Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg
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Vol. 6 No. 2
"Someone who goes in his perfection is a righteous person, how fortunate are his sons after him" (Mishlei 20:7).
The possuk is teaching us the definition of a tzadik, explains Rabeinu Bachye - "someone who goes in his perfection" means that he performs the mitzvos, not only according to all the specifications, but with a positive motivation, out of the love and fear of G-d, and not to raise his own prestige in one way or another.
For the same reason, one should take great care when performing acts of kindness with others, and similar mitzvos, to keep it to oneself: to advertise one's good deeds is sinful, because it results in two harmful consequences:
1. It turns one's head, causing one to become vain and conceited;
2. It causes the recipient to become embarrassed, as more people discover the favour that he received from the person who is now advertising it.
In fact, Shlomoh ha'Melech makes this point when he describes how most people tend to relate their good deeds, and how the 'ish emunim' is rare. (He apparently interprets 'ish emunim' to mean one who performs mitzvos discreetly, for the sake of the mitzvah, without publicising it.)
And in yet another possuk in Mishlei (10:8), Shlomoh makes the same point when he writes "A wise-hearted man takes mitzvos" (i.e. performs them in deed, without speaking about them); only there, he goes one stage further, when he concludes the possuk with the phrase "and the fool is seized by his lips".
Not only does the fool (which in Mishlei is synonymous with a rosho) not concern himself with the performance of mitzvos, but when he busies himself with the performance of aveiros (which is why he is called 'a fool'), he advertises what he has done - in extreme contrast to the tzadik, who performs mitzvos discreetly.
"How fortunate are his sons after him", because, as the Torah writes, those who serve G-d out of fear, sow their good deeds for their descendants up to a thousand generations to reap the benefits, and up to as much as two thousand generations for those who serve Him out of love.
We can also explain the possuk in Mishlei to refer to three levels of righteousness:
1. Someone who goes;
Indeed, that is the order of progression, for a righteous person is the lowest of these, a perfect person is on a higher plane, whereas someone who goes is the greatest of them all. And these are the three levels with which the Torah describes No'ach in the opening possuk of this parshah: "tzadik", "tomim" and "his'halech No'ach".
And the Torah stresses this to demonstrate the contrast between No'ach and the rest of his generation. No'ach was a tzadik (in deed), he was a tomim (in midos - character traits), and through his knowledge of astronomy (Rabeinu Bachye's interpretation of a 'holech'), he acknowledged that there was a superior power that governed all the Heavenly bodies (hashkofoh - outlook). In contrast, the people of his generation were perverted in deed, possessed evil character traits, and worshipped the sun.
Perhaps we can also explain the term "his'halech No'ach" (although Rabeinu Bachye, for some reason, does not do so) to mean that No'ach was constantly growing in his spirituality (since it is in this context that 'holchim' is usually explained, as opposed to angels, who are described as 'omdim' - standing still). The people of his generation degenerated, whilst No'ach moved forward in his righteousness.
The Olive Leaf
"And the dove came to him at evening-time holding a torn olive-leaf in its beak, and No'ach knew that the water had subsided from the earth" (8:11).
Considering that even the mill-stones melted in the hot turbulent waters of the flood, the commentaries ask, where did the dove discover an olive leaf? Was it not clear that all the trees were destroyed too, and that nothing would grow again until No'ach (who had taken samples of all the seeds with him into the ark) would replant them?
Some explain that the dove found the leaf in Eretz Yisroel, others say that it found it in Gan Eden - neither of which was affected by the flood.
But how does this answer the question? If Eretz Yisroel and Gan Eden were not affected by the flood, then what would the dove have proved by bringing back a leaf from there?
Rabeinu Bachye explains that the flood may not have fallen directly upon Eretz Yisroel. There is no reason though, why the water from the surrounding countries should not have flowed into Eretz Yisroel. In this way, the water-level would have risen in Eretz Yisroel just like it did in every country, but without destroying the vegetation.
And as for Gan Eden, he quotes the Ramban, it was the proverbial Gates of Gan Eden which remained shut for the duration of the flood, that kept the waters of the flood out. When did they re-open? The moment the water subsided. And that is when the dove flew in and plucked the olive-leaf.
"As long as the earth lasts, sewing-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never again cease to exist" (8:22).
It is evident from this possuk that during the year of the flood (which lasted precisely 365 days), the entire solar system ceased to function - time actually stood still for one entire year.
Rabeinu Bachye infers from the words "as long as the earth lasts", that the world has a limited existence.
And according to the Seforno, the Torah implies that the seasons were a new phenomenon which would now continue to function until such time as atonement for the sins which caused the flood was complete. At that time, the world will revert to the situation of perpetual spring that existed before the flood.
The temperate, constant climate, he adds, was in turn, responsible for a longer life-span - a life-span that would be cut by half after the flood, and cut by half yet again in the days of the Tower of Bavel. When the atonement is complete and the world returns to a state of perpetual spring, the life-span of man will revert to what it was before the flood.
Odom ho'Rishon was forbidden to eat meat. (How can one living creature devour another?) The first person who was permitted to eat meat was No'ach (Rashi 9:3).
The reason for this is because, in reality, the animals deserved to be destroyed together with the human race (see Rashi 6:12), and it was only on the merits of No'ach that they were saved (and besides, he spent an entire year totally dedicated to their survival). So Hashem gave them to him completely, to do with as he pleased (Ramban).
The Kli Yokor explains that No'ach and his descendants were permitted to eat meat because he studied Torah.
Even though the Kli Yokor's explanation requires further elaboration, it does however, fit beautfully with Chazal, who say in Pesochim (49b) that an unlearned person (an am ho'oretz) is forbidden to eat meat. And the Gemoro explains that it is only someone who learns Torah who is permitted to do so.
Man's superiority over animals lies in his ability to speak. As long as he uses that ability for the purpose for which it was created - to study Torah - then he is raised to a level above that of animls, and is granted permission to eat them (to transform them into the higher form of creature that he is). But if he does not, then he has failed to live up to the elevated standard of human behaviour set by No'ach, and there is no reason why the concession to eat meat should apply to him.
The Two Generations
The generation of the flood was destroyed predominantly because of the sins that they perpetrated between man and man ("and the land was full of robbery"!).
The generation of the Tower of Bovel were granted life because they were at peace with each other. This is a powerful demonstration of the life-saving values of peace, as Chazal have said 'peace is equal to everything' (see Rashi, Bechukosai 26:6).
One should however, not be disillusioned into taking this Chazal to the extreme - to believe for one moment that, as long as one lives at peace with one's fellow-man, all's well with the world, and one has nothing to worry about. Because one need look no further than the very case of which we are speaking to see just how fallacious that is.
The generation of the tower used their peaceful co-existence to unite against G-d. And look what happened to them. G-d shattered that peace, scattering them all over the world and rendering them incapable of communicating with each other. In addition, Chazal have said that the generation of the tower have no portion in the World to Come!
Peace may well be the vessel that contains blessing, as Chazal have said (at the end of Uktzin), but that is only if it is used in the service of G-d; but when it is used to rebel against Him, the Novi writes in Yeshayah (48:22): "There is no peace, says Hashem, for the wicked."
U've'chol Nafshecho (cont.)
There is however, another interpretation of 'u've'chol nafshecho'.
Rebbi Eliezer says in B'rochos that there are some people whose lives are more precious to them than their money, and there are others, whose money is more precious than their lives.
That is why the Torah writes 'u've'chol nafshecho', to include those people whose lives mean more to them than their money. And it writes 'u've'chol me'odecho', to include those whose money is more precious to them than their lives.
But that is inconceivable, says the Gro. There is not a person alive those money means more to him than his life!
Therefore, the Gro explains Rebbi Eliezer to be referring, not to a person giving away his life, but to expending energy in the performing of mitzvos. There are some people who are lazy and do not enjoy working - even for mitzvos: for their benefit the Torah writes 'u've'chol nafshecho'. And there are others who don't mind expending the energy, but they are loathe to give away their money to perform mitzvos; so the Torah writes 'u've'chol me'odecho'. According to Rebbi Eliezer, the Torah does not obligate a Jew to give up his life for any Mitzvah (unless it is a matter of sinning in front of three other Jews, but that we learn from from another Posuk) - that is the opinion of Rebbi Akiva - there in B'rochos.
We have already discussed Chazal's interpretation of 'u've'chol me'odecho', meaning 'with all your money'. They also interpret it to mean that one should love Hashem for whatever He gives us, for the 'bad' no less than for the good. That is why the Mishnah writes in B'rochos that one is obligated to bless Hashem for the bad things in the same way (with the same enthusiasm) as one blesses Him for the good. This may seem at first to be some sort of gimmick, but it is not. It is meant quite literally, since everything that happens to a person is only for his good, either as a direct reward, or as a trial, to help him to grow, or as an atonement, to cleanse him from his sins, to prepare him for a greater future in the World to Come. Because Hashem is totally good - He knows no malice and does not punish for punishment's sake.
Certainly there are occasions when a bad person reaches the point of no return (like Par'oh, after the first five plagues), in which case, Hashem's punishments are inherently destructive, meant intrinsically to punish the evildoer. Yet even then, they stem from Hashem's kindness, since it is for the good of the world at large, who stand to benefit from the wicked man's removal (as the Mishnah says in Sanhedrin 71b), or it will serve the purpose of teaching mankind Hashem's Midas ha'Din.
And perhaps it is even for the benefit of the sinner himself (as the same Mishnah expressly writes), to prevent him from destroying his Soul even further.
Someone who loves G-d in this way, who understands and accepts that whatever G-d does to him is meant entirely for his own good, will ultimately achieve that which most people vainly seek throughout their lives, generally without success - inner contentment and joy - because he will always be happy with his lot, and can never be moved. Such an avodah leaves no room for despondancy. It is the great mitzvah to be constantly happy to which Rav Nachman from Breslov referred when he said 'It is a geat mitzvah to be constantly in a state of happiness'. It is not through eating, drinking and dancing, as some people have perhaps been misled to believe. And this is clear from his careful choice of words: note that he did not say 'it is a great mitzvah to rejoice (lismo'ach)' but 'it is a great mitzvah to be in a state of happiness (lihyos be'simchah)'.
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