030 Torah Portion of the Week – Noach – How Do You Measure Up – Reality Check – Where Are You Holding – A Powerful Parable from the Maggid M’Dubno – The Best in the Yeshiva – A Great Story about Rav Shach and Peace in Your Home – Why Do They Fight?
The Torah Podcast Transcript
030 The Torah Podcast – How Do You Measure Up? – Reality Check; Where Are You Holding?
Torah Portion of the Week – Noach
This week is Parshas Noach. It discusses where the individual is in society, and how an individual can use his free will to make the best of his life in this world. Rav Miller from Gateshead explains that in Noach’s generation the focus was on the individual. In other words, the individual was more important than the group, which we know leads to absurdness, because then society can’t function. The verse says, “The land was corrupted before God, and the land was filled with violence.” Rashi explains that that was robbery. What it means is that people got to a point where they no longer respected the rights of others. They were more important than everybody else, which led to robbery which leads to the destruction of the world. Once people no longer respect each other, God had to destroy the world.
On the other hand, at the end of the Parsha we had the Tower of Bavel, which was the opposite. People were united. There was a common good, there was social unity which really led to communism. It says exactly like this in the Midrash. The Midrash says, “What belonged to the other person belongs to him, and what belonged to him belonged to the other person – achuzim yachad beshutefos.” They had everything together as in common, one common fund for everybody; communism. But this also led to a dysfunctional society. What did they try to do? They tried to build the Tower of Bavel. The Malbim explains that what was the Tower about? They were trying to bring down the blessings from the constellations. They wanted to take God out of the picture. They understood that God was using the constellations to affect the reality, so they themselves said, “Let’s go up and we’ll affect them ourselves.” They actually had the ability to do this. Why? Because they were one nation, they had one language. It was clear communication, and they had power as a group. But the group also became corrupt. Rav Simcha Zissel explains, “What do you mean, they had bricks to build the Tower?” He says, “These bricks show us that there’s a misguided people who imagine the world to be fixed reality – people for whom the material desires dominate. They use their group power to become more physical.” Either way, society went, it was the same goal, the same materialistic, animalistic, humanistic achievements, until Avraham Avinu came along, and he rejected this. The Amek Dvar brings down that the furnace that Avraham Avinu was thrown into, and had a miracle and lived, was the same furnace that they built the bricks from, because he rejected this view of society. Avraham Avinu had the Torah way. He rejected democracy, which leads to the individual becoming corrupt, and he rejected communism which leads to the group becoming corrupt. He had the Torah way.
At the beginning of the Parsha he explains, “What was the difference between Noach and Avraham? The first possuk in the Parsha says, ‘These are the offspring of Noach. Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.’” The Midrashim explain specifically in his generation. There are those that say if he was in the generation of righteous people or the generation of Avraham, he would have been even more righteous. There are others who say it was genai, a disgrace, they say no. He was a tzaddik in his generation, but if he was in a generation of more righteous people he wouldn’t have been anything to mention. What exactly is the difference between what Noach was doing, where the possuk says that he was a perfect tzaddik, and what Avraham was doing? We just said the possuk by Noach said, “Noach was a perfect tzaddik in his generation,” and the possuk in the Parshas to come say, “And God appeared to Avraham and said to him, ‘I am Kel Shachai. Walk before Me and be perfect,” in other words, he’s not yet perfect. The Shem Mi Shmuel wants to answer, “You can answer that in a physical way,” in other words how could it be that Noach was on a higher level than Avraham? The answer is because Noach was born circumcised. That’s the Avos D’Rav Nassan. What does it mean, “He was perfect?” He had circumcision. Avraham didn’t have circumcision yet. That would be explaining it in a physical level, but let’s explain it in a philosophical way.
The Shem Mi Shmuel brings an interesting Zohar that says, “Noach is Shabbos.” We know the word noach, it means to rest. But this is literally saying, “Noach the man, is Shabbos.” That’s very cryptic. What does that mean? He explains that we also have the opposite. We know the Shalosh Regalim, we know the three holidays correspond to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov – Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkot. And Rosh Hashana corresponds to Dovid haMelech, but this also comes out a little bit strange because it comes out again that Noach was on a higher level. Noach is like Shabbos, and Shabbos is the greatest kedushah. Shabbos is the day of the greatest holiness. How again is Noach on top?
The answer is, there’s another aspect. That aspect is – how much is coming out of the individual’s free will? How much is he doing? I’ll explain. Shabbos for example, is unchangeable. It was created from the seven days of Bereishis, and it’s always been that way. In every culture there are seven days. It doesn’t change at all, and the holiness comes from above. But the opposite by Yom Tov, the three major holidays, they come about by man, and also Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. The Beis Din in Israel has to decide when is going to be the three major holidays, and when is going to be Rosh Chodesh? It’s man-made, it has to do with man’s free will. He decides on the earth when these days are going to be, based on the moon. And then the kedushah comes, the holiness comes from that. We know chetzi lachem, on the holidays man himself has to bring down the holiness. It doesn’t come by itself.
He wanted to explain that even though Noach was holy, but he was holy from his earliest beginnings. He was born circumcised. He had a certain intrinsic holiness. His main job was just to guard himself against the bad influences of the world. On the other hand, Avraham was a self-made man. He came from a father who was an idol worshipper. The Arizal says that Avraham’s mother was a nidda when he was conceived – she was in her menstrual period, which is forbidden. It makes a child a ben nidda, on a lower level. But still, Avraham by himself with his own free will overcame all these obstacles. The Midrash Rabba says, “Happy is the man who God chose, even though he did not draw near. And happy is the man who drew near, even though he was not chosen.” Who was this? This was Avraham, but he wasn’t drawn near. Rather, he drew himself near. He himself decided, “I am going to come close to God.” It didn’t matter what level he was holding. In the end, that’s a higher level. He wasn’t living off the kedushah, the holiness that he was born with. He was producing it himself. This explains another Midrash in Bereishis Rabba that says, “The shechina is intended to manifest itself in the world.” In other words, the holiness that God is supposed to be in the world. “While seven people or generations caused it to retract, the seven heavens…” in other words, all the sins of the generations before caused the shechina to go back to heaven, “But the seven tzaddikim facilitated its return.” Who are they? Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, Levi, Kehas, Amram and Moshe Rabbeinu. Where’s Noach? Why isn’t Noach listed? He is also a tzaddik, a perfect tzaddik? The answer is, he was a different kind of a tzaddik. He wasn’t a tzaddik that it came totally from his free will. He was born that way. Noach was not a self-made man. In this sense, Avraham Avinu was on a much, much higher level.
Now, Rav Dessler wants to bring it even to a higher level. He brings a Midrash Tanchuma that says, “Why isn’t the name of Noach repeated? God replies, ‘To satisfy all those who come into the world, about Noach’s true character, so they should not think that he was a tzaddik only in his generation.’ God by his repetition, by repeating Noach’s name, tells us that he considers him the equivalent of Avraham. Just as the Torah repeats the name of Avraham and similarly the name of Yaakov and Moshe and Shmuel, so it doesn’t repeat the name of Noach, in order to equate him with the tzaddikim.” You see that Noach was in the box of the tzaddikim. He has two questions – how could it be that Noach is compared to Avraham, equated to him? And what does it mean, “To equate him with all the tzaddikim?” Not all tzaddikim are equal. He explains like this. “What is a tzaddik? A tzaddik is a person who takes everything he has been given, and uses it for the proper purpose – his house, his car, his wife, all these things.” He explains, “In many places, these are the keilim, these are the utensils that a man is given in order to serve God. Any person who uses all those things to serve God, that’s who is called a tzaddik – a perfect tzaddik. If not, he’s actually called a thief because he’s taking the things that God gives him – let’s say He gives him a lot of money. You’re supposed to give it to tzedakah and he keeps it for himself, he’s stealing from the poor.” This is the level of Noach, but Avraham Avinu took it a step further. It’s called a chassid; not a tzaddik, a chassid; the higher level. That’s the person who actually changes his mazal. In other words, he serves God on such a high level that he can actually be given the portions of other people that they’re not using properly, they’ll be given over to him that he can use them properly. That’s a chassid. We know that Avraham Avinu took the portions of 10 generations which preceded him. In other words, he was serving God at such a high a level that his original mazal was overcome, and he was given all the keilim, all the utensils, that those people could have used to uplift it and served God, they were given to him. That’s a chassid which means he broke the boundaries of the original mahus of who he is – the essence of who he is, he broke through.
Rav Dessler says, “What does it mean that it was a ganai, a disgrace ? Listen, Noach was a tzaddik in his generation, based on who he was. He did everything, it’s not a disgrace.” The guy did everything perfectly, he was a perfect tzaddik. He did everything with what he had, he used to the utmost ability. The answer is, “Yes, it is called a disgrace. Why? Because he should have even gone beyond his own boundaries. A person has to break through his own boundaries in order to reach higher levels. He has to be a ba’al mechadesh, he has to come up with new, innovative ideas in order to expand. This is what God expects from us, and we come from Avraham Avinu.
We can also see this, where Avraham sent Eliezer his slave, to go find a woman for his son, Yitzhak. Eliezer was making hints, “Listen, I have a daughter.” We know it’s Eliezer mi Damesek, and Chazal explains that he was like a deli, a bucket, like a keli. He would take what Avraham gave him, and give it out to other people. But he didn’t mechadesh on it. He didn’t expand it. He didn’t use his logic to see other levels. Logic is like a sixth sense. If this is true, then that must be true. He didn’t have the active mind to find new ways to be holy, different ways to do chessed. The whole point really is…it says, “Vedorosav” in his dor, generation. We cannot judge ourselves based upon what’s going on in our society. We have to break out of it, whether it’s a society of individualism or whether it’s a communistic society. Either way, we have to break out of it and serve God in new, special ways.
This is how Rav Yerucham explains the first possuk. He says, “All the machlokes, arguments whether he was a tzaddik in his dor, or not in his generation, rak ma shehi shekavana HaTorah bemilus dorosav. It’s just a question in his generation, ‘Aval, bazeh ain machlokes she’im haya be’emes shehi lo haya b’dor shel Avraham Avinu, lo haya az nichshav tzaddik.’ Surely he would still be a tzaddik. In other words, even if it was in the generation of Avraham Avinu, he would still be righteous, but that’s not enough. That’s exactly the point. “Elah haya bedoro shel Avraham Avinu, zehu ha middah maavu meod.” In other words, no matter how righteous you are in your generation the question is, are you righteous in terms of Avraham Avinu’s generation? Can you reach the level of our forefathers? When are my acts going to be like the acts of my forefathers? I don’t judge myself based on society. And that’s the opening move in parshas Noach, and that’s what God’s trying to tell us. You have to be the righteous person to the utmost of your being, based on all the keilim, all the utensils, that God gave you. Not only that, according to Rav Dessler, you have to even expand into other spaces where God will give you more in order to do more righteousness. Not only that, you are judged based on the dor of Avraham Avinu compared to the forefathers.
That’s the opening move of the parsha, when society begins. Not only that, that’s the opening move also in Tehillim. The first possuk of Tehillim says, “The praises of man are that he walked not in the counsel of the wicked, and stood not in the path of the sinful; and sat not in the concessions of scorners.” What does the Radak say on that? He says, “Lo harach b’atzas,” in the eitzas of the counsel. It’s particularly suited – why? Because the wicked enjoy advising and persuading others to join in their evil rivalries as if the masses were a justification for the righteous. This is what Dovid HaMelech is telling us, “Don’t go according to the group. Don’t go with what’s going on in the world. You have to find your own way. Don’t be like Eliezer Mi Damascus, you’re just giving over what you were told. You have to mechadesh, you have to find new ways. You have to grow.” I know these are very, very high levels but really in reality, this is what God expects from us. He wants to know when our actions are going to be like the actions of our forefathers.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid Mi Dubno has a parable just exactly on the point we spoke about before. He says, “A wealthy villager had only daughter. He was a very wealthy man, he had one daughter. He went to the Yeshiva and spoke to the Rosh Yeshiva. ‘I want the best guy for my daughter. I’m going to support him. I’ll buy him an apartment. I’ll support him in learning the rest of his life.’ The Rosh Yeshiva figured out who was the best boy in the Yeshiva. He offers the shidduch, match for this boy and they get married and they move out of town. What happened? The man moves to this new town and all of a sudden he’s captivated by how beautiful it is, the fields; there’s rivers, there are mountains. He starts to make a couple of new friends. He makes friends with the goose shepherd and the water carrier. He spends hours talking to these guys, hanging around outside, wasting his time. The father-in-law says, ‘What’s going on here?’ He come to his son-in-law, ‘Listen, I thought you were the masmid, diligent one. I thought you were the best scholar in the Yeshiva. What’s going on with you?’ The son-in-law said, ‘What do you mean? I’m not like them. Ignorant like them? This goose shepherd doesn’t even know how to read. The water carrier, he doesn’t even know the alphabet. Even if I forget half the Shas, half of what I know, I still know 10 times more than them.’ The father-in-law says, ‘What do I care that you’re better than the villagers? I was looking for the best guy in the Yeshiva. Don’t give me an excuse – you’re better than the villagers.’
What’s the nimshal, conclusion? He says, “The soul of a person comes from the higher source. It came down to this world. A person rapidly acquaints himself with all kinds of people in this world, and he learns how to idle away his time and do stupid things, waste his life. Even though he’s still better than the others, Hakadosh Baruch Hu expects that a person be a cut above the rest, even among the most excellent people, the highest standards.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
One time an administrator of an institution came to Rav Shach, and he had a problem He said, “Listen, I asked this friend who was very well connected to help me out with my institution.” But the friend kept evading him, he didn’t answer his calls. He says, “It would have been such a small thing for this friend to do for me. I don’t understand why he didn’t do it.” After venting his anger and his frustration to Rav Shach, Rav Shach says, “Listen, what do I see in front of me? I see here a person who has a grievance against his fellow man. He’s become upset at him, and he’s absolutely certain that what he thinks is right. But really, a person who learns mussar, a person who learns Torah understands that his own nature is corrupt and selfish. He can even, God-forbid, any human being can come into a situation where you hurt somebody, you can kill somebody. Who knows what kind of a situation a person can come into?”
He brought the verse from Vayetzei, if the man is evil from youth – last week’s Parsha. What right does any man come to complaining about the character of another man? If you would look inside yourself, you would understand you also are missing in certain character traits. Therefore you would forgive the other guy. Not only that but maybe he has already done teshuva, maybe he feels about the fact that he didn’t help you out. But you, you’re acting this way right now. He says, “Who has the right to be annoyed at any other human being? The entire emotion of becoming annoyed is based on the fact that the person is so sure that he is better and more perfected than his friend. Really, there’s no right to complain and criticize others.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Nachman Diament has another chapter on shalom bayis, peace in the home. Why do they fight? He explains when he sees couples first he speaks with the wife a couple of times. Then he meets with the husband. Then he sees them together. One time a huge talmid chacham, a big Torah scholar came in, when it was his turn after his wife spoke to him. He says, “You know you’re disqualified from dealing with our case.” “Why?” “Because the halacha, Jewish law is that a judge…” and it’s true, “A judge cannot hear one person without the other person being there because his mind will be swayed towards that person. That’s the halacha.” Rav Diament says, “Fine, I’m not interested in dealing with your case.” Then the guy starts to apologize, “One second…” Then Rav Diament says, “You know what? Also Rav Wosner when he meets couples, he meets the woman first. How can it be that Rav Wosner who is one of the gedolei hador, greatest of the generation, he’s doing wrong?” He says, “That’s a big question.” So, he said, “A big question of whom?” “A big question of Rav Wosner.” He decided he couldn’t deal with this guy.
His point is like this. Shalom bayis is not a Beis Din. It’s not a court. It’s not who’s right and who’s wrong. You have to get beyond that in order to have shalom bayis. He says, “When I listen to a story, when I hear a couple or an individual speak, I’m not listening so much to what they’re saying. I’m listening to the tone of voice. I’m listening to their emotions. It’s not a Beis Din, because I’ll never who’s telling the truth. I want to know who’s hurt in which way. Not only that, in most fights both sides are right. The couple’s walking down the street, they see a little baby with their parents. One says, “Oh, that baby looks just like her mother.” The other one says, “No, it looks like the father, can’t you see?” Who’s right – they’re both right. He’s looking at the nose, he’s looking at the ears, he’s looking at the eyes. They’re both right. In most of these arguments between husband and wife, both people are right.
Therefore, anger is not justified. Also you have the same kind of problems with chinuch, education for example. One grew up in a house where the house was more open, and one grew up in a house where the house was more closed. The kid does something wrong and the father says, “Punish that child right now,” and the mother says, “No, he needs warmth and love right now.” They’re fighting about it back and forth, and they’ll ruin the kid; what’s going to be? It’s not a fight. It’s two different opinions. Both have potential milas, they both have advantages and disadvantages. They need to be discussed, but it’s not a Din Torah. Marriage is not a din. Same thing, she’s coerced the kids to eat. The mother’s forcing the kid to eat, he has to eat, he has to eat. The father says, “Listen, were you ever forced to eat? It’s not very pleasant to be forced to eat.” “Yeah, but the kid’s going to starve if he’s not going to eat. What do you think this is, a kitchen here that I’m going to cook 25 different meals for each kid?” It’s a discussion, it’s not a din. It’s not one side is right and one side is wrong. They both have advantages.
He says, “If shalom bayis is more important to them than anything else, then there’s hope that we’ll achieve it.” In other words, it has to be the top priority has to be shalom bayis, not who’s right and who’s wrong because then it’s never going to work out. It even gets to a point where things get so out of hand that the couple start to trap each other. They’re trapping each other, to see how wrong or right you are. A woman for example says, “He missed my birthday.” And then what’s coming up is the anniversary. The anniversary is the same time in the week, and he wants to give her a present. She says, “Don’t give me a present. I’m not going to take a present because you’re just going to give me a present stam.” The husband’s stuck. What is he supposed to do? If he doesn’t give a present he’s just like the birthday. But if he gets a present, she’s going to throw it away. The point is not to trap your husband, not to trap your wife. The point is to get along. Marriage is not a court case, marriage is a relationship and needs to be worked on and put as the highest priority.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff
Stephan Sundkvist says
What a depth of wisdom. We all really need to follow in the footsteps of our forefathers. And to be patient, as Noah all the years it took to build the ark . But also as Abraham, blessed be he, who had to go in so many directions and tests. May we all try to do as he did in faith and loyalty towards Hashem, not hesitating even in the most difficult situations like on mount Moriah when he was ready to sacrifice his beloved son Isac.
When we come in difficulties in our life, we can turn into the Torah to find assisance. I always feel blessed and happy when I read about this in the Torah and pray about it from my Siddur.