very disappointed with them, and exclaimed, “This is not a true likeness of the yeshivah building!” He ordered that the receipt books be discarded and new ones prepared.
“I am building a yeshivah based upon the foundation of the principle of truth,” Rabbi Kotler explained. “I do not want even a small trace of misrepresentation or dishonesty to be involved in the foundation of this yeshivah!”
That was 60 years ago. Today, the same Lakewood yeshivah is the largest rabbinic school in America, with some 4,000 active students. (www.innernet.org)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Noach 5771
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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