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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Hashem instructed Noach to build an ark to save himself, his family and select creatures. Noach followed instructions, so that for the next one hundred twenty years he was busy building his ark. When people asked him what he was doing, his response was: "I am building an ark, because Hashem is going to destroy the world as we know it."

Apparently, the people did not take him seriously, as they continued their previous patterns, committing evil, exhibiting no respect for their fellow man. Since Noach was the preeminent leader of the generation, one would expect that he would have prayed for the people - a phenomenon which we do not note during these one hundred twenty years. In a startling statement, the Zohar HaKadosh posits that Noach deliberately did not pray for them. He feared that his prayer on behalf of the generation might have a negative impact upon him. Subconsciously, he felt that Hashem viewed him as righteous only in comparison to the members of his generation. If he were to pray for them and thereby ameliorate their iniquity, their status in Hashem's eyes would rise. While this would be wonderful for them, it might not accrue to Noach's advantage. After all, Hashem was appraising him relative to them. He might no longer be viewed as a tzaddik, righteous person, and, therefore, Hashem might not spare him.

Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, explains that this sentiment was buried quite deeply in Noach's subconscious, to the point that he was unaware of it. He derives from here that if one acts for his own personal interest, however innocuous it might be, it precludes him from thinking about his fellow man. It might be a slight infraction, but it is real. Something is lacking in his empathy for his fellow man. Whether he intends it or not, he simply does not give his all to his fellow man- if he prioritizes himself.

A leader does not think of himself as an individual, "he" does not exist - except as a member of the klal, community. Chazal teach us that when Shmuel HaNavi died and ascended to Heaven, he refused to go to his assigned place in Gan Eden until he had prayed for Klal Yisrael. Imagine, everything was ready and waiting for him, but he was not ready. He still had to daven for the people. The Tiferes Shlomo interprets Shmuel's stance to be reflecting the declaration of his mother, Chanah: v'nirah es Pnei Hashem, v'yashav sham ad olam. "And he shall appear before Hashem, and settle there forever." (Shmuel I, 1:22) Forever means, that even after he has left his earthly abode, his responsibility will not wane.

How can we be at peace, sing with joy, celebrate with laughter, knowing full well that there are Jews in our community and in other communities throughout the world that are suffering? We should walk into shul and look around, gaze at the attendees and realize that a number of these people have "issues" at home. By "issues" I mean anything that hinders the quality of their lives, whether they are financial, social, physical, etc. The least we can do is give a krechs, sigh, for them.

I remember reading about how Horav Avrohom Pam, zl, a man whose heart beat with the rhythm of Klal Yisrael, was menachem avel, comforted a young mourning couple, who had just tragically lost their young son. They were inconsolable, to say the least. At best, they would just sit there in a state of shock and disbelief. The Rosh Yeshivah walked into the house, which was filled with many people who either had nothing to say or, out of nervousness, talked about whatever came into their minds. As Rav Pam entered the room, people began to move over to make room for the venerable sage. He sat down right next to the father. All was quiet in anticipation of what the Rosh Yeshivah would say. He sat there a few moments saying nothing. The room was still. Suddenly, Rav Pam began to cry bitterly. His weeping reached a crescendo as he embraced the young father, who now opened up with bitter crying, his head on the Rosh Yeshivah's lap. Slowly, his wife came over and joined them. There was not a dry eye in the room; everybody witnessed this aged Rosh Yeshivah cradling a young father's head in his arms, as they wept bitterly together. During this entire time, Rav Pam did not utter a word. He simply cried with empathy. Then he stopped, stood up and said HaMakom, the blessing for mourners, and left the home. Shortly thereafter, the father related to a friend that Rav Pam had helped him immensely. He and his wife had been in a state of shock, unable to react, feeling powerless and inadequate. He opened up their emotions, giving them permission to mourn, to weep over their tragic loss. Rav Pam felt their pain as if it were his own. This was his hallmark.

And G-d spoke to Noach saying, "Go forth from the ark." (8:15, 16)

The Torah relates two instances in which a teivah, Ark, played a critical role in saving: either mankind or the Jewish People. During the generation of the Flood, Noach, his family and select members of every creature, other than fish, were spared from the raging waters of the Flood. When the Jews were ensconced in Egypt, the Moshian Shel Yisrael, the savior of the Jews, who would be Hashem's agent of rescue, was himself saved as an infant-- in the little ark that his mother had fashioned for him. Nothing happens by chance, and there is clearly a corollary between these two instances. A teivah, ark, shelters its occupants from the outside elements. In one case, it was from the destruction of mankind; in the other, it was from the villainous Egyptians. Is this all, or is there a deeper motif connected to the teivah?

We find that Noach left the Ark only when Hashem instructed him to do so. In Koheles Rabbah 10:4, Chazal teach us that just as Noach required permission from Hashem to enter the Ark, so, too, did he need permission to leave it. Why was this? It is understandable that he could not enter on his own. Hashem had to give the signal, inviting him in. If the only purpose of the teivah was to spare Noach and his family, however, was this not achieved as soon as the rain had stopped and the earth had dried? Obviously, the time to leave had arrived. Why did Noach stay in the Ark?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, zl, gives us an insight into the structure which we refer to as the teivah. When Hashem instructed Noach to build the Ark, He said: Kinnim taaseh es ha'teivah, "Make the Ark with compartments." (6:14) The Midrash adds that the word, ken, actually means a nest, alluding to the birds that were brought by the metzora, spiritual leper. Just as a bird-offering expiates the metzora's sin and purifies him, so did the ark purify its occupants.

Rav Gifter explains that the Ark was more than a floating redeemer from catastrophe. The Ark was a "school" which taught its occupants a vital lesson, which they would have to master in order to rebuild the world. Creation was the consummate act of chesed, kindness. It was the greatest act of altruism, because Hashem clearly did not need the world. He created it in order to bestow chesed on its inhabitants and in order that man do likewise. Sadly, man's inability to live in harmony with his co-inhabitants led to the world's near destruction. Rebuilding the world would require the same foundation of chesed, and continuing its existence would require that man live in harmony with his fellow man. In order to facilitate this recreation of the world, the inhabitants of the Ark, the new builders of the world, would have to absorb the character trait of chesed into their psyches. It had to become an integral part of their essence.

The Ark was the establishment which facilitated the instruction and indoctrination of the people in the demands of chesed. Whether it was looking after one another, or attending to the animals' needs, Noach and his family became acutely aware that life in the ark depended only on the chesed that they performed. Without chesed, there was no hope for life. Their "graduation" would occur when Hashem decided that they had achieved the goals that He had intended for them. They would receive their "diploma" and would then be ready to leave the Ark. Hashem had to make that decision - not Noach. This was not merely a boat. It was a school of instruction in the middah, attribute, of chesed.

Having said this, we now understand the significance of the teivah during the generation of the Flood. What was the crucial significance, however, of the teivah for Moshe Rabbeinu, the future leader of Klal Yisrael and its quintessential rebbe? Perhaps we might suggest the following: When Moshe lay in a little reed basket on the river all by himself, he cried to Hashem Who was the One who would listen. This was his leadership training seminar. A leader must be acutely aware that at times his flock has no one to turn to except him, as their leader and Hashem's agent. He must empathize with their plight and feel their pain. To do this, he must experience firsthand the meaning of loneliness, being forsaken and left to float on a river in a small, flimsy basket. He must understand that there are members of his congregation who cry alone and who need moral, spiritual and emotional support from him - because they feel they have no one else. The leader must experience the travail of loneliness. He must learn to cry to Hashem. Moshe did. The little reed basket was his schoolhouse.

Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness. (9:22)

According to one opinion in Chazal, Cham castrated Noach. Rashi explains that Cham was concerned that his father might have a fourth son. When one reads the account of this episode, it is difficult to digest. Cham was Noach's son and, as such, could not have been as evil as we are led to believe. If that is so, what sensible excuse can be given to somehow rationalize his miscreant behavior? Where do we find an act as repugnant as castrating one's father? This is taking "low" to new depths.

Horav Dovid Povarsky, zl, explains that Cham acted more out of selfishness than malevolence. Recognizing that he was on a lower spiritual plane than his two brothers, he was not willing to accept the possibility of his father having another son who would also tower over him. He could not tolerate another "put down." Therefore, he acted in a manner unbecoming a decent human being-- and certainly unbecoming a son-- but, he was not malicious. He had a perverted sense of self-preservation. The Torah would not relate the activities of one who was essentially evil. He acted in an evil manner, because he was a troubled individual with conflicting objectives. Indeed, he suffered spiritually, because he realized how distant he was from spiritual achievement.

A similar insight may be expressed concerning Kayin, who, even after committing the first murder, still remained a navi, prophet, who was able to speak with Hashem. Apparently, his actions, although heinous, could be rationalized by his troubled mind. He became distraught over Hashem's rejection of his sacrifice. It was an indication that his spiritual plateau left something to be desired. He reacted irrationally, but in a manner that his troubled mind could justify. It is easy to label someone a rasha, wicked person. It takes much more character to seek out the positive in someone that manifests such destructive behavior.

Cursed is Canaan, a slave of slaves shall he his brothers (9:25)

The Midrash wonders why Noach cursed Canaan, Cham's son, rather than Cham himself. After all, the perpetrator is the one who should be punished - not his son. They explain that when Noach and his sons left the teivah, ark, Hashem had blessed them. When Hashem bestows blessing, that individual can no longer become an object for curse. Once Cham had been blessed, he could no longer be cursed. Since he caused Noach to become infertile, however, so that he could no longer have a fourth son, Hashem cursed Cham's fourth son, Canaan.

Based upon this principle, the Siach Yitzchak explains in a novel manner the statement in the Talmud Beitzah 16 regarding a man's yearly livelihood. Chazal tell us that all of one's annual provisions are decreed on Rosh Hashanah, except for the expenditures for Shabbos, Yom Tov and teaching his sons Torah. Why is Shabbos excluded from the curse of: "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread?" (Bereishis 3:19) What makes this mitzvah so unique that it escapes the curse that hangs over our heads? It is because Hashem blessed Shabbos: "And G-d blessed the seventh day." (Bereishis 2:3) When there has been a blessing, there can be no curse.

While this explanation is undisputable, we wonder why teaching one's children Torah is excluded from the curse. Incidentally, this would be an interesting Chazal to share with parents who have a difficult time with tuition payments for their children's Torah education. Tuition is no different than the expenses one has for Shabbos. It is not included in the curse, "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread." Why? Hashem did not bless this mitzvah more than He did the others, as He blessed Shabbos.

Perhaps the uniqueness of this mitzvah lies in its enduring legacy. The survival of our people is guaranteed through the Torah education that is transmitted from generation to generation. Without the Torah that parents impart to their children, there are no mitzvos and no Yiddishkeit. We have to peruse history and look at those generations that did not have the option of teaching their children Torah. Regrettably, they became spiritually distant from our nation. A mitzvah that is so crucial to our survival cannot be contingent on money.

The lessons children receive from their parents, both directly and indirectly-positive, as well as negative-remain their lifelong companions. I had occasion recently to daven Shacharis in a small makeshift minyan in a resort city which is usually devoid of Jewish people, but was now catering to the transient tourist crowd. That morning there were about fifteen men from all walks of life and all phases of the Jewish spectrum in attendance. Some wore kipot, while others wore black velvet yarmulkes; yet others were in shorts and sandals, and others in dark suits, white shirts or chassidishe frocks. These were the "remnants" of the Jewish community touring the area who recognized the significance of tefillah b'tzibur, davening with a minyan. After davening, I made it a point to ask a number of the guests why they had driven across town to attend davening. Incidentally, it was Rosh Chodesh Elul. Their response was, "Davening with a minyan is important to me. I was raised with it. My father made a big thing out of going to shul in the morning, and it is something that has remained with me." It was part of the way they had been raised. It was their spiritual legacy.

Throughout the generations, Jewish parents have devoted themselves-- to the point of self-sacrifice-- in an effort to ensure their children's spiritual survival. I have previously used the following story in these pages, but its message is so poignant that I feel it is worth repeating. It is the story of a small piece of scrap paper, a father and son, and the Warsaw Ghetto. Shortly after World War II, a small a small piece of scrap paper was found on which a sentence in Hebrew was written. It made its way to a museum - a memory of a lost world, a relic of "ancient" history.

The paper carried a powerful message, a message ignored by the secular museum, but one that we should value and assimilate into our lives. A group of people had been hiding in a bunker for a number of weeks. Deprived of food and sanitary conditions, the future appeared bleak indeed. The mere fact that they knew that any moment they could be discovered and shot was enough to ameliorate their pangs of hunger. Nonetheless, amid the misery and travail, they persevered and planned for the future. Their past was gone, but they aspired for a better future. Lamentably, it was not to be realized.

That piece of paper represented their hope. It was an indication that these beleaguered Jews believed in a future - perhaps not for themselves personally - but for Klal Yisrael. The paper contained a simple Hebrew verse, a pasuk from davening: Ashrei yoshvei veisecha od yahallelucha selah. Beneath the pasuk were the corresponding letters - aleph, shin, reish, yud - together with the accompanying nekudos, vowels. This piece of paper was not a prayer; it was a lesson in aleph-beis!

Hiding in the bunker, a father and his young son huddled together, as the father taught his child the aleph-beis. Torah learning is the lifeblood of our people, and it did not come to a halt in the Warsaw Ghetto. Torah has survived and prevailed over the Crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, and ghettos. With the staccato sounds of machine-gun fire penetrating the walls of the bunker, a father spent what might have been his last moments on this earth teaching his son Torah. The torch of the Mesorah, tradition, the chain that stretches back to Sinai, was being transmitted to yet another generation. The piece of paper does not indicate whether the father and son physically survived the Holocaust. One thing is certain: they touched eternity; they linked up with past generations that had sacrificed and prevailed, laying the groundwork for our People's future redemption.

Va'ani Tefillah

Einei kol eilecha yesabeiru
V'Atah nosein lahem es achlam b'ito.
The eyes of all expectantly look forward to You, and You give them food in the proper time.

The Chafetz Chaim, zl, notes the shift in this pasuk's focus from the third person to atah, You, in second person. He cites Chazal who say that three keys of salvation were not given over to an agent/angel; one of them was the key to parnassah, livelihood, which comes directly from Hashem. The reason for this is that if parnassah were to be given over to an agent to decide, then many people might not be sustained. Agents simply do not have Hashem's compassion and, thus, will be particular about whom they will support. Hashem, however, is the nosein lechem l'chol basar, One Who gives bread to all creatures." We now understand why the pasuk speaks in second person. It is only because You, Hashem, are the One Who sustains each and every creature at the proper time, so that we are able to have parnassah. If a shaliach of Hashem, agent of the Almighty, were to have power over our livelihood, it would be much more difficult for everyone to be supported.

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