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 Parshas Noach - Vol. 4, Issue 2
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Vayomer Elokim zos os habris … es kashti nasati b’anan v’haysah l’os bris beini u’bein ha’aretz (9:12-13)

Hashem told Noach that the rainbow will be the sign of His covenant to never again destroy the earth. Does this mean that rainbows never existed prior to the flood and Hashem changed the laws of nature in order to bring about their existence, or that they occurred previously but only now achieved a new symbolic meaning?

A number of our greatest Rabbis disagree about this very question. After initially assuming that if Hashem declared that He was creating the rainbow to serve as a sign, it must have been a new creation at that time, the Ramban proceeds to quote the Greeks, who maintained that their advanced scientific knowledge indicated that a rainbow was a natural result of light shining in moist air.

As a result, the Ramban concludes that rainbows naturally occurred prior to the flood, but only took on new significance at that time. As a proof to this position, the Ramban and Rav Saadyah Gaon note that Hashem didn’t say, “I am placing,” which would indicate that the rainbow was created at that time, but rather, “I have placed my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant.”

            The Derashos HaRan (Derush 1) and the Gur Aryeh disagree. The Ran questions how something which has always existed, such as the morning sunrise, can suddenly take on symbolic properties. They both write that although scientists teach that a rainbow is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, the laws of nature prior to the flood were such that the sun’s rays weren’t strong enough to create a rainbow. As for the proof from the past tense of the verb, the Ibn Ezra suggests that it can be reconciled with this opinion by reading it as saying, “I have placed – now – my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant.”


Vayikach Shem v’Yefes es hasimla vayasimu al sh’chem shneihem vayeilchu achoranis vay’chasu es ervas avihem up’neihem achoranis v’ervas avihem lo ra’u (9:23)

Rashi writes that in the merit of Shem’s alacrity in covering the nakedness of his drunken father (Noach), he merited that his descendants – the Jews – would receive the mitzvah of tzitzis (Bamidbar 15:37-41). As we know that Hashem rewards people for their good deeds measure-for-measure, Rav Moshe Meir Weiss points out a number of fascinating parallels between the actions of Shem and the mitzvah of tzitzis.

When reciting the Priestly Blessing, the Kohanim wrap themselves in a tallis. This is because we merited receiving the mitzvah of tzitzis through the actions of Shem and of Avrohom (Sotah 17a), both of whom were Kohanim (Nedorim 32b).

Shem acted quickly to cover his father and protect him from being disgraced and humiliated. Interestingly, the minimum size for a four-cornered garment to be obligated in tzitzis is determined by whether it is large enough to cover enough of a person’s body so that he would be willing to wear it outside in public without being embarrassed (Mishnah Berurah 16:4).

When approaching their drunken father with a garment to cover him, Shem walked backward and turned away his face so as not to see or even face his father’s nakedness. As a result, the first thing one does when donning a tallis is to wrap it around his face so that he cannot see. Additionally, the Torah writes (Bamidbar 15:39) the prohibition against lusting after the immodesty viewed his by eyes in the section containing the mitzvah of tzitzis. Not surprisingly, the Gemora in Menachos (44a) tells the story of a man who was about to sin with a harlot when he was saved from his immoral plan by his tzitzis!

Mitzrayim was a son of Cham (10:6), who had the audacity to either castrate or sodomize his passed-out father. Not surprisingly, the Medrash in Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu (7) teaches that the Egyptians were the most immoral and depraved people in the world. As a result, the section in the Torah containing the mitzvah of tzitzis also contains the mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt), as the mitzvah of tzitzis represents the triumph of morality and decency!


Vayikach Terach es Avram b’no v’es Lot ben Haran ben b’no v’es Sarai kalaso eishes Avram b’no vayeitzu itam me’Ur Kasdim laleches artza Canaan vayavo’u Charan vayeshvu sham (11:31)

            Parshas Noach ends by recording that Terach took Avrohom, Sorah, and Lot, and they set out for the land of Canaan. Curiously, the verse concludes by stating that they arrived at Charan and settled there. As we know that the Torah only records information that is relevant to all generations, what lesson could this seemingly trivial detail about their travel itinerary be coming to teach us? Further, if they set out for the land of Canaan, why did they stop in the middle of the journey before successfully reaching their destination?

            The Chofetz Chaim notes that next week’s parsha – Lech Lecha – contains a similar verse. After Hashem commands Avrohom to leave his homeland to go to the land which He will show him, the Torah relates (12:5) that Avrohom took Sorah, Lot, their possessions, and those they had converted and set out for the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan. Why does the Torah emphasize that they left for Canaan and that they successfully arrived there? Why isn’t it sufficient to simply state that they successfully arrived in Canaan, the land to which Hashem had directed them?

            The Chofetz Chaim explains both verses by noting that while our Sages don’t tell us exactly what happened, it’s clear that although Terach set out with a certain itinerary in mind, he wasn’t sufficiently focused and determined to see it to fruition. As soon as the first difficulty arose, his plan was derailed and he aborted it in the middle to settle in Charan.

            Avrohom had been traveling with his father and saw what could happen when one’s commitment to a project is deficient. He understood that at any moment an obstacle could present itself and threaten the success of his entire mission. He therefore guarded that initial enthusiasm one has at the beginning of a new endeavor, constantly reminding himself, “I’m going to Canaan, I’m going to Canaan,” not letting his guard down to stop even when he was only a step away from the border of Canaan. The Torah emphasizes that when Avrohom began his journey it was with a clear focus on his objective – to arrive in Canaan – and not surprisingly, he succeeded in doing so.

We all have moments in our lives – an uplifting Torah class, Yom Kippur, or a miraculous “sign” from Heaven – when we see, hear, or experience something which gives us a flash of inspiration and excitement to make changes in our lives or undertake new projects, yet so often the passage of time wears away that enthusiasm and we are left – like Terach – without achieving any of our goals. We should learn from the Torah’s example that the best way to seize such moments is to make concrete resolutions – such as Avrohom’s mantra which kept him focused on his target – which remind us of our initial burst of inspiration so that we can keep it with us forever, and not just set out for Canaan but actually arrive there!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Medrash Tanchuma (5) derives from the word (6:9) tamim – complete – that Noach was born already circumcised. How many other Biblical figures can you name who were also born circumcised? (Medrash Tanchuma Noach 5, Avos D’Rebbi Nosson 2:5, Paneiach Raza)

2)     Which item from Parshas Noach appears and figures prominently in Megillas Esther? (Yalkut Shimoni Esther 1056)

3)     The Gemora in Sanhedrin (108b) relates that there was a bird on the ark which saw how difficult it was for Noach to feed each animal according to its own unique feeding schedule, and opted to be merciful and not to request any food. Upon recognizing this, Noach blessed the bird that it should live forever. The Maharsha writes that this was the bird which didn’t eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge like the other animals (Rashi 3:6). If it didn’t take part in the sin which brought the decree of death to the world, why did this bird need Noach’s blessing that it shouldn’t die? (Maharil Diskin Parshas Bereishis, Tiferes Torah)

4)     When approaching their drunken father with a garment to cover his nakedness, Shem and Yefes walked backward and turned away their faces so as not to see their their father in his disgraced state (9:23). Why didn’t they simply walk in a regular fashion and close their eyes? (Alshich HaKadosh, Matamei Yaakov)

5)     Did the 70 languages spoken by the nations of the world exist as spoken languages prior to the dispersion of the generation that attempted to build the tower of Bavel? (Rashi 11:1, Chizkuni 11:7, Moshav Z’keinim, Bechor Shor, Ayeles HaShachar)

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