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BE AN AVRAHAM, NOT A NOACHAdapted from Ora Shel Torah, by Mori v'Rabi Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.
"These are the descendants of Noach, Noach was a pure righteous man in his generations, Hashem walked with Noach."
"In his generation." Rashi cites a dispute among Chazal. Some darshan this possuk positively - if in a generation of decadence he remained a tzaddik, even more if he would have been surrounded by tzaddikim. On the other hand, some darshan this negatively - he was only a tzaddik when compared to reshoim. If he would have been in Avraham's generation he would have been a nobody.
We see that Chazal used Avraham Avinu as the measuring stick to gauge Noach's righteousness. In what way was Avraham different from Noach? Chazal zero in on the language used by the Torah to describe them. By Noach the Torah states, "Hashem walked with Naoch," whereas by Avraham the possuk is different: "Hashem in front of whom I walked." Chazal call attention to the difference in the tenor of these p'ssukim: Noach needed Hashem to support him, while Avraham gathered his own strength and built himself up into a tzaddik.
This sounds strange. Doesn't the Torah testify that Noach was not only a tzaddik, but pure and perfect as well? True. However, in one aspect he was weak. He needed Hashem to help him retain his righteousness. He needed Hashem to support him. Without Hashem's encouragement, he could not attain his Avodas Hashem on his own.
Not Avraham. He walked in front of Hashem. He pushed himself, and encouraged himself. He found the courage and support within himself to gain his spiritual pinnacle.
If Hakadosh Baruch Hu would have withheld His support from Noach, Noach's avodas Hashem would have also ceased. This is the wonderful chessed Hashem does for all of us. He accompanies a person wherever he goes and protects him from falling into the snares of his Yetzer. Even a rosha like Bilaam was sent an angel of mercy to stop him from sinning. Nevertheless, the real goal is that a person should find within himself the strength to achieve his path in Avodas Hashem and not to wait for the Divine inspiration or encouragement.
Why was Avraham called the Ivri (meaning on the other side)? Because the entire world was on one side, and he was on the other. He refused to think or believe as they did. As a young child Avraham was already fighting against the world in their assumed lifestyle and popular beliefs. He was born into a generation of decadence and idol worship. Then entire generation denied the existence of Hashem. (Sound familiar? Read the New York Times.) Avraham went from place to place declaring that Hashem is the Creator. For many years he searched for the "Owner of the Palace." It wasn't until finally at the age of 70 that Hashem peered out to him and said, "Here I am." Avraham was even willing to throw himself into a fiery furnace for his beliefs, in spite of the fact that the "Owner of the Palace" had not revealed Himself to him nor given him any measure of support or encouragement. His lifelong service flowed from his own personal recognition that there must be a Creator. Having emanated from within himself, his avodah had the strength to stand ground against the entire world.
Noach's biography shows us a person of different fiber. "Noach was 600 years old and the flood waters covered the earth." 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 new 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 determination. He was deficient in his fortitude to carry out the task that he had set out to do.
The Chofetz Chaim (Al Hatorah) makes a point of Avraham's willpower. The possuk states, "And Avram took… and he went to the Land of Canaan and he came to the Land of Canaan" (Bereishis 12:5). Avraham Avinu, once he made up his mind to go to the Land of Canaan, he made sure that he got to the Land of Canaan.
By his father, though, we find a different phraseology. "And Terach took Avram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter in law, the wife of Avram his son, and they went forth with them from Ur Casdim to go to the land of Canaan, and they came as far as Haran and settled there" (11: 31). Terach started out to go to Canaan, but never made it there.
This teaches us that a person should strive to follow the footsteps of Avraham Avinu. If he takes upon himself to go to Eretz Canaan, he must go there. He mustn't change his plans at all, or stop off in the middle of the journey. Once you have made up your mind on a certain good path, follow through and don't give up.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network