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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generation. (6:9)

What is the meaning of the term tzaddik, righteous? The idea of righteousness has a number of connotations, all revolving around the concept of piety. Horav Tuvia Lisitzin, zl, suggests that the Torah intimates the characteristics which rendered Noach a tzaddik. Hashem told Noach to enter the Ark in order to be saved, "for it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me in this generation" (Ibid 7:1). In other words, in comparison to the members of his generation and their activities, Noach appeared to be a tzaddik. The members of the generation of the flood were guilty of a number of improprieties, but it was gezel, robbery, that was the source of their downfall and destruction. Their lack of respect and caring for their fellow man sealed their fate. Thus, a tzaddik is one who stands out, who rises above his generation, who is sensitive to the needs and feelings of the members of his generation. A tzaddik is one who exemplifies positive commitment to bein adam l'chaveiro, relationship between man and his fellow. Noach was such an individual, and this is why he was selected to be the one to rebuild the world. He cared about people, and the essence of the world is people.

In the Midrash Tanchuma, Chazal comment that we find two people who earned the appellation of tzaddik: Noach and Yosef. They had one common trait: they both sustained a world. Noach rebuilt the world after society was destroyed by the flood. Yosef sustained an entire world during his generation's great famine. Furthermore, during the year that Noach spent on the Ark, he saw to it that each and every creature was fed in a timely fashion, despite the toll on his personal life and welfare. As a result of this devotion, the animals survived to see the light of another day, and they had the opportunity to rebuild the world that had been destroyed.

A tzaddik is one who cares about others, who does not live for himself but, rather, views himself as a conduit for helping others. He emulates the Almighty, Who sustains the world purely for altruistic reasons. Man is supposed to learn from Hashem: "As He is compassionate, so should you be compassionate; as He is gracious and kind, so should you be gracious and kind." Noach derived his tzidkus, righteousness, from Hashem. A tzaddik is one who follows Hashem's lead. This is the meaning of walking in Hashem's ways. This is the path that Noach chose to follow.

Now the earth had become corrupt before G-d; and the earth had become filled with robbery. (6:11)

Noach spent one hundred and twenty years building the Ark. It was no secret. During this entire time, he did everything possible to engage people in conversation so that he could convince them to do teshuvah, repent. They did not, however, listen. They ignored Noach for one hundred and twenty years. This tells us about Noach's perseverance. He was relentless in his commitment to bring the people back. It also says something about the people of that generation. In fact, it is a sad commentary on their obtuseness and rebellious nature. Nothing could sway them away from sin. Why? Were they really that evil?

Perhaps the answers lie in the Abarbanel's commentary to the above pasuk. He explains that "the earth became corrupt before G-d." It was only before G-d that they were considered corrupt. Hashem saw their corruption. They did not. In their eyes, they were going about business as usual. They were doing no wrong. When a person does not concede to having sinned, when he does not recognize his guilt, for what should he repent? He is a saint!

No one wants to feel guilty, so we rationalize away our guilt, making excuses either to justify what we did or, at least, to ameliorate the guilt. It does not matter how one rationalizes away his sin, the bottom line is that he does not feel compelled to repent. Kayin committed the world's second sin by killing his brother, Hevel. The pasuk reads, "Kayin said to his brother Hevel. And they were in the field, and Kayin rose up against his brother Hevel and killed him" (Bereishis 4:8). There seems to be something missing from the text. First, the Torah says that Kayin spoke to Hevel. Then it relates the murder. What was their conversation about? What did Kayin say to Hevel? The Targum Yonasan cites the dialogue, but the Torah omits it. Why?

Horav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, cites Horav Yosef Harari-Raful, Shlita, who gives a noteworthy answer to this question. The Torah omits Kayin's words because they lack relevance. Whatever Kayin spoke was only so that he could justify his act of murder. His excuse for murder was unimportant. His words comprised nothing more than a rationalization to appease his conscience. We do it all of the time. We blame the wife, the children, the boss, and life in general. These are all lame excuses for not accepting responsibility. Therefore, the Torah is in effect telling us that what he said is immaterial. It was only an excuse. If it would not have been one, it would have been another - so, why bother?

This is the atmosphere with which Noach had to contend. He dealt with a generation of sinners who validated their evil and justified their guilt. People such as these do not repent, because, in their own eyes, they have not sinned. This, in itself, is the biggest sin.

Make for yourself an Ark of gopher wood. (6:14)

One would be hard-pressed to suggest a connection between the episode of the flood and the miracle of Purim. The Midrash says otherwise. We have to investigate the reason. Chazal teach us that the beam/tree upon which the wicked Haman was hanged was taken from Noach's Teivah, Ark. Exactly how this transpired is not the issue. What remains to be identified is the area of commonality between these two incidents.

The Jews of Shushan merited the miracle of Purim for a number of reasons. The primary stimulus for this neis, miracle, was Mordechai HaTzaddik. His resolution in defying Haman, in refusing to bow down to him, made the difference. Everyone ate at Achashveiros' party - Mordechai did not. Everyone bowed down to Haman - Mordechai did not. Everyone feared Haman - Mordechai did not. His leadership catalyzed a return to commitment. His fortitude gave others the strength to believe and the courage to return.

Noach was also not afraid. The entire world had gone morally perverse. Robbing from each other had become a way of life. People were out of control. One person stood up to the world; one person had the strength of character to fight for what was true and moral. He succeeded in transplanting the survivors of the deluge, and together they rebuilt the world. Noach saved the world. Mordechai saved Klal Yisrael. It is appropriate that the man who did not care about world opinion should provide the means to assist the individual who stood up to the evil Haman. Mordechai followed in Noach's footsteps. He was not afraid of doing what was right. The power of the truth, the ability to act according to one's beliefs - regardless of what "others" will say - to ignore the overwhelming influence of a world gone mad, to place one's commitment to Hashem above anything else, that is what Mordechai and Noach had in common. Thus, a beam from Noach's Ark was appropriately suited for its rightful place in the miracle of Purim.

We might suggest another link between the two episodes. The Ark represented the zenith in chesed, performance of acts of loving-kindness. This massive ship was home to the creatures that were to survive the flood. Noach worked around the clock, feeding and providing for the needs of each and every creature. This was all carried out without hope for any form of gratitude. After all, these were animals - not human beings. This ultimate act of kindness was as G-d-like as one could be. Everything that Hashem does for the world is purely altruistic.

Haman represented the antithethis of chesed. Had Shaul HaMelech carried out the command to kill every member of Amalek, Haman would not have been born. He existed due to Shaul's misplaced compassion. How did Haman repay this act of kindness of which he was a beneficiary? He sought to destroy every living member of Shaul's nation! Haman represented the total paradox, the complete opposite extreme of chesed. He did not simply ignore the kindness; he sought to destroy the benefactor. How appropriate it was that his execution should be held on the pole that represented consummate kindness, the virtue which he sought so hard to obliterate.

Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent. (9:21,22)

However one interprets this episode in Noach's life, it neither has a complimentary connotation nor does it speak well of Noach. It leaves a dark blemish, a deep scar on a life of righteousness and nobility. Horav Shabsai Yudelevitz, zl, cites a meaningful analogy from the Chafetz Chaim, zl, which should serve as a positive source of inspiration for us all.

There was once a great rav, a Torah scholar who was righteous, as well as brilliant and erudite. He lived a simple, austere lifestyle, devoting himself to the general needs of his community and to each individual on a personal level. He was admired, revered and loved. For what more could a person ask? He decided to make a small party in his home for his closest friends. As the end of the meal, they brought out a bottle of vintage wine, the gift of one of his close friends. The rav was not a drinker, but a gift is a gift and a friend is a friend. He felt he could not refuse one drink. He took that one drink and had no idea of the effect it would have on him. This wine was incredible. So, he had one more drink. To make a long story short, the rav had many drinks and soon was totally inebriated.

The rav became very happy, so happy that he felt the urge to dance. First, he danced on the floor; then, he became happier. This increased joy inspired him to dance on the table! To everyone's shock and revulsion, their beloved rav was making a total fool of himself. The great and distinguished rav, the man who was their friend and mentor, their guide and inspiration, was "losing it" in public. He was acting like a habitual drunk.

The rav quickly tired of his dancing and succumbed to his weariness and lay down to sleep - beneath the table. A few hours passed and he woke up, after having slept off the effects of his alcohol-induced behavior. He turned to his wife and asked, "What happened?" His wife, who had stood by his side throughout the years, replied, "You made a fool of yourself. The rav of the city, imbibed too much wine and became a typical drunk. He then acted in a manner consistent with such a distinction. You cannot imagine how you acted. It is something that, regrettably, will not be quickly forgotten."

"I did this?" he asked.

"Yes, you did this," she replied.

The rav immediately fainted.

The humiliation was too much for him to bear. He refused to leave his home for a month. "I danced on the table like a total fool in the presence of the most distinguished members of this community. How can I go outside and face the world? I am mortified," he said to himself.

After a month of self-imposed seclusion, the rav decided that he had to face the music and go outside. With his head bowed down, he built up the courage to take his first steps in public. As he was walking down the street, he passed a photo shop. There in full color was a blown-up picture of him in his inebriated state dancing on the table! He became all shook up and out of control. He could not run home quickly enough. "What will I do? How can I live? How will I ever walk out on the street? Everyone in this city recognized me. I can no longer function in this town," the rav cried. That night, under the cover of darkness, the rav and his family moved out of town. His peaceful seclusion lasted for two days, until he took a walk in his new community, only to discover his picture plastered all over the front show-window of a large electronics store. He could no longer handle it. That night, the family once again packed their bags and set sail for America.

Two weeks after his arrival in the states, he visited a bookstore. One can only imagine the rav's shock, anger and anxiety when sitting prominently on top of the table of new releases, he saw a volume about the unfortunate effects of alcohol, and whose picture was on the cover of the book? Yes, it was the drunken rav in all of his stupored splendor. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture was certainly worth more!

America was no longer a safe haven from his humiliation. His next step was Geneva, Switzerland, a country well-known for its neutrality and non involvement. Here he would finally find peace from the demons that were haunting him. Little did he realize that Geneva was to be the epicenter of the International Conference of the Effects of Alcoholism, and guess who was to be the poster boy for their campaign? The "drunken rabbi," as he was now called. They decided to distribute this picture worldwide, in order to emphasize the ill effects of uncontrolled drinking. Let the world community see how a distinguished cleric allowed alcohol to destroy his life.

The rav began to weep uncontrollably. What could he do? He had nowhere to hide. The entire world was aware of his folly. His family attempted to console him, but it was to no avail. He was inconsolable.

"Morai v'rabosai, my friends and colleagues," the Chafetz Chaim began, "do you realize that this story is not novel? It was written four thousand years ago in Parashas Noach. Noach, the tzaddik, the man who saved the world, the distinguished world leader, drank some wine and debased himself. The wine caused him to lose control and uncover himself in his tent. It happened once, in the privacy of his own tent, and it is spoken about in every corner of the world until this very day! The youngest child who studies Chumash is aware of Noach's degradation. All of this humiliation because of one error. "See," exhorted the Chafetz Chaim, "one mistake, one foolish act, and it is remembered forever!"

This is a powerful lesson for all of us. How often do we hear about accomplished people who have devoted their lives to the betterment of so many, who are relegated to humiliation and shame, all because of a foolish mistake, an error that was, for the most part, the result of a compulsive reaction or a spontaneous lack of control? It takes so little to destroy so much. If we would only think of the consequences before we act.

Hashem descended to look at the city and tower which the sons of man built. (11:5)

Rashi notes the Torah's emphasis on the distinct lineage of the builders of the tower. Certainly they were not sons of donkeys or camels. Apparently, it was the very fact that they were sons/descendants of Adam HaRishon that brought their miscreancy to the forefront. Adam was the one who told Hashem, "The woman whom You gave me" (Ibid 3:12), indicating kefias tov, a lack of gratitude, on his part. Likewise, his descendants rejected the good that Hashem had performed for them, when He revived the remnants of the flood.

Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, notes the powerful lesson to be derived from this thought. We have always been aware of the despicable nature of one who is a kafui tov. To be unappreciative of those who help us, to manifest a lack of gratitude to those who have made a difference in our lives - regardless of the size or value of the assistance - is abominable. Now we learn that this ignoble character deficiency has a far-reaching effect on future generations! Adam did not demonstrate proper recognition of Hashem's gift to him of a wife; his descendants did not recognize Hashem's salvation and mutinied against Him. After all, children often seek to outdo their parents!

I think, however, that there is one consolation - the flipside. One who is a makir tov, recognizes and appreciates the good that he has benefited from others, imbues this wonderful character trait into his family's DNA. His descendants will follow suit and demonstrate their appreciation to others. We pay gratitude when we appreciate something that we have received. A lack of gratitude indicates either a base character or a misperception on the part of the beneficiary. When parents appreciate something, they not only pay gratitude for receiving it, they also teach their children that this is something of value. This applies to all areas of life. We take many things for granted, thus neglecting to show our appreciation for it. Often, we feel that since we are paying for a commodity, our payment is sufficient gratitude. This is often the case in Jewish education when we fail to show simple appreciation to those who deserve it most. After all, "they work for us," or, "I am paying for it." Teaching goes beyond the act of imparting the material. It is a total absorption in one's work, so that the material becomes imbued into the students mind and character. It is the establishment of another link in the chain of Torah from Har Sinai. Money does not buy this, but appreciation does pay for it. When the parents appreciate what they receive, the child will, likewise, grow up with a healthy respect and appreciation for the material and its dissemination.

A simple, unpretentious admirer of fine art derived much pleasure from visiting the great art galleries. One day, he was admiring a priceless painting in a New York gallery, when a friend jokingly remarked, "Why do you permit yourself to become so enthused over things that you could never afford to own?" The man replied, "I would rather appreciate things that I cannot have, than have things that I cannot appreciate." Appreciation is an art that has to be learned.

Va'ani Tefillah

Nehallelecha Hashem Elokeinu…u'negadelcha, u'neshabeichacha
u'nefaercha, v'nazkir Shimcha Malkeinu.

We will extol You Hashem, our G-d… we will declare Your greatness, we will praise You, we will glorify You, we will remember Your Name and declare You our King, our only G-d.

Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains this litany of praises as meaning: we will reflect and study Your greatness, praise, glory etc. and see to it that it is made known to others. Not only will we increase our awareness of Your eminence, but we will also convey this praise to others, so that Your praise will be spread throughout the world. Veritably, the translation of u'negadelcha is, "we shall magnify You." How can a mere mortal magnify Hashem, Who is infinite? Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that by increasing people's knowledge of Hashem and by emphasizing certain aspects of His preeminence, we magnify Him, so to speak.

Alternatively, he explains that u'negadelcha may be related to gadol, which also means intertwined. Tzitzis are referred to as gedillim. They are comprised of four strands each of which are pulled through a hole and twisted together into knots. This part of the Tzitzis with its knots is called gedillim. We also find gidul saar, as meaning "braiding hair." Thus, u'negadelcha is the technique used in Pesukei D'zimra whereby various pesukim describing Hashem's praise create a harmony of thought, much like a florist will assemble various flowers to make a beautiful bouquet. In this way, we praise Hashem by combining various aspects of our perception of His greatness.

In loving memory of our dear
Mother and Grandmother
Mrs. Leah Handler
l'zechar nishams haisha hachashuva
maras Leah bas Dovid Chaim HaKohen a"h
niftara 7 Cheshvan 5754

Mr. Moshe Handler
Rabbi Mechel Handler & Family
Mrs. Mimi Samuels & Family
Mrs. Debra Bassan & Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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