October 24, 1998 4 Heshvan 5759
WORDS OF WISDOM by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And from the animals that are not pure..." (Beresheet 7:2)
Noah was commanded to take from each specie seven pairs of animals which are kosher and one pair of animals which are not kosher, and bring them into the ark. The Torah calls the kosher animals tahor - pure - and the non-kosher ones are called asher lo tahor - those that are not pure. The Rabbis point out that the proper word to use when describing the unacceptable animals is tameh - unclean, and yet the Torah uses the longer phrase asher lo tahor- which is not pure. This is to teach us the importance of not using negative words when talking about someone or something. The Gemara tells us that once three Kohanim were describing what kind of a portion each one received and one of them used a negative word to describe his share. They checked up after him and saw that there was something wrong with his lineage.
The lesson is very simple yet extremely important. The way we speak says so much about ourselves. Not only what we say, but also the kind of words we use reflect on our character and on our spirit. We should always try to use words of purity and beauty and stay away from vulgarities and the like. It is especially difficult in today's day and age, when the sharper the word, the more recognition one gets. But it is much more meaningful if we put some thought into the choice of words we use. If the Torah, in which every letter counts, saw fit to add extra words in order to speak in a positive way, shouldn't we do the same? Shabbat Shalom.
NOT JUST A BOAT by Rabbi Reuven Semah
"When Noah was five hundred years old, Noah begot Shem, Ham and Yafet" (Beresheet 5:32)
In our study of Noah we find an interesting difference in the structure of Noah's life from the rest of the world. The Torah says that Noah didn't have any children until he was five hundred years old! A quick analysis of the Torah will show that in those days people had children at the "young" age of sixty and seventy. Rashi explains that Hashem delayed Noah's fertility until 500 to prevent him from having a large family! For if he did have many sons it could be difficult for Noah. If they turned out to be wicked, Noah would suffer the great tragedy of losing his sons in the flood. If they would be righteous, Noah would have to build many arks to save all of them. Therefore Hashem saw to it that he should have only three sons under punishable age when the flood arrived.
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz asks, what would be so terrible if he had many good sons? Wouldn't Noah be willing to build many arks to save them? And if it would be so hard couldn't Noah hire many builders to help build? And for that Hashem kept Noah childless for 500 years? Rav Chaim goes at great length and proves from many instances in the Torah that Noah's ark was not just a physical boat. It was a miraculous vehicle of salvation. Even today's most powerful ships could not have withstood the fury of the flood. Noah took pieces of lumber and infused them with the ability to save mankind. It was Noah's sweat and tears of one hundred and twenty years of building this ark in front of the eyes of the entire world. One hundred and twenty years of begging the people to repent. One hundred and twenty years of being ridiculed. This burning desire to save mankind, this self-sacrifice, saturated the wood of the ark and gave it the ability to be a salvation of mankind. This could only be done with Noah's hands. No one else felt the way he did. No other builder with even the best hands could duplicate or help Noah. Noah could only build one!
The lesson for us is powerful. If it is possible to infuse these powers of greatness, of salvation, into objects which are not alive, imagine how much we can do if we put these efforts into something already alive! Our efforts into our children and students to make them great can make it happen! Shabbat Shalom.
WORTH THE EFFORT
"And Shem and Yefet took the garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backward and they did not see the nakedness of their father" (Beresheet 9:23)
Rashi cites the Talmudic statement that derives from this verse (because of the singular form of the word vayikah - and he took) that Shem put more effort into the misvah and therefore he received a much greater reward than Yefet. Shem's descendants merited the garment of talet with sisit.
At times when a person works with others for a worthwhile project, he might feel resentment if he sees that he is putting in more effort than someone else is. But whenever the work you are doing is worthwhile, the extra effort you put into it elevates you. This knowledge should give you even greater pleasure when you put much time and energy into any spiritual endeavor. It is good to try to motivate others to put in their best efforts, but your main focus should be on how you will gain by your good deeds.
This is an important lesson for young children. When a parent tells a child to do something, very often the child will exclaim, "But the other children are not doing it." While parents must make certain not to show any favoritism, children need to gain the awareness that the more they do, the greater they are. When Shem did more than Yefet, he didn't complain that he was being taken advantage of. Honoring parents is a privilege. The more one is privileged, the more fortunate one is. (Growth Through Torah)
GOING THE DISTANCE
"And Terah took Abram his son...and they went from Ur Casdim to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to Haran and dwelt there" (Beresheet 11:31)
The Arugat haBosem makes an interesting observation based upon this pasuk. Often one becomes inspired to change his ways to expiate his sins. Along the way, however, the yeser hara, evil inclination, confronts him with various obstacles which block his path to success. Those individuals whose resolve is as weak as their moral character fall prey to their weakness. Terah was such a person. He was inspired to journey to Canaan and change his past. He traveled to Haran, however, and halted. He could not extricate himself from the clutches of his yeser hara. Abraham, on the other hand, did not stop to smell the roses. He continued along the way, never allowing the fire of his inspiration to cool.
How often does one listen to an exceptionally good lecture, attend an inspirational Shabbat gathering or simply get "turned on" by an emotional experience, only to let it "cool off" due to a lack of follow-up? We should remember that halfway is not far enough. Terah traveled part of the distance, but he still remained the same Terah. (Peninim on the Torah)
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