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Torah Attitude: Parshas Lech Lecha: Elevating ourselves
How can Noach be considered a person who is complete in his righteousness if he did not care enough about his fellow beings to pray for their safety? Since Noach lived in a time of permissiveness, he was considered complete in his righteousness compared to everyone else. We find the same concept in regards to Abraham's nephew Lot. Even if a person is not born with a special soul, one can elevate oneself and receive an additional higher soul through studying Torah and living accordingly. It is up to us to elevate ourselves above contemporary society and live a life based on Torah values.
In last week's Torah Attitude we discussed how Noach was held responsible for the flood because he did not pray for mercy for his generation after G'd informed him about the impending Divine punishment. However, an obvious question arises. Last week's parasha starts with a description of Noach (Bereishis 6:9) as a "righteous man perfect in his generation". How can Noach be considered a person who is complete in his righteousness if he did not care enough about his fellow beings to pray for their safety?
Righteous compared to his generation
As a matter of fact, the Torah itself answers this question by describing Noach as "perfect in his generation". Rashi explains in the name of the Midrash Rabbah (30:9) that this can be understood in two ways. Some sages explain that this is to say that even though Noach lived through generations of corrupt and immoral people he stayed a righteous person. Other sages say that this description means that only compared to his contemporaries he was complete in his righteousness. This is not a contradiction. Both explanations are true. Since Noach lived in a time of permissiveness, where everything was acceptable, it took a lot more effort to rise above society, and he was therefore considered complete in his righteousness compared to everyone else.
Lot compared to Abraham
We find the same concept in regards to Abraham's nephew Lot. Originally, Lot was righteous, and when he lost his father Haran, Abraham and Sarah adopted him. But during their stay in Egypt, Lot was influenced by the immorality of the local population. Therefore, when Abraham suggested that they split up, as the Torah relates in this week's parasha, Lot chose to move to the immoral society of Sodom (see Rashi Bereishis 13:10 and 14). However, in next week's parasha we find that Lot was saved, when G'd overturned Sodom and the neighbouring towns. But when the angel, who saved Lot, instructed him to flee to the mountain where Abraham resided, Lot begged for permission to stay in a town nearby, as he said (Bereishis 19:19): "I cannot escape to the mountain lest the evil will attach itself to me and I will die." Rashi quotes the Midrash Rabbah (50:11) that quotes what Lot said in more detail. "As long as I was together with the people of Sodom", said Lot, "G'd look at my deeds and compared them to the deeds of the other people in the town. But if I go back to Abraham, compared to him I will be considered an evildoer."
Rabbi Chaim Vital
Rabbi Avraham Pam, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vedaas, often used to relate what the famous Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, better known as the Ariza"l, said to his great disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital. The Ariza"l said to Rav Chaim that his soul was on a very high level. When Rav Chaim asked his teacher on what basis he said so, he explained that since they lived in a time where there was a lot of impurity in the atmosphere, only people with souls of a high calibre would be able to elevate themselves above society and live a life of holiness and purity. If this was the case over 500 years ago, said Rabbi Pam, how much more does it apply nowadays. Everyone who studies Torah and lives according to its commandments, for sure has a soul of a very high level. The Kabbalists explain that even if a person is not born with a special soul, one can elevate oneself and receive an additional higher soul through studying Torah and living accordingly.
Everyone has the potential to gain a special soul, if one would only make an effort. This is especially true in our time, as we live in an era similar to the time prior to the flood. The Zohar describes how people would appear in public in a most indecent way and how both ethically and morally they were on a very low level. Their lifestyle was very much like the permissive society we live in nowadays with no family values and rampant corruption all over. Compared to such people it does not take that much effort to elevate oneself above them. The Talmud (Shabbos 104a) teaches that the one who tries to purify himself receives a lot of Divine assistance. If we only make a small opening like the head of a needle an opening the size of a banquet hall will open for us (see Midrash Rabbah Shir HaShirim 5:2). It is up to us to elevate ourselves above contemporary society and live a life based on Torah values. In this way, we will be able to save ourselves and our children and ensure the continuity of the Jewish people as G'd's chosen nation.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto. Chag Sameach and Gemar Tov to you and your family!
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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