- Written by Daniel Sandground
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This week's sedra needs little introduction as the story of Noach and the flood is probably the most well known from the Torah. Unfortunately, however, although the colourful pictures of animals walking into the ark in formation which appear in children's books are quite pleasant... the flood itself was not such a pretty event with the whole of the human race being wiped out due, ultimately, to their failure to rectify that original infamous sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The ten generations from Adam to Noach had slumped progressively further from Hashem, with the population at the time of Noach being deemed a total failure with no other resort seen by Hashem than to press the reset button and begin a fresh. According to Abarbanel, this is the reason why Noach is once again mentioned in this sedra, despite him being previously listed as the last link in the genealogy of his predecessors... because he and his offspring were to become the new founders of mankind. So I think a good place to start is by asking... who were Noach and his sons?
The first line of this week's sedra states... “These are the offspring of Noach; Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations, Noach walked with G-d” [6:9]. There appears to be a distinct lacking in this first possuk however... The Torah introduces us with the words “these are the offspring of Noach”, but then it doesn't seem to mention them until the next possuk when we are told that “Noach had begotten three sons; Shem, Cham and Yapheth” [6:10]. The mefarshim therefore ask at this point, why does the Torah begin the possuk by stating that it will enumerate Noach's offspring, but instead goes on to list his praises? Rashi quotes a possuk from Mishlay to explain that when someone mentions a righteous person, it is appropriate to praise them, as it states... “זכר צדיק לברכה/zecher tzaddik l'bracha” [10:7]... may his memory be a blessing. We therefore see that according to this opinion, since the Torah mentioned Noach, it immediately told of his praise. This sentimental minhag is also widely used today with the initials זצ"ל or zt''l used after the names of Jews who have passed away in recent memory. Another opinion on this seemingly strange language of the Torah is brought down in the Midrash which suggests that Noach's righteous attributes were his offspring, Rashi comments here that the main creations of righteous people are their good deeds and therefore the Torah is telling us that... “these are the offspring of Noach”... his righteousness and perfection. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt''l in his sefer 'Darash Moshe' points out that it is no coincidence that the Torah relates someone's good deeds to their offspring or children... we are being taught a valuable life lesson here concerning our own 'deeds' in this world. He explains that this parallel is being used to teach us that we should love our good deeds (mitzvos) as we love our children. Sometimes a person takes a mitzvah lightly or does not perform it at all because he feels that it is not so important. He would not however take the same attitude towards a child, a person makes sure that his children have the very best that he can possibly give them. He should therefore take equal care to make sure he performs his mitzvos with his very best efforts too as they are ultimately his offspring as well.
So how great was Noach? The Torah states that, “תמים היה בדרתיו/he was perfect in his generations” [6:9] which seems to imply that he was quite the tzaddik. In fact the Baal HaTurim learns out from the gematria of the additional word “היה/he was” (which is 20), that he excelled during all twenty generations all the way from Adam to Avraham. He does also note there, that according to the Midrash, once Avraham began his Divine service, Noach was no longer considered as excelling. So we see from this that although Noach was clearly a great man, there are opinions which state that this was only in comparison to the times in which he lived. Rashi notes here that according to the low standards of his generation, Noach was righteous, but if he had been in the generation of Avraham he would not have been considered as anything of significance. Other opinions are less harsh however and highlight the fact that if Noach was such a tzaddik in his corrupt generation where he was surrounded by such immorality then how much more righteous would he have been had he lived in a truly moral generation or if he had the influence and inspiration of Avraham. Either way, we learn an important lesson about how to judge the righteous of each generation from the use of this unique wording in the Torah... according to their generation. I would also be inclined to take this one step further and say that we have to relay such considerations in our minds before judging people and always remember to do so according to their background, environment and abilities etc. The true tzaddikim of this world might not always be your stereotypical bearded Rabbis but could also include those struggling to do what appears to be the most simple mitzvot, but in extremely testing conditions and with limited resources.
The Torah describes how... “Hashem saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” [6:12]. The Zohar teaches that since the world was created for man, his corruption has the ability to infect the whole of Creation and therefore man's rampant immorality and sinful ways had become so intense that the earth itself had become contaminated by them. An interesting Rashi verifies this point by describing how even domestic animals, beasts and birds had relations which were not of their species which is why the Torah uses the language “all flesh” rather than “all mankind”. Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt''l once famously said that he had read a study in which it had been found that statistically, more homosexual birds were present in San Francisco than the rest of America... his point being that man's actions affect the environment in which they live in a much more direct fashion than they might think. So where did all this corruption start? At the end of Parashas Bereishis we are given a brief prelude to the flood in which we are told that... “the sons of the rulers saw that the daughters of man were good and took themselves wives from whomever they chose” [6:2]. The Midrash, brought down by Rashi, teaches us that these 'sons of rulers' would chose even a married woman, a male or an animal. We can therefore see from here that the Torah is implying that it all started with them 'seeing' - “the sons of the rulers saw...” - and then sinning. In fact we recite in the third paragraph of the Shema that “it shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it... and not explore after your eyes after which you stray”, so the Torah gives us ample warning about the dangers associated with not guarding our eyes from inappropriate images or material... immorality begins with the eyes. So what is Hashem's reaction to this? If we fast forward back to our sedra this week, the Torah tells us that “G-d saw the earth” [6:12], a clear parallel to the foundations of the generation's corruption. What's more, the Torah also clearly spells out that although Hashem saw this, “Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem” [6:8] and was therefore selected as the anomaly to the generation's corruption, and therefore saved.
In last week's Dvar Torah I mentioned how there were seven concepts which were brought into existence before the creation of the world, one being teshuvah. An obvious question to therefore ask is why Hashem didn't merely allow this generation the abilities to do teshuvah and then He would not have had to destroy them? Well the answer is in the wording of the Torah, as quoted above... “Hashem saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth” [6:12]... why did Hashem see? Because only he could! The corruption had got so bad that only Hashem could see it, there was no teshuvah possible in a situation like this. In order to undertake teshuvah, people need to at least be aware of their wrongdoings but this generation had become so jaded that all their sensitivity had gone and what was left was pure degeneracy of the lowest possible form. We can see elements of this in society today with immorality readily accepted and even encouraged due to a break down in barriers (for example illicit relations, homosexuality or even petty theft). There is an interesting Midrash which says that when Noach was building the ark, people would call out to him “Hey old man, why you building an ark”. The mefarshim ask, why did they call him an old man?... Noach was relatively young in comparison to the average person when he built the ark. The answer is that we see from here that the same line was used then that is used today to justify immorality... people who speak up against it are called “old fashioned”. Nothing is new however and society's gradual decent into 'blindness' where they can not even see the problem with such behaviour was just the same at the time as Noach as it is now... the only difference now is that we have the awareness and abilities to avoid interaction with such corruption.
I wish everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov!
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)