Back to This Week's Parsha

Peninim on the Torah

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Previous issues

Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Noach was a righteous person…Noach walked with G-d. (6:9)

The Torah attributes a number of impressive titles to Noach. At the end of Parashas Bereishis (6:8), the Torah records that "Noach found chein, grace/favor, in the eyes of Hashem." This is truly noteworthy. Finding favor is not an appellation that applies to just anyone. In the beginning of our parsha, the Torah describes Noach as a tzadik, righteous person, and tamim, perfect (6:9). Later, after the Flood, the Torah calls him, ish ha'adamah, the man of the earth (9:20). In contrast to Noach, the righteous, the perfect, the builder, we find Chazal in the Midrash noting that had he lived during the generations of either Avraham, Moshe or Shmuel Ha'Navi, he would not have been considered a tzadik. Last, the Midrash maintains that even Noach would not have been worth saving during the Flood, if not for the fact that he had found favor in the eyes of Hashem. What is the meaning of "finding favor"?

Apparently, something about Noach is not completely right. Indeed, at every juncture that the Torah mentions his name in a positive way, it always presents a contrasting image. Hashem "regrets" creating man, but Noach found favor. It is not that he himself was that great; rather, he found favor and "lucked out." Indeed, Noach seems to have cared more about himself than the people of his generation. The plaudits that the Torah attributes to him are valid only when couched in the words, b'dorosav, his generations. He could not compare with the great leaders of other times such as Avraham, Moshe and Shmuel. The Jewish people are the children of Avraham, while the gentile world hails from Noach. We know that Noach preceded Avraham, yet we are considered Avraham's descendants. Why?

The Sefas Emes explains that Noach was a complete tzadik, yet he required Hashem's support. This did not mitigate his righteousness, because this is how Hashem established the world. A tzadik needs Hashem's support, and this need is not to be perceived as a deficiency. A tzadik shaleim, complete tzadik, is one who is able to exert self-control to the point of righteousness. He still requires Hashem's support. but that is a way of life. Nonetheless, Noach's righteousness was not sufficient to the degree that he could become the progenitor of Klal Yisrael. For that honor, we needed Avraham Avinu.

Avraham was more than a tzadik. He was a chasid, pious person, who went lifnim meshuras ha'din, beyond the measure of just law. His level of self-sacrifice for the honor and holiness of Hashem's Name was consummate. He did not exist b'derech ha'teva, according to the norms of nature. He went beyond, living by the standard of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice. His devotion was the greater and more intense devotion that was necessary to father the Jewish nation. Being a tzadik was not sufficient. It was necessary to have the added attribute of chasid to form the core of our people, since we do not subsist by the laws of nature. Reason does not apply to the history of the Jewish people, since-- according to the laws of reason-- we should not be here. There is nothing wrong with Noach's approach. It just is not sufficient for us. We go beyond righteousness to the realm of chassidus.

Furthermore, as a man of the earth, Noach was able to elevate nature to the point that he could utilize it to serve Hashem. When all was said and done, however, nature was nature, and heaven was heaven. He did not have the ability to transform earth into heaven. Avraham Avinu actually did not distinguish between heaven and earth. Both were a medium for serving Hashem, so that earth became heaven. No boundaries existed in Avraham's frame of mind. His service embodied every opportunity to serve the Almighty. The physical and the spiritual united into a single entity, since they were both integral to a single ideal.

To explain this concept further, we may employ a thought from the Baalei Mussar, Ethicists, concerning Yaakov Avinu's transplanting the cedar trees of Eretz Yisrael in Egypt, so that his descendants would take them when they left. These cedars would one day be used in the wilderness to build the Mishkan. Imagine if someone were to have walked by and notice Yaakov planting the saplings. He would have assumed that it was as it appeared: an old man planting trees. Great! It would have seemed to be a wonderful and lofty endeavor, especially when he found out that these cedars would one day serve a holy purpose. Yaakov Avinu, however, had something else in mind. To him, he was building the Mishkan. Yaakov was not simply planting trees; he was building the Mishkan!

Likewise, when we raise our children, our attitude should be that we are building Klal Yisrael. We must look beyond the actual endeavor to envision it as part of the larger picture. Thus, we sanctify it, transforming an earthly project into a Heavenly endeavor.

He sent out the raven, and it kept going and returning…Then he sent out the dove from him. (7:7,8)

Noach sent out the raven to ascertain whether the air was still too wet for the raven to tolerate. The raven flew around the Ark, but it did not carry out its assigned task because it foolishly suspected Noach of impropriety with its mate. Seven days later, Noach sent out the dove who accomplished its mission. Klal Yisrael is compared to the dove, as we are the ones who execute Hashem's mission in the world. The raven revealed its true colors and, as a result, proved to be an untrustworthy creature.

In the Talmud Gittin 45, Chazal reveal that Rav Illish refused to believe the raven's communication when he was in prison. Once, when Rav Illish was imprisoned by the government, he shared a cell with an individual who claimed to be proficient in deciphering the language of birds. One day, a raven flew over to the window of their cell and banged upon the window as it made some kind of noise. Rav Illish asked the man what the raven was saying. He replied that the raven was screaming, "Illish, run! Illish, run!" Apparently, it was a propitious time for him to escape. Rav Illish said, "The raven is a liar," and, therefore, cannot be trusted. The Maharsha explains that Rav Illish based his comment on the deceitful actions of the raven in Parshas Noach. Shortly afterwards, a dove came to the window and also transported a form of communication. Rav Illish asked his fellow prisoner for an explanation. He received the same explanation as before, "Illish, run! Illish, run!" The sage said, "The Jewish people are compared to a dove. I will listen to its message." He successfully escaped from prison.

Rabbi Akiva Eigar, zl, cites the Aruch who proves from here that Rav Illish was proficient in the language of birds. This is not credible, since, if anything, the story supports a contrasting opinion. He asked his cellmate to explain to him what the birds were saying. The Maharsha wonders how Rav Illish could have trusted the integrity of his gentile cellmate in a situation concerning a matter of life and death.

Horav Chaim Shmuelevitch, zl , offers the following insightful explanation of this Chazal. Rav Illish was incarcerated under conditions that certainly left much to be desired. Birds are visiting his window, banging away. In their "language," they were conveying a critical message. Rav Illish was not the type of person to ask his fellow prisoners for assistance in interpreting the birds' message; nor did he need their assistance. He knew what the birds were saying, because he was well-versed in their language. Why, then, did he ask the gentile to decipher the birds' message for him? If he knew, why did he ask?

Rav Chaim explains that a person hears what he wants to hear. Someone who is in a dungeon is constantly dreaming of his release. If an opportunity were to present itself in which he could escape, he would certainly not call a meeting to discuss the feasibility; he would run! Now, if he heard the raven say, "Illish, run! Illish, run!" he knew that he must think twice before accepting what he had heard. Perhaps, it was wishful thinking, and his vested interests were clouding his perspective. Perhaps he was convincing himself that the birds were encouraging him to run but, in reality, he knew that he had better stay put. What does one do under such circumstances? Rav Illish asked the gentile to interpret the birds' message, because he was well aware that the gentile had nothing to benefit from his interpretation. He had no negios, vested interests. He would be likely to relate the truth. If what he heard supported what Rav Illish had originally heard, then he would take action and escape. He could not take a chance, however, by trusting himself, because he so wanted to hear "run, run," that he might err and run prematurely.

This is a powerful lesson in life. We hear what we want to hear, and we see what we want to see. This applies to all of us, regardless of background, level of scholarship, or piety. We are human, and this is a human failing that seems to apply across the board. Great people take great pains not to deceive others - even themselves.

And all flesh that moves upon the earth. (7:21)

In the Talmud Zevachim 113, Chazal teach us that the waters of the Mabul, Flood, did not penetrate Eretz Yisrael. "If this is so," questions the Zohar Hakadosh, "why did Noach have to leave the land? Indeed, building the Ark was not necessary, since the flood waters never reached the Holy Land." The Zohar explains that, while the actual waters of the deluge did not enter into Eretz Yisrael, the wind, heat and the torrential rains created such a climatic change that it was impossible to continue living there. There was no flood - but, nonetheless, it was impossible to remain there as a result of the flood's backlash. Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, derives a powerful idea from this. When there is a flood in the world, its effect is all-consuming, encompassing not only the immediate area, but also the entire surrounding geography. Without a teivah, protecting ark, one will perish as a result of the flood that is affecting the world.

This idea applies in ruchniyus, the spiritual realm, as well as in gashmiyus, the physical dimension. When there is a flood of moral and spiritual decay inundating the environment, it is crucial for those who want to live to cloister themselves in an ark that permits them to maintain their individual and spiritual integrity. Regrettably, this occurs on a daily basis, as we are besieged and inundated with the filth of the street. The moral decay to which contemporary society has plummeted presents an imminent threat to the spiritual survival of those who are not protected. Just as the physical climate in Eretz Yisrael was adversely affected by the deluge outside its perimeters, so, too, are we affected by the spiritual climate that seeps into our community from outside our of boundaries. The only means of protection is the ark that we build for ourselves.

Rav Galinsky relates that some thirty-five years earlier, he was visiting with the venerable sage, the Steipler Gaon, zl. Suddenly, one of his granddaughters burst in and exclaimed, "Sabba! Sabba! There is a hechsher, Rabbinic supervision, on the chewing gum!" The Steipler smiled and said to Rav Galinsky, "Rav Yankele, look. They do not ask if they may chew gum or not. The only issue is kashrus. If there is a hechsher, it is already permissible to chew the gum. Perhaps, chewing gum might not be the proper thing to do."

The Maggid continues his discourse with the notion that we are trying to emulate the society "out there." To a certain extent, "they" influence the way we dress, the way we speak, they way we walk down the street, the way we eat, and where we eat. We have become "victims" of the society that engulfs us, no different than the effect of the flood on the Holy Land's environment. I recently had occasion to go out to dinner in a city I was visiting. The only semblance of Judaism in the establishment was the owner sitting in his office wearing a yarmulke and the sign that stated, "This establishment is under Rabbinic supervision." Otherwise, I could have been in Japan or in the Himalayas. The food did not have a "Jewish" appearance. It certainly was not served by anyone Jewish. The ambience in the restaurant was as far from Jewish as one can get. Yet, it was strictly kosher l'mehadrin! This is the way we have chosen to live and the lifestyle that we have chosen to adopt. The question is: Is this what "we" are all about? Do we really need the chewing gum? Did the Chafetz Chaim eat Chinese? Did he have a "yen" for it, or did he maintain a more "sophisticated" life? How did it affect his perspective on life? Did he lose out? I doubt it. I am only focusing on what seems to be an incessant need on our part to do everything as "they" do - as long as it's kosher. There is more to Judaism than "kosher." In other words, there is more to kosher than the ingredients and how the food is prepared.

Instead of taking pride in our individuality, our uniqueness, our distinctiveness, we are bending over backwards to mimic everything that contemporary society has chosen to venerate. Apparently, there must be something lacking in our collective self-esteem. Our sense of pride must have been left in another world, another culture, another lifestyle.

Rav Galinsky notes that when Leah Imeinu named her firstborn Reuven, Chazal suggest that she was intimating, Reu mah bein beni l'ben chami. "See the difference between my son and (Eisav) the son of my father-in-law. Eisav contemptuously sold the birthright to Yaakov - and then vowed to kill him. My son, Reuven, however, lost the birthright to Yosef, yet, not only did not hate him, he tried to save his life." Look at the difference. Leah emphasized the extraordinary character of her son. In contrast, we are trying to demonstrate how much like Eisav we can be - as long as it's kosher, of course. An admixture of kosher meat and cholov Yisrael is still treifah. It is not only the food that must be kosher. The person must be kosher. How he mixes his foods; how he eats them and under what circumstances: his total demeanor determines if he is an adam kosher.

The whole earth was of one language…and it came to pass when they migrated from the east they found a plain in the land of Shinar. (11:1,2)

At that time the world was united in language and goal. They all gathered in a central location. The stage was set for greatness to be achieved. Alas, the result was the opposite, as their unity in mind and location led to rebellion. One wonders why Hashem allowed them to convene in a place that eventually led to their downfall. If Hashem wanted to spare them from destruction, why did He allow them to assemble in the bikaah, plain/valley, as one consolidated unit? Eventually, He would have to intervene anyway. Why not do it before the fact, rather than later on?

Horav Yitzchak Elchanan Valdshein, zl, explains that the valley was the perfect setting for them to carry out their plans. They feared exile, because they wanted to achieve the ultimate expression of their physical natures and innate character traits. By remaining together, they could amalgamate their evil ways with one another. This way they could develop to the fullest and express the human potential for both bad and good. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna writes that each country has its own unique character and evil traits. In Germany, it is immorality. In Russia, it is thievery. Thus, a city like Danzig, which is on the border, "excels" in both. The people who built the Tower of Bavel had this goal in mind: meld together all of their individual evil traits to produce a nation capable of super evil which would battle with the Almighty.

Avraham Avinu was alive then. He taught monotheism and the love of one Superior G-d to the world. His teaching did not coincide with the objectives of the organizers of this valley of evil. They directed slanderous remarks against him, saying that he was incapable of procreation. Why were they threatened by him? He could not produce a following, an heir to his legacy.

They feared that, because he had no family of his own, he would make it his life's mission to proselytize to the world. Thus, it was crucial that they unite against him to offset his influence. Horav Nachman, zl, ,m'Breslov comments that just as the righteous find it difficult to overcome their physical side, so, too, do the wicked find it cumbersome to deal with their intellect. In other words, when the righteous triumph over their base desires, when they succeed in quelling the physical passions that arise within a human being, they feel a sense of satisfaction, a sense of fulfillment. Likewise, the wicked must do battle with their consciences, with the logic that tells them that they are wrong, that the path upon which they are treading leads to destruction. In order to continue on their path of iniquity, they must suppress the stirring of reason, the dynamic of logic that tells them that they are dead wrong.

It was evident to everyone that Avraham's path demanded extreme devotion and total self-sacrifice in the pursuit of good. To offset this, his antagonists knew that they had to dedicate themselves equally to the demanding task of evil by building the Tower of Bavel. When the world would take note of their intense efforts, their extreme devotion and sacrifice, it would deprecate the impact that Avraham was having.

They erred in one area. They were dedicating themselves to a vacuum, to emptiness and falsehood. All the sacrifice in the world is ineffective if the ideals are false. This is the nature of idol worship. It is vacuous. It is an attempt to shore up a false belief and to demonstrate to the world that what is wrong is right. This deception cannot work. Sooner or later, it will backfire, since it does not have a foundation of truth.

Hashem allowed them to locate the geographical presence which they needed to inhabit in their ruse. Why? Because He wanted all subsequent generations to learn from their shortcomings. They would serve as a model of how the many and the mighty could fall. The powerful were incapacitated when confronted by only one man - Avraham. He represented the truth. Falsehood cannot and will not prevail over the truth. The forces of evil mustered such incredible effort to stifle him. Yet, they were vanquished because the truth eventually shines forward and triumphs. We can win - if we continue fighting. If we believe in what we are doing; if we struggle with sincerity and integrity, we will succeed and emerge triumphant, for this battle is within our power and ability to win.

Va'ani Tefillah

I who have always trusted in Your loving kindness, my heart may jubilate because of Your salvation, I want to sing to Hashem when He brings His promises to fruition.

When a person receives an unexpected salvation: either because of a diminished sense of bitachon, trust, on his part, or, because the situation had seemed hopeless to him, the individual will feel a great sense of joy. After all, he thought it was over, and Hashem, as usual, came to the rescue. On the other hand, when the individual believes firmly that salvation will occur, he will not feel an unusual amount of joy, because he had never thought otherwise. He was always secure in the belief that he would emerge unscathed, successful from this situation. This person, however, has the opportunity to praise Hashem and to extol the incredible Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctification of the Name of Heaven,, that resulted from his salvation. This, of course, can only be executed after the fact. So, as Horav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, zl, the author of Techeilas Mordechai, sees it, the individual with bitachon expresses his joy only after salvation, because he always believed it would occur. His joy is not for his personal salvation, but, rather, for Hashem, whose Name becomes glorified. This is the meaning of the tefillah, "I have always trusted in Your salvation." Therefore, I always was secure in my belief that it would come. Nonetheless, afterwards, "My heart jubilates because of Your salvation," because now I am able to "sing to Hashem when He brings His promises to fruition."

Sponsored in loving memory of our
father and grandfather

Eliyahu ben Yaakov z"l
niftar 3 Cheshvan 5756

by Dr. & Mrs. Jacob Massuda

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

The Ninth volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.

He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588

Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.


This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel