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Parshas Noach - Vol. 6,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Eileh Toldos Noach Noach ish tzaddik Tamim haya b’dorosav es ha’Elokim hishaleich Noach (6:9)
Noach, the namesake and focus of this week’s parsha, seems at first glance quite contradictory. On the one hand, the Torah itself explicitly testifies in the beginning of the parsha that he was perfectly righteous, and he alone merited to be saved from the destruction which befell his contemporaries. Everyone alive today is descended from him and exists only in his merit.
On the other hand, Rashi points out that some Sages question how pious Noach truly was. They point out that the verse emphasizes that he was righteous in his generation, which can be read as implying that if he had lived in another generation, such as that of Avrohom Avinu, he wouldn’t have been considered unique or special in any way. This is difficult to understand. If the Torah explicitly praises Noach, why do Chazal minimize his greatness, and why do they specifically compare him to Avrohom?
Further, Noach wasn’t righteous enough to be completely exempt from the pain and suffering which was meted out to the rest of his generation. He was forced to survive the flood by spending a year in cramped quarters together with the rest of the animal kingdom, and he enjoyed no rest as he was constantly busy feeding each animal at the time when it was accustomed to eat. If he was indeed so righteous, why wasn’t he simply told to escape to the land of Israel, which according to one opinion was miraculously protected and spared from the flood (Zevachim 113a), until the waters subsided?
After Noach survived this difficult experience, he finally received permission to exit the ark and was given a promise that Hashem would never again destroy the world. Noach responded by planting a vineyard, getting drunk, and debasing himself (9:20-21). How could he have fallen so far so quickly?
The answer to these apparent contradictions lies in the Zohar HaKadosh (Vol. 3 15a), which questions why the Haftorah (Yeshaya 54:9) refers to the flood as the floodwaters of Noach. Since Noach was the righteous tzaddik who was spared from the destruction, why is the flood named for him, implying that he was somehow responsible for it? The Zohar answers that Hashem commanded Noach (6:14) to make an ark to save him and his family from the impending flood. During the 120 years that Noach was busy doing so, he neglected to pray for his contemporaries to repent their sins and be spared, and as a result, he was held accountable for the flood which may have been prevented through his prayers.
The Zohar HaKadosh teaches us that although Noach was personally righteous, he was content with his own individual piety to save himself and his family without being properly concerned about the welfare of his contemporaries. The Medrash compares Noach to a captain who saved himself while allowing his boat and its passengers to drown. With this insight, we can now appreciate that Noach’s spiritual level was indeed complex and somewhat contradictory. He withstood the tremendous temptations to join the rest of his sinful generation and remained uniquely pious, yet at the same time he could have done much more on behalf of others.
This explains why he is specifically denigrated in comparison to Avrohom, who was the paragon of chesed and whose entire life was focused on helping others. When Avrohom was informed by Hashem about the impending destruction of Sodom, he didn’t content himself with the fact that he wasn’t endangered, but repeatedly beseeched Hashem to overturn the decree and spare them from destruction.
As far as why this was in fact the case, Rav Nachum of Horodna explains that Noach was born into a pious family. His grandfather was the righteous Methushelach, who lived to the age of 969 and for whom the flood was delayed by one week until the end of the week of mourning after his death (Bereishis Rabbah 32:7). As such, Noach was content to follow in the righteous ways of his family and felt no need to focus his energies elsewhere. Avrohom Avinu, on the other hand, was raised in an idolatrous environment which he forcefully rejected. Because his life circumstances forced him to discover Hashem on his own, he was more naturally inclined to work to disseminate the knowledge of Hashem to others.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch writes that this explains why Noach was forced to endure such a difficult and exhausting year in the ark instead of living peacefully with his family in the land of Israel. Even though Noach was deemed sufficiently righteous to be saved and to repopulate the earth, he was simultaneously found lacking in the area of feeling compassion for others. In order to teach him this lesson, Hashem required him to spend the duration of the flood engaged in continuous chesed, feeding the various animals around the clock, each with its own unique menu and eating time. The Medrash adds that Noach was so busy feeding the animals that he was unable to sleep during the entire year that he spent in the ark, and when he once brought the lion’s food a little late, it responded by biting him (Rashi 7:23).
Still, although it is important to do acts of kindness for others, the Meshech Chochmah points out that one might assume that he nevertheless loses out in the process, as the time and energy that he dedicates to others come at the expense of investing them in his own growth and development. However, he quotes a Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 36:3) which points out that precisely the opposite is in fact the case. Although Noach is initially introduced as a perfectly righteous man, his lifelong focus on himself caused him to fall and be transformed into a man of the earth (9:20). In contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu, who dedicated his entire life to the welfare of others, was originally described (Shemos 2:19) as an Egyptian man who was forced into exile – but through his efforts on behalf of Klal Yisroel he elevated him to the pinnacle of perfection and was called (Devorim 33:1) a man of G-d, teaching us that a person never loses out by doing chesed for others.
V’zeh asher ta’aseh osah shalosh meios amah orech ha’teivah chamishim amah rach’bah u’shloshim amah komasa tzohar ta’aseh la’teivah v’el amah t’chalena mil’malah (6:15-16)
The Zohar HaKadosh states that prior to the sin of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the serpent was known merely as “Ches.” After the serpent successfully enticed Chava to sin, Adam added to its name the letter “nun” from Hashem’s name of Lordship (ado-nai) and the letter “shin” from Hashem’s name Sha-dai in order to mitigate its potential to bring evil and sin into the world. Similarly, the accusing angel was initially known as Samech-Mem, but in order to counteract its wicked powers Adam added one of Hashem’s names and called it Sam-ael.
The Meged Yosef quotes his grandfather, the mystic Rav Leib Sarah’s, that for a time, Adam’s plan worked successfully. The additions from the Divine names were able to keep the evil powers in check and the world functioned reasonably for 9 generations. The Torah notes, however, that in the generation of Noach the world was filled with chamas. This alludes to the fact that they sinned so greatly that they allowed the serpent and the prosecuting angel to regain their initial strength, as chamas is a combination of their two original names (Ches and Samech-Mem).
In order to restore justice and civilization to the world, Hashem had no choice but to once again diminish the power of this dastardly duo. He commanded Noach to make an ark which would measure 300 cubits long (approximately 500-600 feet), 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall, with the roof of the ark sloping upward to one cubit so that the rain would run off.
As each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value, we may reexpress the dimensions of the ark as shin cubits in length, nun cubits in width, lamed cubits in height, and an aleph cubit finish on the roof. The length and width are precisely the two letters needed to once again transform the “Ches” back into the nachash, while the height and the finish on top are exactly what was needed to reduce the mighty Samech-Mem into the Sam-ael, thereby allowing Noach to combat the “chamas” which was rampant in his generation and be saved from the flood brought to destroy it.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The prophet Yeshaya describes (65:25) the peacefulness which will reign in the times of Moshiach, noting that even natural enemies such as wolves and sheep will dwell serenely side-by-side. Why is this considered so unique when wolves, sheep, and every other species in existence peacefully coexisted on one level of the ark (7:8) for an entire year? (Peninim Vol. 5)
2) Hashem swore (Rashi 8:21) not to curse the ground or to wipe out living creatures in the future due to His recognition that a person’s inclinations are evil from his youth. How can this be reconciled with a previous verse (6:5) which states that man’s evil inclination didn’t inspire Divine mercy and understanding, but was one of Hashem’s reasons for bringing the flood which destroyed the entire generation? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, Shiras Dovid, K’Motzei Shalal Rav)
3) Rashi writes (9:5) that Hashem emphasized that although after the flood it became permissible to kill an animal in order to eat it, it is still forbidden for a person to kill himself. Is the prohibition against committing suicide applicable to Jews, non-Jews, or both? (Minchas Chinuch 34, Shu”t Seridei Aish 104, Nachalas Yaakov end of Masechta Kallah, Matamei Yaakov)
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