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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Noach

Noach was a righteous man...Noach walked with Hashem. (6:9)

Noach walked with Hashem. This seems to be a positive comment about Noach's virtue, until we note that the Torah writes about Avraham Avinu, "Hashem before whom I walked," (Bereishis 24:40). Rashi notes that Avraham walked in front, without assistance. Noach walked with Hashem; he needed the support of the Almighty to maintain his spiritual strength. Without prompting from Above, Noach would have faltered. Avraham, on the other hand, had the spiritual fortitude to single-handedly override the challenges that confronted him. Chazal use the term, "hisorrerus d'l'eila," inspired from Above, in reference to Noach's spiritual commitment. In contrast, Avraham Avinu was "misorrer," inspired himself, to serve Hashem.

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, observes that the spiritual difference between Avraham and Noach resulted in the latter's inability to transmit his beliefs to the next generations. A ben Noach is still a ben Noach with only seven mitzvos to fulfill. He is spiritually impaired, always in need of outside support to maintain his spiritual plateau. Avraham's descendants, however, undertake the spiritual challenge on their own. They look for ways to grow in Torah, accepting responsibility to reach out to the unaffiliated, to better themselves, to move closer to Hashem.

The litmus test for a ben Torah is his ability to ascend on his own in his spiritual dimension. His spiritual drive must be apparent in his every endeavor. Complacency is anathema to the ben Torah. Children growing up in a home where there is no motivation, no vigor, no enthusiasm for Torah will have no guidelines in their personal quest. We harvest what we sow, cultivate and nurture. That which we ignore will produce nothing. Such a lifestyle has little chance of producing a generation that will be spiritually productive.

Hashem said to Noach, "The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them." (6:13)

The people had become overtly corrupt. At first they committed immorality and idolatry. Then their sinning "progressed" to blatant robbery. Their covert sins led to overt corruption, for which Hashem would not forgive them. Rashi cites Chazal, who say that, indeed, Hashem did not seal their verdict until they began stealing from one another. This is enigmatic. Is stealing more sinful than immorality, idolatry and murder?

Horav Dov Eliezrov, zl, explains that while stealing is certainly not as evil as the three cardinal sins of immorality, murder and idolatry, it is, however, the bitter root of evil. It indicates the true evil within a person. A person who steals demonstrates his lack of belief that Hashem determines the amount of material possessions he will hold during the year. He shows that he does not trust Hashem to provide for him. One who steals displays a total moral breakdown. He is prepared to do anything to fulfill his needs. He will even take someone's life if he is challenged. In other words, stealing indicates that the other sins are not just the result of a temporary lust or error in religious perspective. Rather, they are the consequence of man's rebellion against the Almighty.

Furthermore, one who steals may be prepared to take someone's wife, if he so desires. He does not understand that Hashem has given certain possessions to certain people - and, in this instance, destined to be the owner. What belongs to my neighbor is his by right; it is his because Hashem has "given" it to him. One who challenges this idea, challenges Hashem. When the people of that generation broke down the boundaries indicating human possession, they showed their lack of conviction in Hashem. This was the true source of their iniquities. They no longer deserved to be forgiven, for they had progressed beyond the point of possible return.

Cham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers outside. (9:22)

Noach's other two sons, Shem and Yafes, remained outside the tent out of respect for their father. They had no desire to take part in their father's degradation. Not so Cham, who boldly entered the tent and emerged later to relate the scene that he had witnessed. Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer comments on the depravity of Cham. He himself was a father who should have set an example for his own children. He should have felt different about debasing his father, knowing fully well the impression this would leave on his own children. No, he took pleasure in observing and relating his father's abuse. This was Cham, a man who neither cared for his father nor was concerned about the impact his abuse would have upon his own children.

Horav S.R. Hirsch,zl, remarks that by emphasizing the words, "avi Canaan," "the father of Canaan," the Torah focuses on the degenerate population of Canaan and the reason for their perversion. The source of their corruption was their ancestor, Cham. Klal Yisrael was involved with two nations, both descendants of Cham: Egypt and Canaan. In Egypt, Klal Yisrael were exposed to social decadence. Canaan was a nation replete with moral decay. Klal Yisrael witnessed the downfall of both these nations. The Torah alludes to the genesis of their depravity - the relationship between Cham and his father. The breakdown of the ancestral home, reflected in the lack of respect of a son for his father, was manifest in the total social and moral decay of all descendants.

Our world is built upon the relationship between child and parent. When children find something of value to respect in their parents, such as their moral rectitude, their spiritual being, their kindness and goodwill,they develop in a healthy manner. When all they can venerate is the physical aspect of their parents, when they no longer feel a sense of decency in respecting their parents, then the relationship has been terminated. They receive no legacy from the past to pass on to the future. They have nothing to transmit but stories of moral decay. This is what Klal Yisrael saw when they came to Canaan. They were told, "Do you know why this nation fell to such a nadir of depravity?" It all began with their grandfather, Cham, who committed the first act of disrespect. It fermented into a way of life. These are the consequences of a single immoral act.

They said, "Come, let us build a city for ourselves and a tower whose top will be in the heavens, and we will make a name for ourselves. (11:4)

"We will make a name for ourselves" is the attitude one would expect from an individual with an insecure ego. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, remarks that becoming aware of one's ego can lead to two possible attitudes: humility or arrogance. An obsession with one's insignificance can either stimulate one to do something for the common good, to serve humanity, or it can drive him to defy what he believes is an inexorable destiny, to break the shackles of human limitations by revolting against Hashem. The people of that generation chose arrogance. They could not accept the fact that one's worth, his personal success, is measured by his contribution to society. Their tower was a useless facade, the concretization of an obsessive ego bent on rebellion against the Almighty. The tower was a grotesque monument to their presumptuous pride, to a society who thought they could eradicate the eternal periphery that exists between man and G-d. They dreamed of greatness. They had delusions of grandeur.

Hashem scattered them across the earth, creating seventy distinct nations. He separated them with geographic barriers and impeded their communication with the obstacles of different languages and cultures. They could no longer unite to form a coalition for the purpose of rebelling against Hashem. They now realized the futility of their dreams, the folly of their actions. Weakened, and obliged to depend upon their own resources, deprived of their unions and coalitions, they would each be compelled to utilize his individual strengths for the good of humanity.

Their collective mistake was in each seeking to establish a name for himself. That is not the Torah way. A Jew's purpose in life is to "likra b'Shem Hashem," glorify Hashem's Name. He is to follow in the footsteps of our forefather, Avraham Avinu. Although Avraham Avinu was born in a pagan country to pagan parents, he reached out to a world, not to "make a name for himself," but rather to call out in the name of G-d. He endeavored to instill His Name in others, inspiring them with His laws. He sought to teach them the meaning of love and kindness, to serve as the symbol of peace between G-d and man. We are acutely aware of our infinitesimal paltriness compared to the Almighty. Yet, we realize the opportunity to achieve greatness by concentrating our efforts to glorify His Name.

Now these are the chronicles of Terach, Terach begot Avram, Nachor and Haran...Haran died in the lifetime of Terach his father. (11:27,28)

The Torah traces the genealogy of Avraham Avinu. It records the names of his two brothers, Nachor and Haran, and adds that Haran died during his father Terach's lifetime. Rashi cites the Midrash that claims that Haran actually died because of his father. Terach was an idol merchant who complained to the wicked Nimrod that his son, Avraham, had smashed his wares. Nimrod could not tolerate that someone "defaced" his idols, so he threw Avraham into a fiery furnace. Haran was challenged to decide between his brother and his king. Should he follow Avraham, whose belief in monotheism made sense? Or should he follow what was in vogue at the time and side with Nimrod? Vacillating back and forth, he decided to side with Avraham - if he emerged unscathed.

When Avraham was miraculously saved from death, Haran decided that he would now join forces with Avraham and dispute the pagan Nimrod. Haran was immediately thrown into the fiery furnace. His willingness to defy Nimrod only because he expected to be saved resulted in his death. He was not worthy of being saved, as Avraham was, because of his insincere belief. On the other hand, he did die Al Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name through his death. As the progenitor of Rachel and Leah, he had unique characteristics that were praise- worthy. His role as a vehicle for Kiddush Hashem also leads us to believe that he possessed spiritual nobility of a sort. Who really was Haran, and how was his character manifest?

The Shem Mishmuel cites the Arizal who provides us with an ambiguous note about Haran. He says that Haran possessed the same neshamah, soul, as Aharon Hakohen. We now must endeavor to comprehend the nature of Aharon Hakohen in order to understand why his neshamah was a reincarnation of Haran. The Maharal presents us with a fascinating insight into Aharon's personality. He notes that the name Aharon in Hebrew consists of four letters: Aleph, hay, reish and nun. The "reish" has a numerical value of two hundred and is the middle letter of the hundreds. (Tav, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet is four hundred.) The "nun" has a numerical equivalent of fifty and is the middle letter of the tens. The "hay" has a numerical value of five and is the middle letter of the units. Aharon's name expressed his true nature. He was a man who remained focused on the "middle" aspects of life - on the internal, spiritual essence of existence, rather than the external, more obvious concepts.

While the Maharal does not give a reason for the "aleph" which prefaces these three letters of Aharon's name, the Shem Mishmuel suggests a profound explanation. The aleph is the first letter of the aleph-bais and has a numerical value of one. It is the first, literally the chief of all letters. Indeed, the word aleph means chief. It is an allusion to the aleph, "chief" of the world - Hashem. The aleph at the beginning of Aharon's name tells us that the spiritual focus implied by the rest of his name, the internal/spiritual perspective, was to draw himself closer to Hashem.

Keeping this in mind, we may note that actually the names of Aharon and Haran are alike, except for the aleph which is missing from Haran (Aharon - Aleph, hay, reish, nun. Haran - Hay, reish, nun). This implies, says the Shem Mishmuel, that while Haran demonstrated the right idea by concentrating on the internal/spiritual aspects of life, as suggested by his name, he lacked the aleph. He did not manifest the crucial factor, the necessary focus of his devout concentration: directing his aims toward avodas Hashem, serving the Almighty.

As we mentioned, Haran did have some good qualities, as evidenced by the descendants he merited. In order to be mesaken, rectify, his soul and atone for the sins of his generation, it was necessary that Haran serve as a medium for Kiddush Hashem. His inability to focus his attributes towards serving Hashem would now be amended. The generation during which Avraham and Haran lived was one that reeked of idol-worship. The people's defiance of the Almighty was manifest when they attempted to build the Tower of Bavel. Rejection of Hashem as Ruler of the world was the prevalent atmosphere at the time. It would require an incredible display of Kiddush Hashem to challenge and overwhelm this attitude.

In his Magid Meisharim, Horav Yosef Karo, zl, explains that the supreme merit one can achieve in this world is to die Al Kiddush Hashem, particularly if one is burned to death. One who dies in this manner becomes like a Korban Olah, an elevated offering, which is totally consumed and goes up to Heaven. Likewise, the reward for such a person is immeasurable. Haran was mekadesh Shem Shomayim in this manner. His death confirmed the miraculous nature of Avraham's situation. Even those who thought that Haran had saved Avraham through magical powers, now realized the folly of their beliefs.

Through his death, Haran achieved the ultimate deveikus b'Hashem, connection with the Almighty, as he cleansed his soul of defect. His neshamah could now be reincarnated in the body of Aharon Hakohen, whose life was lived in total devotion to Hashem.


1. a. How many stories did the Ark have?

b. What was the function of each one?

2. Why was the Mabul delayed for seven days?

3. What happened to the fish during the Mabul?

4. How deeply was the Ark immersed in the water?

5. After the flood, the people were permitted to eat_______________.

6. During which two generations did the rainbow not appear?

7. For how many years did Terach live in Charan?


1. a. Three

b. The uppermost story housed people; the second story housed animals; the first story was used for refuse.

2. It was the shivah, seven days of mourning, for Mesushelach.

3. They were saved.

4. Eleven amos.

5. Meat.

6. The generation of Chizkiyahu Ha'melech and the generation of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

7. Sixty years.

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Robert Epstein
in loving memory of my dear wife
on the occasion of her first Yahrtzeit.


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