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Parshas Noach - Vol. 12, Issue 2
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Noach begins by relating that Noach was perfectly righteous in his generations. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 30:8) makes a fascinating observation, pointing out that Noach is one of five people who are described in Tanach using the verb haya - he was. The Medrash explains that the common thread linking these five individuals is that each of them lived to see a new world. Noach witnessed the destruction of the entire world through the flood, yet he and his family were spared in the ark and emerged to find a new world. The second person about whom the Torah uses the word haya was Yosef (Bereishis 37:2). When Yosef's brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, his entire world was shattered, until he emerged from jail to experience a new world when he was appointed ruler over the entire country.
Next, the Torah (Shemos 3:1) uses the word haya to describe Moshe. Moshe was forced to leave his world behind when he had to flee for his life from Pharaoh, but ultimately, he witnessed the destruction of Pharaoh and their Egyptian oppressors, and he brought the people out to a new life of freedom. Later in Tanach (Iyov 1:1), the word haya is used in conjunction with Iyov. Iyov's entire world was taken away from him through the loss of his family and possessions, but he later saw a new world when Hashem returned to him even more than he had originally lost.
Finally, the Megillah (Esther 2:5) describes Mordechai using the word haya. Mordechai lost his wife Esther when she was taken away to Achashverosh's palace, his nation was threatened with extermination, and Haman planned to hang him, yet he merited seeing Haman hanged on the gallows that were intended for him, and he inherited Haman's estate. While interesting, the point made by the Medrash in grouping these five individuals who are all described using a common verb, and who all experienced complete turn-arounds in their lives, is quite perplexing. What is the deeper common thread linking these five people, and what lesson is the Medrash trying to teach us?
Rav Yissocher Frand explains that unfortunately, many people experience terrible tragedies in their lives. However, while some people become devastated by their suffering and are unable to move on and continue leading productive lives, others manage to persevere and focus on rebuilding what they lost, often creating even better lives than what they originally had. What is the key that enables a person to overcome his grief to rebuild his world, and not become paralyzed in a fixation on the past?
Rav Frand suggests that the Medrash is teaching us that the key to picking oneself up and moving on with life is the word haya, which means, "it was." Although it is impossible to judge somebody who has experienced unspeakable tragedies, the key to moving beyond our sorrow and not allowing ourselves to be defined by our misfortunes is to view them as being in the past. Instead of wallowing in misery and being consumed by their pain, these five individuals were successful in rebuilding their lives and their worlds because of their attitudes of haya - what happened is in the past.
For example, Noach had every reason to give up and abandon hope. Even though he and his family survived the flood, exiting the ark after the entire world was obliterated must have been even worse than surveying Hiroshima the day after it was bombed. Everything that Noach knew had been literally uprooted and destroyed. However, even though Noach had every justification to live out his remaining years in perpetual depression, he somehow managed to adopt the perspective of haya and left the past in the past as he worked to go forward toward a brighter future, a valuable trait shared by Yosef, Moshe, Iyov, and Mordechai.
As a contemporary application of this concept, Rav Frand notes that there were people who survived the Holocaust, only to discover that their families were decimated, their homes were confiscated, and their hometowns were bereft of Jews. After losing everything they knew, many of them started over from scratch in Israel or the United States and rebuilt new families and new lives for themselves. Similarly, the leaders of the great yeshivos in Europe who survived the war found themselves with almost no students to teach. Rather than abandon hope, they threw themselves into the arduous task of rebuilding the Torah world, teaching students who were nowhere near the caliber of their murdered disciples. Nevertheless, they knew the secret of haya, and they succeeded in leaving the heartbreaking past behind them and in so doing, they merited building and creating a new Torah world.
Noach's generation sinned so extensively that Hashem had no choice but to completely destroy the world and start again. Only Noach and his family, along with a small number of each species, were found righteous and permitted to survive the flood inside of the ark, and from them the world was repopulated after the flood ended. However, although the Torah seems to say that all people other than Noach and his family were killed in the flood, the Medrash (Pirkei D'Rav Eliezer 23) teaches that Og also survived the flood, and Tosefos (Niddah 61a) adds that Og's brother Sichon did as well.
These two giants lived until Moshe defeated them in battle more than 800 years later, just before the Jewish people entered the land of Israel (Bamidbar 21:21-35). Although more than 30 non-Jewish kings were killed in the battle for Eretz Yisroel, there is a particular stress placed on thanking Hashem for the defeat of Sichon and Og, as Dovid singled them out in Tehillim (136:19-20): L'Sichon melech ha'Emori ki l'olam chasdo, l'Og melech ha'Bashan ki l'olam chasdo - for (the death of) Sichon the king of the Amorites, for Hashem's kindness endures forever; and for (the death of) Og the king of Bashan, for Hashem's kindness is eternal. What was so unique about Sichon and Og that warrants this emphasis on thanking Hashem for their defeat?
Rav Gedaliah Schorr explains that Sichon and Og represented an unparalleled force of tumah (spiritual impurity) in the world, and as long as they were still alive, it was difficult for Moshe to properly teach the Oral Torah. This is alluded to in Parshas Devorim (Devorim 1:4-5), which states, "After Moshe had smitten Sichon king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Cheshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtaros in Edre'i; on the other side of the Jordan River in the land of Moab, Moshe began explaining this Torah." The Torah juxtaposes these two seemingly disparate concepts to teach us that only after Sichon and Og had been killed was Moshe able to explain the Torah in 70 languages (Rashi). What made their tumah so potent and powerful?
After Noach exited the ark, Hashem promised him that He would never again flood the world (9:11), which is difficult to understand. When Hashem brought the flood upon Noach's contemporaries, it was because He saw that the world had become so corrupt that it was necessary to start over. Although this was negative for those who were killed, it was actually beneficial for the world. If so, what was the value of Hashem's promise to never again destroy the world? If the world does not reach such extreme levels of immorality, there would be no need to bring a flood even without this promise, and if the world does become so corrupted again, it would be in its best interest to be decimated and recreated. If the best thing for the world is to be destroyed, why would Hashem promise to refrain from doing so?
Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that Hashem's promise to Noach was that He would never again allow humanity to sink to the level of moral decay that it reached prior to the flood. Up until that time, people were capable of perverting nature and the world around them to such an extent that a flood was necessary to restore order. After the flood, Hashem informed Noach that the human capacity for both good and evil would be diminished, and it would therefore no longer be possible for man to corrupt the world around him to the degree that a flood would again be warranted.
With this insight, Rav Reisman explains that Sichon and Og were unique in that after the deaths of Noach and his family, they were the only humans in the world who were born prior to the flood. They were able to live for more than 800 years after the flood because they were born in the antediluvian period when such lifespans were typical. However, as a result, they also retained the unparalleled ability to create exceptional moral decay that could damage all of nature. This explains why Sichon and Og possessed a powerful spiritual impurity that made it difficult to transmit the Oral Torah, a tumah which was eternally erased from the earth through their deaths. For this reason, it is appropriate to single them out and specifically praise Hashem for eliminating them and their destructive potential from the world.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Hashem swore 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 (Rashi 8:21). How can this be reconciled with an earlier verse (6:5) that states that man's evil inclination didn't inspire Divine mercy and understanding, but rather was one of Hashem's reasons for bringing the flood which destroyed the entire generation? (Nesivos Rabboseinu, Shiras Dovid, K'Motzei Shalal Rav)
2) Rashi writes (9:22) that Canaan was cursed by Noach (9:25) because he saw Noach's nakedness and told his father Cham about it. As Canaan isn't listed among those who entered or exited the ark, it must be assumed that he was born just after the flood. How was he able to walk and talk like an adult when he was at most a few months old? (Maharzu Bereishis Rabbah 36:4)
3) What is the connection between Parshas Noach and Sefer Yonah? (Chizkuni 10:12)
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