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To Feel What You KnowAnd Noach and his sons... entered the Ark on account of the Floodwaters.?(Bereishis 7:7)
This was adapted from Birkas Peretz by the Steipler Rav.
We have seen previously that there are different levels of emunah, and that each person is expected to behave in a manner consistent with his level. Noach, we saw, was criticized for his imperfect faith after he hesitated in entering the Ark when the Flood began. But there is yet another lesson in emunah we can derive from the story of Noach.
Commenting on the above verse, Chazal infer that Noach entered the Ark only after the rain and flooding actually started and the rising water forced him to go inside. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah) relates that he waited until the water was up to his ankles.
Perhaps the reason he stayed outside until the last possible moment was because he wasn't obligated to enter the Ark until it became dangerous to remain outside.
We see from this that Noach's awareness of the Flood was merely intellectual, and that it hadn't penetrated his emotional consciousness. This can be illustrated by way of a parable: If a king were to decree that on such and such a day at such and such a time any individual found in a certain city would be killed on the spot, no one in his right mind would remain there. Not only that, they wouldn't wait for the very last second to leave either! Out of sheer fright, they would all run for their lives long before the appointed time.
Noach was faced by a terrifying decree from the Divine King of kings. Yet the idea of the Flood only made an impression on his intellect; it did not impinge on his emotional awareness. For this reason, he did not feel compelled by an all-consuming fright to escape to safety as soon as possible. Even after the rainfall actually began, he felt it was only a common storm which posed no special danger. If his faith had been stronger and more firmly rooted in his inner being, the fear of the Flood would have pushed him to run into the Ark long before he was actually commanded to do so.
Thus Noach believed and yet did not believe - for his belief was merely intellectual. It had not embedded itself in his emotions to the point where his entire being fervently believed in the inevitable coming of the Flood.
We find a similar concept expressed in the Gemara (Berachos 28b).
When R. Yochanan ben Zakkai was lying on his deathbed, his talmidim came to visit him. When he saw them, he started to cry. They said to him, "Light of Israel..., why are you crying?"
He answered, "If I were to be taken before a king of flesh and blood, who is here today and in the grave tomorrow, and if he was to be angry with me, his anger would not last forever; and if he was to imprison me, it would not be forever; and if he was to execute me, the death would not be eternal; and whom I can appease with words and bribe with money; even in those circumstances I would cry.
"So now that I am to be taken before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who exists forever and all eternity, and if He is angry with me, His anger will last forever; and if He imprisons me, it will be forever; and if He kills me, it will be an eternal death, and I cannot appease Him with words nor bribe Him with money; and moreover, there are two paths in front of me, one leading to Gan Eden and one to Gehinom, and I don't know which one they will take me on - shall I not cry?"
They said to him, "Our teacher, give us a berachah." He replied, "May it be His will that your fear of Heaven be like your fear of flesh and blood." His talmidim asked, "No more than that?" [i.e., "Why should our fear of Heaven extend no further than this?"] He answered, "If only you were able to attain that level [it would be no small achievement]! I'll prove it to you. When a person sins, he thinks to himself, 'I hope no one saw me.'"
Fear of Man and Fear of Heaven
R. Yochanan ben Zakkai's talmidim were taken aback by the berachah he gave them. Shouldn't the fear of Heaven be more powerful than that of mere flesh and blood? Hadn't R. Yochanan himself just finished saying that a temporal king - whose life and power are limited - is to be feared less than the Almighty, Who is omnipotent and eternal? If the fear of Heaven is much more terrifying than the fear of flesh and blood, how could he bless them that their fear of Heaven should merely be equal to their fear of man?
Addressing the astonishment of his talmidim, R. Yochanan told them that of course the fear of Heaven should be greater than the fear of man. Nevertheless, on a practical level, people are generally more afraid of other people than they are of God. He then illustrated his point with an all too common example: When a person commits a transgression, he knows he should be afraid [both of the punishment and also because of the terrible spiritual blemishes he creates which impair Creation]. However, he is so enslaved by the demands of his yetzer ha-ra that he completely ignores his good impulses and intellectual awareness.
Yet, if at the crucial moment of his transgression he became aware that someone was looking at him, he would immediately come to his senses and cease his disgraceful behavior - mortified of being "caught in the act." We see, therefore, that although a person may understand intellectually that the fear of Heaven is greater than the fear of man, the reality is that people fear man more than they fear Heaven. He thus blessed them that their fear of Heaven would match their fear of man. It is important to point out that the blessing was given to R. Yochanan ben Zakkai's disciples. These select men, outstanding scholars and leaders in their own right, were great tzaddikim whose emunah was pure. With their vast intellects, there is no question they perceived that the fear of Heaven is much more awesome than the fear of flesh and blood, and they had integrated this knowledge into their personalities. Therefore, they asked, "No more than that?" - as if to say, "This advice may be good for the average person, but we have already achieved this level." Nevertheless, their rebbe, R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, sought to reinforce the exalted level they had attained. This was because he was concerned that their emotional response was dictated by their intellect. He knew that they felt fear of Heaven on an emotional level - but only after their intellectual facilities prompted them to do so. He wanted to impress on them that this was not enough. Genuine fear of Heaven must be so fully integrated in one's personality that it totally bypasses the intellect and becomes an automatic emotional response It was for this reason that he blessed them that their fear of Heaven should always remain at least equal to their fear of flesh and blood.
This corresponds to the principle we saw above: one's emotional subconscious is a much more powerful motivator than one's intellect, even though one intellectually understands that the fear of Heaven is infinitely greater. This was the "non-belief" of Noach. His emunah was not ingrained deeply enough in his personality to become a subconscious mechanism.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
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