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To Believe - Or Not To Believe
And Noach walked with Hashem.?(Bereishis 6:9)
Concerning Avraham, the verse says, "Hashem before Whom I walked" [Bereishis 24:40]. Noach needed Hashem's support to uphold him in righteousness, whereas Avraham drew his moral strength from himself and walked in righteousness by his own effort.?(Rashi)
The following is an excerpt from He'aros by Mori v'Rabi R. Zeidel Epstein zt"l, mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Ore.
A crucial aspect of avodas Hashem lies in strengthening your emunah. However, most people are perplexed by this, for they don't understand exactly what it entails. When told that emunah is something they must work on, they commonly - and mistakenly - respond, "But I already believe in Hashem - isn't that enough?" What they don't realize is that emunah actually has many levels. The level you are on depends upon how intensely you live and feel your faith - how real and alive it is to you. Concomitantly, your level of emunah dictates the demands the Almighty will place on you and what His expectations of you are.
In order to further examine this idea, let us pose a question about the character of Noach. On the one hand, the Torah testifies that Noach was "a tzaddik, pure in his generations," and that he "walked with Hashem" (Bereishis 6:9). Is there a better endorsement of character than this? Noach had a letter of approbation signed by the Almighty Himself!
Despite this impeccable seal of approval, Chazal are very critical of Noach's conduct. Further on we read: "And Noach and his sons... entered the Ark on account of the Floodwaters" (Bereishis 7:7). Rashi, quoting a midrash, states: "Noach was a man of little faith; he believed and yet he didn't believe that the Flood would come. He didn't enter the Ark until the Floodwaters pushed him inside." It would seem then, that Chazal felt Noach's character was flawed. How was it possible for Chazal to contradict the Torah's testimony concerning Noach's spiritual greatness?
The answer to this question will illustrate our point. It is important to realize that Chazal's characterization of Noach as a man of little faith is a relative description that must be placed in context to be properly understood. After all, here was a man who spent 120 years building the Ark, and during that entire time he was proclaiming Hashem's warning that the Flood was coming. In the final analysis, there is no question that he believed the Flood would ultimately occur. Yet despite all this, there remained a certain minuscule part of him that didn't fully believe.
Chazal inform us that when the rains of the Flood first started falling, they were gentle and beneficial. At that point, Noach was still waiting for the Flood to get started before entering the Ark himself. As the verse (7:7) states: "(he) entered the Ark on account of the Floodwaters." This means that Noach only entered the Ark when he had no other choice, after the heavy rains and flooding had begun. We see from this that the criticism leveled against him by Chazal was very limited: Being so sharply aware of the impending Flood, he should have rushed into the Ark as soon as the first raindrops fell. The fact that he stayed outside, scanning the skies and waiting for the real downpour to begin, was an indication that on some small, almost imperceptible level, he was hesitant in his belief. This was the criticism. His certitude of the approaching catastrophe should have permeated every fiber of his being. That even an infinitesimal part of his consciousness remained in doubt was grounds for criticism. This demonstrates to us that even Noach, as exalted as the Torah testifies he was - a tzaddik who was pure in his generations - was still criticized for not having even more emunah. Later on in the parashah, Noach leaves the Ark and faces a world that is utterly destroyed and desolate. There is no life anywhere, and no vestige of mankind's former ascendancy. Upon leaving the Ark, Noach came face-to-face with a new reality that was shockingly and profoundly different from anything he had ever known. We read about the generation before the flood: "There was no end to all the people" (Koheles 4:16). Commenting on this verse, Rashi explains that the pre-Flood generation had multiplied immeasurably and filled up the earth. A woman would conceive and give birth three days later. And then again after three more days! There were probably millions, if not billions, of people populating the earth. Now, everything Noach had known; everything he had been familiar with, was gone. In its place there was nothing - absolute desolation. Only himself and his family. At this instant, he was faced with another momentous test: was he going to despair and mourn over a past that was forever lost? Or would he forge ahead, confident that the Almighty would help him rebuild a new and better world?
Noach made his decision. One can't give up. He realized the futility of grieving over the past and understood the necessity of looking to the future and starting over. He chose the path of life. However, for moral support, in order to insure that he not fall into the depths of despondency and that he start anew with joy, he planted a vineyard. In order to enable himself to engage in the task of rebuilding, and thereby bring joy to Hashem, Noach's first step was to make wine. By drinking wine, he hoped to fortify his resolve and blunt his discouragement over the terrible destruction that had taken place and the daunting task of rebuilding that now faced him. Indeed, Scripture itself informs us that wine has the power to "gladden man's heart" (Tehillim 104:15). Noach had good reason for his course of action, and these words from Tehillim would seem to support his choice. Is he, then, to be faulted for his decision?
The Torah tells us that indeed he is. We read: "And Noach became profaned" (Bereishis 9:20). Because while it was definitely proper for him to engage in farming, he should have first planted a more beneficial and productive type of crop. It's true that Noach had done something very important and necessary. Scripture itself testifies to the value of wine, both in its power to lighten one's heart and regarding the sanctified part it plays in the worship of the Almighty (e.g., making kiddush). Ultimately, wine has a vital and necessary role in the world. However, at this early stage, when the entire world needed to be rebuilt, producing wine was somewhat of an extravagance that paled before the pressing tasks awaiting him. In short, with such monumental and important work facing him, despair was a luxury he should not have indulged in at the very outset. If he gave any thought to the matter at all, he should have concluded that if the Almighty had kept him alive until now, He would not abandon him in the future. His certainty that Hashem would aid him in rebuilding the world should have been absolute and unwavering, and that alone should have served as his source of comfort. That this was not the case - even if only to the slightest degree - revealed a deficiency in Noach's power of faith.
The lesson we must derive from studying the story of Noach is that each and every person, no matter how great he is, must cultivate his emunah. It is incumbent upon a person to observe and contemplate the intricate scheme of Creation and the dominion of Hashem over every single occurrence that takes place. This is especially true concerning things which occur to the entire Jewish nation.
The Gemara (Menachos 43b) states that a person is obligated to make one hundred berachos each day. We do this to help strengthen our faith. By reciting so many blessings, we internalize the knowledge that God rules the world. Relatively speaking, we only contribute a minuscule amount of effort. In the final analysis, it is the Almighty, and the Almighty alone, Who "brings forth bread from the earth."
It is crucial that we keep our basic task in focus - to cultivate simple and straightforward emunah within our hearts. And to do this we must remind ourselves continuously that Hashem is recreating the universe anew; that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; that He punishes and rewards; and that we are His children and He loves each and every one of us with a fierce and abiding love. We don't require the intricacies of philosophic thought; rather, we need the simplest of worldviews - the realization that the Almighty is the master of everything that takes place. By contemplating this reality we will gain tangible emunah.
The Vilna Gaon's "Ba'al Bitachon"
The following is from She'al Avicha v'Yagedcha, by R. Shalom Schwadron, vol. 3, p. 57.
The Vilna Gaon spent some time in self-imposed exile, when he left his family and his home, and traveled incognito around Europe. He later related a remarkable incident about a Jew he encountered who had attained a very high level of bitachon. The Gaon once lodged at an inn which the Jewish innkeeper rented from the local poritz (the nobleman who owned all the land in the region). The innkeeper failed to keep up with his rent payments and became heavily indebted to the poritz.
Eventually, the nobleman set a final date for repayment and threatened that if the money was not paid by that time, the Jew and his family would be imprisoned.
The inkeeper's family was in a state of panic because of the terrible threat hovering over them. However, the innkeeper remained calm, confident that Hashem would provide him with the amount of money he had to pay on the appointed day. He soothingly told his wife and children, "Don't worry, I'm sure the Almighty will take care of us."
The Vilna Gaon witnessed the entire drama and took a special interest in seeing how things would work out. When the ominous day arrived, the innkeeper departed to see the poritz. Although he didn't have a coin in his pocket, his bitachon was still firm. The Gaon followed him into the waiting room that adjoined the poritz's office. The inkeeper remained the picture of serenity and confidence, calmly sitting in his chair as if he had the entire sum in his wallet.
When his turn came, he stood up to enter. But suddenly the gentleman leaving the office stopped him and said, "Listen, I want to offer you the job of being my agent, and I'm willing to pay you quite well." He went on to explain himself: "I want to buy a section of the poritz's forest for the timber, but he wants an exorbitant price. I tried negotiating with him, but he wouldn't budge. The truth is, even at the high price that he is demanding, it's still a good deal. However, it's become a matter of principle for me, and I don't want him to have the satisfaction of knowing that he won. Therefore, I want you to go in and tie up the deal as if you were making it for yourself. Here's enough money to pay for the section of forest and to cover your wages in advance."
It turned out that the money which the businessman gave the innkeeper for his salary was the exact amount that he owed the poritz!
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).
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