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PARSHAS NOACHThese are the offspring of Noach - Noach was a righteous man. (6:9)
The pasuk begins with an introduction: the following are Noach's offspring. Yet, rather than mention any names, it goes on to praise Noach as a righteous person. What happened to his offspring? Rashi quotes the Midrash which teaches that one's primary "offspring" are his good deeds. This is especially true concerning the tzaddik whose entire life is devoted to the performance of good deeds.
A young man who had been married for some time-- and had not yet been blessed with children-- had occasion to bring something to the venerable Rebbe of Gur, the Lev Simchah. The Rebbe was appreciative. He then said the following: "Rashi quotes the Midrash that teaches that the primary offspring of a person are his good deeds. The holy Rebbe of Peshischa, Rav Bunim, zl, taught that in Heaven there are a number of 'gates'. The gate for banim, children, is situated right next to the gate for gemillas chassadim, good deeds. (This means that the access for prayer and reward flows through these 'gates.') When a person stands by the gate of gemillas chassadim (because he has performed numerous good deeds), it is possible to 'sneak' into the gate which provides children." The young man understood the Rebbe's implied blessing. The following year Hashem blessed him with a child.
I write this story due to its veiled message. From a purely psychological viewpoint, it makes sense that the individual who enhances the lives of others by performing good deeds reflects an inherently selfless nature. Positive parenting occurs when parents maintain a sense of selflessness with regard to their children. A tzaddik is a person for whom selfhood does not play an active role. It is all about Hashem and the Jewish People. Perhaps this is why the primary "offspring" of the righteous are their good deeds. One good deed leads to "another."
And the earth had become filled with robbery. (6:13)
Rashi explains that the fate of the people of that generation was sealed as a result of theft. The members of the dor hamabul, generation of the Flood, were guilty of many other and more egregious transgressions. Why did theft play such a critical role in their fate? Furthermore, it is a well-established maxim that Hashem does not exact punishment on a person's body until He has exhausted all other avenues of punishment. We see that the individual who is guilty of behavior which brings on the onset of tzaraas, spiritual leprosy, first notices the plague on his house and his possessions before Hashem strikes him personally on his body. Hashem gives him various hints concerning his deficient behavior, various opportunities to repent and change his ways, thereby circumventing the tzaraas that affects his body. Why, then, did the dor hamabul not receive Hashem's message enacted on their possessions prior to receiving the ultimate punishment?
The Maharam Schick, zl, explains that it is only when one obtains his possessions through appropriate means that they can save him, that they serve as a medium for delaying his personal punishment. If, however, his material belongings have found their way into his possession through illegal avenues, then they are not really his. That which is not his cannot protect him. Thus, if one steals, his possessions do not protect him, because they are not his. This is the meaning of the idea that the fate of the dor hamabul was sealed as a result of theft. Their possessions could not protect them, because they had been obtained illegally.
This is a powerful message to those who feel that they can "have their cake and eat it too." One who obtains money through means that are less than honest loses the protective coating that his possessions could potentially avail him. Not only is he a thief, but he will pay dearly with his health and welfare for his corruption.
In an alternative exposition, the Tiferes Shlomo explains that ki malah ha'aretz chamas, "The earth had become filled with robbery," was actually a middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, payback for the way the people of that generation were treating one another. He begins by asking how theft could have such a powerful condemning effect that the entire generation was wiped out as a result of this form of corruption. Animals steal from one another all of the time. So, these people had descended to the level of animals. Does this behavior mandate such severe punishment?
He quotes the Midrash that relates that Avraham Avinu met Shem ben Noach and asked him in what merit his family had been spared from the effects of the Flood. Shem replied that he did not know, other than the fact that they had devoted themselves for an entire year, day and night, to serving the needs of all the creatures on board the Ark. Perhaps, in this merit, Hashem had spared them.
As a result of their incredible compassion for the creatures in their charge, Hashem repaid them with exceedingly great compassion. The members of the dor hamabul, however, were thieves who did not care for one another. Another person's feelings meant nothing to them. If they could have exhibited compassion to others, Hashem would have had compassion on them and not sent the waters of the Flood. When the members of a generation are steeped in chamas, theft, when they show no feeling towards others, then they deserve none for themselves. Hashem has rachmanus, compassion, for those who manifest compassion towards others.
The end of all flesh has come before Me. (6:13)
Simply, this means that the immorality of this generation had exceeded all boundaries. A people that behave so immorally, who are filled with such corruption, have forfeited their right to existence. Their end must come. Hashem told Noach to build an Ark and take his time doing it, so that maybe the people would repent, thereby averting the decree issued against them. The Kli Yakar interprets this statement with a homiletic twist. "The end of all flesh has come before Me": When is there an end to all flesh? This refers to the yom ha'missah, day of death, when the immortal soul severs its relationship with its temporary residence, the body, and the person (as we know him) dies. Hashem said to Noach, "The yom ha'missah has come before Me with a complaint. It laments the fact that people no longer either remember or care about the meaning of death. They have lost all sight of the fact that life is temporal. No one lives forever. I countered, 'How do you know that people have forgotten about You?' The yom ha'missah replied, 'For the land is filled with corruption. Is it possible that someone who is acutely aware that he is going to die (and answer for his way of life) would be so corrupt? Apparently, they have lost sight of reality.'"
Remembering that he is mortal is the last frontier for salvation for the individual. Realizing that one is not here forever is considered by Chazal the last and most potent argument for preventing him from abdicating and falling prey to the wiles of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination. Chazal teach that when an individual senses the yetzer hora taking the leading edge over him, he should study Torah. If this is not successful in overpowering the cunning of the evil-inclination, he should recite Shema Yisrael.
If this, too, does not resolve his dilemma, he should remind himself of his own mortality. The realization that he will die and have to answer for his behavior should be sufficient deterrent from sin. If it is not - then he is at the same point of no return reached by the dor hamabul, generation of the Flood.
Horav Sholom Schwadron, zl, was wont to give greater meaning to the concept of yazkir lo yom ha'missah, "Let him bring to mind the day of death," with the following incident: The Maggid was visiting America on one of his many trips. At the time, he was the guest of a wealthy family that supported many Torah causes. He was taking a "tour" of the house when he came to a room which surprisingly, did not have a mezuzah on its doorpost. (Perhaps the owner thought that since the room served a secular purpose, it did not require a mezuzah). Lying on the table situated in the middle of the room was a large coffee table size book, which was more like an album, dedicated to the life of President John F. Kennedy, one of America's most beloved leaders, who was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. He was a young man with a wonderful future, whose life had been cut short by an assassin's bullet.
In the first picture, one saw a smiling President Kennedy getting into his open presidential limousine. He seemed like he did not have a care in the world. The whole world seemed to be smiling with him. The second picture showed the crowds of well-wishers and spectators lining the route that his car was taking. The third picture showed the President and the First Lady in the car, surrounded by his secret service. The fourth picture showed the President falling over, the victim of a shot to the head. The next few pictures depicted the scene of the tragedy: the ambulance rushing to the hospital; the doctors meeting the ambulance; the doctors rushing to surgery; the sad-faced surgeon leaving the operating room; and then, the last picture: his grave.
As Rav Sholom stared at the pictures, Chazal's statement, yazkir lo yom ha'missah, came to mind. A person must realize and internalize the thought that at any moment his life could change, and even worse - it could, chas v'shalom, Heaven forbid, end. It is all in the pictures. A few snapshots depict the ultimate prestige, the epitome of happiness, and just a few pictures later, one sees the bitter end. From the limousine to the grave in a few snapshots; a few hours that changed the life of a young president on top of the world, and, incidentally, also changed the course of the world.
Rav Sholom now adds his observation. If a person would sense that he could very well die the very next day, that tonight would be his last Maariv, evening prayer; would he daven in the same manner that he has during the past years? Do we ever think that tonight could be our last Maariv, our last Krias Shema?
How many spouses have bemoaned not saying "goodbye" with more feeling when their husbands/wives left for the day - not to return? How many of us "planned" on settling disputes, only to discover that it is too late, the Malach HaMaves, Angel of Death, settled it for us? We read this and say, "Tomorrow, I will change," but what if there is no tomorrow?
All of the foolishness that man wrought throughout life can be directly attributed to a lack of awareness conveying the yom ha'missah. This does not suggest that one be morbid and walk around depressed all day, thinking that he might die at any moment - but he should have a balanced approach.
Make for yourself an Ark of gopher wood. (6:14)
Rashi explains that, indeed, Hashem had a wealth of ways to save Noach. The Teivah, Ark, was not for Noach; rather, Noach worked for one hundred and twenty years building this incredibly large boat, so that the curious spectators would question Noach, who would impart the message of impending doom. Perhaps this would motivate them to repent. In other words, the sole purpose of the Ark was to inspire the people to do teshuvah, repent. Hashem's boundless compassion for His creations is so great that He held off the punishment which they certainly deserved, just because they might repent.
We derive a powerful lesson from here. Check your messages. Things happen which, for the most part, are inexplicable. If we were to open our eyes and engage our brain, we might realize that Hashem is speaking to us. For example, something happens to a friend, a member of the community, even someone whom we do not know, but we know someone who does know him. This person has sustained a frightening experience, a serious medical incident, an economic loss. Does it ever enter our minds that perhaps Hashem is sending us a message? Are we guilty of infractions similar to those attributed to the other person? In other words, are we like him, and Hashem is demonstrating His compassion by sending us a subtle message to get our act together before we follow in the other fellow's footsteps?
And behold! An olive leaf it had plucked with its bill. (8:11)
The Midrash teaches that, in addition to representatives of every living creature which Noach brought with him into the Teivah, Ark, he also brought seeds and shoots from all types of vegetation. The purpose was simple: He and all the creatures would survive, but what would they eat? From what would they sustain themselves? There was one plant which he did not take: the olive. In their commentary to the Torah, the Baalei Tosfos explain that the olive cannot endure one full year out of the soil. Thus, it would not have survived on the Ark. Therefore, it is interesting that when Noach sent the dove out to investigate if the Flood waters had finally receded, it returned with an olive leaf. How did the olive survive the Flood? Everything else perished. This teaches us that, when Hashem commands us to do something, it is not necessarily for our sake as our only means of salvation. Hashem can do anything, and every option continues to be available to Him. He decided that Noach should spend one hundred and twenty years building an ark, and that he and all the living creatures which were spared the effects of the Flood should escape on it. This does not mean that the Ark was the only medium of rescuing Noach. Hashem could have saved him through a host of different paths. He wanted the Ark! Indeed, the olive had no ark, yet it remained standing in full bloom despite the waters of the Flood.
Every avenue for escape and salvation is open to Hashem. He does not require Noach or the Ark. He simply wanted to provide Noach an opportunity for zchus, merit, to go down in history as the man who rescued humanity. Hashem does not require man's assistance. This is one of the yesodei ha'daas, principles of our belief. We have been gifted a plethora of Torah to study and mitzvos to observe, purely for our own reward. The world does not require our input in order to achieve its purpose. Our activities are solely for our own benefit.
Following the European Holocaust, during which the world of Torah was almost destroyed, some of the remnants, firebrands plucked from the burning flames of destruction, assembled in Yerushalayim to discuss how these few remaining Roshei Yeshivah could band together to create a renaissance, a rebuilding of the Torah world that once was. Everyone spoke passionately about the terrible loss, the irreparable damage that the Torah world had sustained, and each gave his advice concerning the future. They knew that they had to build, but how?
In the midst of the discussion, the Ponevezer Rav, zl, rose from his seat and declared, "Rabbosai, my dear colleagues! You are all mistaken in your approach toward rejuvenating Torah. The Torah does not need our help! Hashem made a promise Ki lo sishkach mipi zaro, 'It (the Torah) will not be forgotten from His children.' The world of Torah will blossom with or without us. The question that confronts us is not, 'What will happen to the world of Torah?' No! The question is: 'How can we be involved? How can we share in its rebuilding?' What are we willing to do in order to have a zchus in the regeneration of Torah in the post-Holocaust era? What are we prepared to do to have a part in Torah study in which future generations will be involved?"
Haran died in the lifetime of Terach his father. (11:28)
Haran was the brother of Avraham Avinu. Very little is written about him, because he did not live very long, and, for all intents and purposes, he did not seem to have achieved very much. This is the first mistake. When we judge a person's life accomplishments, we must do it with a lens that sees far beyond our first impression. Also, we must take into consideration that Hashem rewards every person in accordance with his own personal barometer of values. Thus, if a person devotes his life to material pursuits, the chances are that his reward will be material in nature. A person whose overriding concern has been his spiritual dimension will be rewarded in kind. He might be poor and have very little material bouny to speak of, but his spiritual satisfaction and pleasure are immense; thus, it is all worth the effort amid what seem to be deprivations.
This idea may be noted from the life of Haran. Indeed, Haran went down in history as the first person to die Al Kiddush Hashem, to sanctify Hashem's Name. His brother, Avraham, was teaching the world about monotheism, and Haran became a believer - indeed, originally, one of the very few who took Avraham's rhetoric to heart. We all know the story. Avraham battered all of the idols of his father, Terach, and placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When Terach saw the destruction, he asked his son what had occurred. Avraham explained that a dispute had broken out among the idols and the biggest one settled it in the way that he knew best. Terach knew that his son was making jest, since how can an idol made by man have power? On the other hand, such talk could hurt the idol business. Avraham might have been his son, but business was business!
Terach proceeded to King Nimrod, who immediately decided to put Avraham to a test. He was going to throw Avraham into a fiery cauldron. If his G-d would protect him, then he would emerge unscathed. Otherwise, he would receive his just punishment for shattering the idols. As we all know, our Patriarch materialized from the flames unharmed. His brother, Haran, was a spectator to this sanctification of Hashem's Name. When he saw his brother's miraculous deliverance from certain death, he became spiritually energized and declared that he, too, believed in Hashem. Nimrod said, "Fine, you can also take the fire test." Haran was not so lucky. His faith was superficial and not worthy of a miracle. Nonetheless, he died as a result of his declaration of faith in Hashem. He is, therefore, the first person to give up his life to sanctify the Name of the Almighty.
Clearly, this is an impressive distinction, an item to be listed on his spiritual resume, but did he receive any reward for this act of faith (superficial faith, but faith, no less)? The Chasam Sofer, zl, explains that Haran, indeed, received a unique reward. He was the progenitor of all our nation's Matriarchs! His daughter, Yiskah, was actually Sarah Imeinu. His daughter, Milkah, married Nachor, who together were the grandparents of Rivkah Imeinu. Rivkah had an older brother, named Lavan, who had four daughters, two of whom were Rachel Imeinu and Leah Imeinu, and the other two were Bilhah and Zilpah, the mothers of some of the Shevatim. Haran had a son, named Lot, who, in a manner which left much to be desired, was the progenitor of Rus, who married Boaz and became the progenitress of Malchus Bais David, the Davidic dynasty; and Naamah, who married Shlomo Hamelech, and was the mother of his son and successor, Rechavam.
The lesson to be derived from here is that Hashem rewards those who sanctify His Name. The reward is such that one sees the value of his dedication through even greater sanctification of Hashem's Name. Haran gave his life. In return, he received a reward of generations of countless committed Jews whose raison d'etre is the sanctification of Hashem's Name.
Horav Shlomo Levenstein, Shlita, relates that he was menachem avel, visited the mourner's home, of a family whose father had passed away leaving over sons who were distinguished Torah scholars and leaders in various communities. The deceased had been a simple Jew, deeply committed to Torah observance. Indeed, his commitment to Torah and mitzvos was paramount in his life. Clearly, this was indicative by the education which his sons received and the choices that they made for their vocations. Nonetheless, Rav Levenstein felt that for a man to have had such Torah nachas, satisfaction, from his offspring, he must have had exceedingly great merit. He asked his sons about their father's life. Perhaps he could garner some clue to the source of this nachas.
"Our father was from Haifa. In his early years, he had stock in the company which was the forerunner of Egged Bus Company. The economic situation in the country was extremely challenging. People did not have enough to eat. He was fortunate to have an income from his stock. This went on until someone raised the question concerning the appropriateness of having stock in a Jewish cooperative company that was actively being mechallel Shabbos, desecrating Shabbos. He presented the question to Rav Klein who was Rav in Haifa. The Rav instructed him to go to Bnei Brak and ask the Chazon Ish.
"Father spent a good part of the day traveling to Bnei Brak, and he was finally allowed into the room of the Chazon Ish. The sage was in bed due to his poor health. Our father asked the question; the Chazon Ish replied: 'Assur, prohibited;' and that was it. Our father immediately returned home, sold his stock and began job hunting.
"Six months elapsed with no luck. We no longer had any money in the bank. His father-in-law helped whenever he could. This, too, did not last. He had various odd jobs that came along, but never for very long. Finally, our father found steady work as a soap salesman. He walked around all day with a sack filled with soap slung over his shoulder, as he went door to door, climbing long flights of stairs, to sell his soap. It was difficult work- and humiliating - to boot, but it kept food on the table.
"One day, Father was walking down the street carrying the heavy sack on his shoulder, when he met Horav Menachem Tzvi Berlin, Shlita, Rosh Yeshivah Rabbeinu Chaim Ozer, who commented to him, "You are not carrying a sack of soap on your shoulder. You are carrying Shabbos on your shoulder!" This gave our father tremendous chizuk, encouragement (as it should inspire the readers as well).
"Father purchased an old Egged bus, which he converted into a delivery truck for hauling paper. His next venture was a small store where he sold frozen vegetables. This business lasted until the Shemittah, Sabbatical year (when one abstains from working his field, allowing the produce of the land to be considered ownerless), which raised numerous halachic questions concerning the origin of the produce he was purchasing. He sold that business, and he went to work for a yeshivah as its handyman.
"Father worked hard his entire life. Well into his eighties he would work from early morning until evening. He was extremely proud of the many endeavors he had given up in order to remain a committed Jew. Once, he met a friend from his old days as an Egged bus driver. The friend was surprised that our father was still putting in a whole day's work. 'Imagine, if you would not have left your position, you could be like the rest of us, with a comfortable pension, a government apartment, a car. Instead, you are working day and night - when you should be relaxing.'
"Father heard this, he immediately made an about-face and returned to the yeshivah where he worked. He went over to the first student that he saw, and, in an excited voice, said to him, 'What does he (pointing to his friend outside) have? A car? A pension? An apartment? Does any of that compare to what I have? I established an entire generation! I made a firm commitment to the future of our People! That is what I have!'"
This was all the result of his overarching commitment to sanctifying Hashem's Name, relinquishing wealth and opportunity for Torah and mitzvos. Hashem reimbursed him in kind. He indicated that there was more to life than a few dollars, a car, and an apartment. He wanted to be immortalized by generations of Torah observant progeny. Hashem granted him his wish.
V'lo sasuru acharei levavchem. Do not explore after your heart.
Upon perusing the explanations offered by the various commentators, one may deduce four primary interpretations for the word sasuru, which we translate as we "explore". The first sasuru is related to spying/searching/reconnaissance, words which imply intense seeking for weaknesses. Second, sasuru is also related to turning away/deviating from a chosen path. Third, it may also be related to nosar, which means leftover, as in the leftovers of a korban, ritual sacrifice. Last, we find it related to tatiru, making permissible.
We might integrate all four interpretations. One begins with nosar, leftover time, too much freedom, boredom, with nothing to do, no practical purpose in life. Boredom leads to looking for an outlet, which is usually not one that is appropriate, since he is approaching it for the wrong reasons. Boredom, however, does that. We now have a bored person looking for an outlet which is probably far from appropriate. The problem is that it is not permissible. How does one get around the prohibitions? He finds a heter; if someone looks hard enough, with a little creativity, he might luck out and get his dispensation. The fellow who has too much time on his hands is drowning in a sea of lack of purpose. He looks very hard and finds a dispensation, which, in his small mind, permits him to circumvent that which is commonly prohibited. As a result, he turns away, deviates from the prescribed path that Hashem has instructed us to follow. Four interpretations; four steps that lead to infamy.
R' Eliezer ben R' Yitzchak Chaim z"l
niftar 12 Cheshvan 5766
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