A Righteous Tzadik. by Rav Ari Kahn

Noach(Genesis 6:9-11:32)

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a good and just man. He was a pure man in his generation. [Genesis 6:9]

The saga of Noah and the flood is well known, yet Noah remains an elusive personality. What was the nature of Noah’s goodness? The description of Noah as TZADDIK — which can be variously translated as a good, just, righteous man, in other words, a saint — but with the qualification, “in his generation,” sounds like a back-handed compliment. The implication seems to be that in a rotten generation, Noah looked good. Is that what is meant here?

Rashi, the great 11th century Torah commentator offers two opinions. He writes: “There are among the sages who view Noah positively. Certainly had he been living in a generation of just individuals, he would have been more just. While some view him negatively. Had he been living in the generation of Abraham he would have been considered worthless.”

In order to come down on the side of one opinion or the other, and pass judgment on the true value of Noah’s goodness, we must first understand the generation in which he lived.

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of the rulers saw the daughters of men that they were pretty; and they took as wives all those whom they chose … The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.’ [Genesis 6:1-2, 11-12]

The terms which the Torah uses to describe the generation of Noah include corruption and thievery. A description is given of powerful men taking any women they chose. It is a generation in which moral boundaries have broken down. The very fabric of society, its social contract, is nonexistent. In this case, what was the nature of Noah’s goodness? Apparently, Noah did not partake of the licentiousness and thievery of his generation. Noah did no evil. On the other hand, we do not find him performing good deeds, either. In a sense, Noah is an island, neither hurting others, nor helping them. This is the greatness of Noah, as well as the tragedy of Noah.

The Zohar, the chief work of the Kabbalah, recounts a conversation between Noah and God which took place after the flood:

What did God answer Noah when he left the Ark and saw the world destroyed? He [Noah] began to cry before God and he said, “Master of the universe, You are called compassionate. You should have been compassionate for Your creation.” God responded and said, “You are a foolish shepherd. Now you say this?! Why did you not say this at the time I told you that I saw that you were righteous among your generation, or afterward when I said that I will bring a flood upon the people, or afterward when I said to build an ark? I constantly delayed and I said, ‘When is he [Noah] going to ask for compassion for the world?’ … And now that the world is destroyed, you open your mouth, to cry in front of me, and to ask for supplication?” [Zohar Hashmatot, Bereishit 254b]

God is telling Noah that as the leader of his generation, he had responsibilities toward his followers. He was commanded to build the ark, yet he did not save even one person. His leadership may be compared to a shepherd who sees his flock straying from the proper path, wandering in the proximity of dangerous wolves, and concludes that the sheep deserve to be eaten because they have strayed. This is why God called him a “foolish shepherd.”

The Zohar continues:

Rabbi Yochanan said, “Come and see the difference between the righteous among the Jews after Noah, and Noah. Noah did not defend his generation, nor did he pray for them, as Abraham did. When God told Abraham that [he would destroy] Sodom and Gomorrah … immediately Abraham began to pray in front of God until he asked of God if ten good people were found, would God forgive the entire city because of them … Some time later, Moses came, and when God said to him, “They have turned aside quickly from the way in which I commanded them,” immediately, Moshe stood and prayed … It is said that Moses was willing to give his soul for the people in both this world and the next … “[Zohar Hashmatot, Bereishit 254b]

The next great religious leader was Abraham. When faced with the horrific acts of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleads with God not to kill the good along with the evil. Noah never engaged God in a similar dialogue.

Moses went even further. After the Jews commit the terrible sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, God is prepared to destroy the entire people. Despite the people’s guilt, Moshe pleads with God, challenging Him: What could be expected of a nation which had just left Egypt and had not yet had time to develop spiritually? Moses is referred to in the Zohar as a “faithful shepherd.” Despite the people’s guilt, Moses argued with God. He even had the audacity to tell God that if God planned to wipe out the entire people, He should “wipe me out as well.”

Noah accepts the decree of God. If the people are guilty, there is no argument. Abraham tries to argue, to perhaps exonerate some of the people of the city and, at best, perhaps save the city from annihilation on the merit of the ten good men he is certain can be found there. Moses is prepared to sacrifice himself in order to save the nation,despite their undisputed guilt.

But Noah does nothing even remotely close. He toils for 120 years building the ark, yet in all that time, not one person was brought under the influence of this great religious personality. The name Noah means “comfortable” in Hebrew, and Noah was, indeed, comfortable. He was comfortable and self-satisfied in his own righteousness. When he is finished building, he boards the ark with his family and the designated animals, leaving everyone else to perish.

Imagine what would have happened had Noah refused to board the ark. But that is surely how Moses would have responded.

It is fascinating that the first time we encounter Moses, he is but a three-month-old infant being placed in an ark by his mother who can no longer hide him from the Pharoah’s death-squads:

She took an ark made of reeds, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child in it; and she laid it in the rushes by the [Nile] river’s bank. [Exodus 2:5-5]

Reading these lines, we have a sense this infant, floating in an ark in the Nile, is destined to begin his mission where Noah left off his own. Moses’ entire career will be that of a “faithful shepherd” always willing to sacrifice self for his flock. All of his 120 years will be devoted to this single purpose, perhaps in order to rectify Noah’s failure in the 120-year period during which he built the ark.

The Zohar, explaining the parallels between Noah and Moses, states that when humanity sins, God always speaks with the best man of the generation in order that the just man pray for forgiveness for all. But while this is exactly what Moses did when his flock sinned, Noah only worried about himself. This is why, centuries later when the prophet Isaiah speaks, he calls the flood waters, “the waters of Noah” [Isaiah 54:9]. Noah is himself held responsible for the downpour. [Zohar, Vayikra, 3:15a]

The Zohar looks to Moses for the rectification of Noah’s lapse, and it finds it in a Biblical word play on the “waters of Noah” — mei Noah. When Moses offers his own life for his people after the incident with the golden calf, he tells God:

Now if you would forgive their sin, and if not, erase me, I beg you, from your book which you have written. [Exodus 32:32]

The Hebrew phrase “erase me” is m’heini is an anagram of mei Noah! The Ariza’l explains that at the moment Moses said to God, “erase me” — m’heini — the spiritual lapse of Noah that resulted in the flood — mei Noah — was healed. [Ariza”l Shar Pesukim Berieshit Drush 4]

Noah’s spiritual stumbling continues after he leaves the ark. He and his family are the only human beings alive — all around him are the remains of a holocaust. He is a survivor. How does Noah cope with all this? He plants a vineyard and then gets drunk on the wine. Noah cannot cope with the enormity of the destruction that he has witnessed. Perhaps he senses his own failure — that his passivity led to the destruction of an entire civilization.

He [Noah] drank of the wine and became intoxicated; and he unconvered himself inside his tent. And [Noah’s son] Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. And Shem and Yafet took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and walked backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. [Genesis 9:21-24]

The Sages of the Talmud have two opinions about what actually transpired: “Rab and Samuel differ, one maintaining that Ham castrated him, while the other that he sodomized him.” [Sanhedrin 70a] What both opinions have in common is the incredible rage Ham directed toward Noah.

Let us consider what Ham’s world-view must have been. He had grown up, surrounded by a culture of violence, thievery and sexual licentiousness. And then he saw that his father’s passivity caused the destruction of his world. His actions seem an expression of Ham’s rage and disdain at that passivity. Furthermore, we must not overlook the fact that Noah was the only good and just man in his generation. That means that his children were like the rest of the lot. They were saved from the flood totally on their father’s merit. It would seem that Noah failed even in educating his own children. Noah’s passivity — of which his nakedness is a metaphor — was evident in all his relationships.

Noah lives for some 300 years after the flood, fathering children, witnessing the birth of numerous descendants, countless future generations. What message does Noah impart to his descendants? Again, or still, it seems that Noah remains passive; he has nothing to say, as if the rest of his life remains clouded by this intoxication, even when the world around him begins again to sin against God.

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech … And they said one to another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven … And the Lord said, “Behold, the people are one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have schemed to do.” [Genesis 11:1-6]

At the tower of Babel, all the people of the world were gathered. The sages tell us that Noah was still alive, but again he was silent. This is the tragedy of Noah. It was not only his own generation that he did not try to protect and educate, but even his own children and grandchildren were deprived of the influence of that “good and just” man. We can only imagine the leadership which Noah could have displayed, the insights he should have shared with future generations, the courage and religious zeal he might have taught the generations following the flood. But tradition reports nothing.

Aside from Noah, there was another prominent individual who was present at the Tower. His name was Abraham.

The Kabbalah teaches:

We find that Noah lived ten years after the dispersion following the destruction of the Tower of Babel; Abraham was forty eight years old at the dispersion.[Seder Olam, Ch. 1]

And now the answer to our original questions comes clear. We find that Noah did live in the generation of Abraham, and indeed, he was worthless.

The image Noah left for posterity is of a man calm in the face of turbulent waters, withstanding incredible social pressures. Noah stands alone, floating on his ark, floating on his island, forming no relationships, forging no change. Alone, in silence.

Noah was there at the Tower of Babel with all of his knowledge and experience, and Abraham was there with his simple idealism. The time and place were ripe for a religious renaissance. If these leaders would have joined forces, the world could have been elevated and saved. They could have reached heaven, and would have had no need for a tower. But alas, Noah was silent. Abraham would have to start anew, alone.

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5 Responses to A Righteous Tzadik. by Rav Ari Kahn

  1. Parshas Noach
    Sfas-Emes, Sfas Emes (Zechuso Tagein Aleinu), Noach, 5639
    by Nosson Chayim Leff

    The parsha begins (Bereishis, 6:9): ” … Noach ish tzadik …; es HaElokim hishalech Noach.” (“Noach was a righteous man …; Noach walked with God.”). Chazal — and Rashi — note the contrast with Avraham, of whom the Torah says (Bereishis, 17:1): “… walk before me … “. Chazal and (Rashi) comment that, to conduct himself as a righteous person, Noach needed heavenly support. That is, he needed HaShem to hold his hand. By contrast, Avraham was able to attain and handle the role of tzadik on his own.

    The Sfas Emes begins this maamar by telling us that, certainly (“be’vdai”!), in contrasting Noach with Avraham, it never entered Chazal’s mind to diminish Noach’s stature. (Parenthetically, note the Sfas Emes’s koach hachiddush — his unhesitating, sheer innovative power to view received texts through his own discerning eyes.) Rather, the Sfas Emes tells us, the world had to progress with a certain unavoidable order. Thus, first there had to appear on the scene a tzadik who needed HaShem’s support. Only thereafter could someone come who could fill the role of tzadik wtihout needing HaShem to hold his hand.

    Why so? The Sfas Emes tells us that the cosmos simply could not function with a tzadik like Avraham unless it had first experienced a tzadik on the level of Noach. Note: This explanation does not really answer the question of “why so?”. But we may find it comforting to know that the world functions with a fixed order. From that perspective, the question of “why so?” in this context is as meaningless as asking “why so?” regarding the law of gravity.

    The seforim speak of three fundamental domains in the world “Olam, Shanna, vNefesh” (space, time, and soul). And the seforim tell us to expect similar patterns in each of these three domains. Hence, we should not be surprised to see the Sfas Emes applying this perspective in the present context. Thus, he tells us that the nefesh (soul) of a Jewish person also goes through a pattern of growth in stages. The first stage is that of a child. The Sfas Emes describes a child as “tohu” — as in Bereishis, 1:2: “tohu vavohu.” (ArtScroll: “astonishingly empty”. A more colloquial translation: “a complete mess.”) Parents and teachers may find consolation in the Sfas Emes’s certification of their charges as “tohu”.

    But just as HaShem intervened to save Noach and his family from the disaste that awaited the rest of humankind, so too does HaShem protect a particle of kedusha (sanctity) within a child. And that bit of kedusha can subsequently expand within the child as he/she grows, and enables him to develop midos tovos (proper behavior).

    Continuing with this perspective, the Sfas Emes now refers us to the maxim “Derech eretz kadma laTorah.” That is, proper behavior must precede and is therefore a prerequisite to the proper observance of Torah and mitzvos. In support of this sequence, the Sfas Emes cites the lives of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. It was necessary for the lives of the Avos, with their exemplary personal conduct, to precede our people’s receiving the Torah. The necessity of this sequence is neither self-evident nor easily grasped. For this reason, the Sfas Emes concludes with a phrase of advice and admonition that he rarely utters: “Vedok vehavein” That is: “think it through, and you will understand!”
    Note that the Sfas Emes has taught us a two-fold mussar haskeil in an area in which he, as Gerrer Rebbe, had special knowledge: First, he has told us that, in fact, people can grow in their avoda. And second, he advises us that growth comes not in a linear fashion, but rather unevenly, and in stages. We should therefore not become discouraged if we see that, despite serious effort to make progress, we are at any given time only treading water in ruchniyus (spiritual matters). The Rebbe is telling us: Persist!

  2. Noach(Genesis 6:9-11:32)
    Channeling Negative Into Positive
    by Rav Aba Wagensberg

    This week’s Torah portion opens with the following statement: “Noah was an ISH (man) TZADDIK (righteous person) TAMIM (who was completely righteous)” (Genesis 6:9). The word ISH is a compliment in its own right, and the additional descriptions heap honor upon honor on Noah. No other personality is described with so many consecutive praises in one verse!

    The first verse in the Book of Psalms teaches: “Fortunate is the man (ISH) who has not gone in the counsel of the wicked, and has not stood in the path of sinners, and has not sat in the company of scoffers.” The Midrash Socher Tov, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, comments that the phrase “Fortunate is the man (ISH),” refers to Noah, since Noah is called ISH, as in our parsha.

    Why is Noah described as “fortunate”? According to the Midrash, Noah was fortunate in that he did not follow the ways of the three categories of people (wicked, sinners, scoffers) cited in Psalms. These three negative categories correspond to the three generations that arose in the world over the course of Noah’s lifetime: the generation of Enosh (Adam’s grandson, who initiated the practice of idolatry); the generation of the Flood (immersed in immoral behavior); and the generation of the dispersion (who built the Tower of Babel in order to wage war against God). It was Noah’s good fortune that he did not go in the path of any of these three generations.

    The Midrash teaches us that Noah spent his entire life surrounded by evil and wickedness, yet he managed to make himself into one of the most righteous people who ever lived. This is a remarkable feat. How is it possible for a person to maintain such a high level of spirituality while surrounded by an environment of depravity and corruption?

    A passage from the Talmud will help us resolve this question. Ben Zoma says, “Who is a wise person? One who learns from everyone” (Avot 4:1). This is a strange statement. It seems reasonable for us to want to learn from righteous people – but what is wise about learning from the wicked?

    The Berditchiver Rebbe remarks that righteous people are able to perceive positive qualities in even the most negative situations. From everything they encounter, they learn how to serve God better.

    For example, if a righteous person were to witness someone passionately engaged in sinning, he would recognize and appreciate the tremendous motivating power of passion. However, instead of taking that power and using it to accomplish negative goals, the righteous person would redirect it for a meaningful purpose. The correct channeling of passion has the potential to change rote, sterile performance of God’s mitzvot into mitzvah observance driven by enthusiasm and fire! (Kedushat Levi, end of Parshat Bereishit)

    Noah epitomized this ability to channel negative forces toward a higher purpose. A hint to this idea is found in his name. The Torah tells us (Genesis 6:8) that Noah found chen (favor) in the eyes of God. The name NOAH (nun-chet), when reversed, spells CHEN (chet-nun)! Noah found favor in the eyes of God by mastering the art of reversal. He had the ability to redirect every energy from a negative goal to a positive one.

    This is why a wise person learns from everyone. Instead of being corrupted by his evil generation, Noah used it as an opportunity for spiritual growth. He had the “best” teachers available! All Noah had to do was learn to take their ingenuity, arrogance, passion, jealousy and zeal, and use them in a productive, constructive way to get closer to God.

    May we all learn how to transform the power of every energy and drive into positive action in order to become the best we can possibly be.

  3. Noach(Genesis 6:9-11:32)
    Noach and Avraham
    by Rav Yehonasan Gefen

    “These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with God.”(1) Noach was the greatest person in his time, the only one who deserved to be spared from the flood. And yet Noach is unfavorably compared to Avraham by the Sages in a number of places.(2) What is the difference between these two great men?

    Rashi brings a Midrash that contrasts Avraham and Noach. With regard to Noach, the Torah says “Noach walked with God.” This means that he needed help in his service of God. But to Avraham, God says, “Walk before me.” This means that Avraham could strengthen himself on his own. The commentaries explain that Avraham was proactive and self-motivated. He did not need external events to stimulate him to serve the Almighty and do kindness. Noach needed external circumstances to push him forward in his righteousness.(3)

    Rav Eliyahu Dessler zt”l expands on this idea. He writes that Noach is called “ish tzaddik” (man of righteousness), and Avraham is “ish chessed” (man of kindness). Noach performed incredible acts of kindness in the ark, feeding hundreds of animals for several months. However, says Rav Dessler that this was only tzedek, the right thing to do, meaning that he fulfilled his obligation. It did not stem from an overflowing desire to give, but was rather a reaction to the needs of others. His kindness was reactive in that he only helped people when they came to him or if he felt an obligation to do so.

    Avraham, in contrast, did not perform kindness out of obligation, but because of a burning desire to give.(4) His kindness was proactive.

    This divergence between Noach and Avraham is not restricted to kindness in the physical realm, but also extends into the spiritual realm. The Seforno writes that Noach did rebuke the people in his generation but he did not go any further. “He did not teach them to know God and how to go in his ways.” Consequently, he did not possess enough merit to save the generation.(5) In contrast Avraham went far beyond the call of duty to teach the world to know God.(6) Noach’s kindness was reactive.

    Why would a person reach the level of reactive kindness but fail to progress to the higher level of giving proactively? The clue to this can be found in Noach’s name. We know that a person’s name teaches us about his essence. The word ‘noach’ means ‘comfortable.’ It is not easy to take responsibility for something without first being called upon to do it. The negative inclination will find numerous excuses to avoid taking on a challenging endeavor when the genuine reason for doing so is desire for comfort.

    The great author of Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart),(7) Rabbeinu Bechaye, reveals that he was subject to this very challenge. He writes in the introduction that after planning to write this work he changed his mind, citing a number of reasons. “I thought my powers too limited and my mind too weak to grasp the ideas. Furthermore, I do not possess an elegant style in Arabic, in which the book would have been written… I feared that I would be undertaking a task which would succeed [only] in exposing my shortcomings…Therefore I decided to drop my plans and revoke my decision.” However, he recognized that perhaps his motives were not completely pure. “I began to suspect that I had chosen the comfortable option, looking for peace and quiet. I feared that what had motivated the cancellation of the project had been the desire for self-gratification, which had driven me to seek ease and comfort, to opt for inactivity and sit idly by.”

    To the eternal benefit of the Jewish people, he decided to write the book. The reasons that he initially cited in support of his decision not to write the book seem fair and logical. But he recognized that, on his level, they were tainted by a desire for comfort. We, too, have plausible reasons why we choose to ignore opportunities to help the Jewish people. But we must be extremely careful to make sure that we are not in fact just being lazy. Imagine how many great works or bold initiatives may never have reached fruition because of laziness.

    Another hindrance to proactivity is misplaced trust in God. A person may have the attitude that God will send him his life purpose on a plate. History proves that the great builders in Torah did not have this attitude. They looked at the problems in the world and decided to take action to rectify them without waiting to be told to do so. People such as Rav Aharon Kotler,(8) the Ponevezher Rav(9) and Rebbetzin Sarah Schenirer(10) emulated Avraham and took the initiative to build Torah institutions. These institutions reinforced Torah, and enabled the Jewish people to survive the spiritual onslaught of the Enlightenment and the physical onslaught of the Holocaust.

    In our generation, one does not have to look far to find opportunities to improve the word in some form. But he must not wait to be asked to step forward. If he waits, the opportunity may never materialize. God wants us to open our eyes and take action without being prompted to do so.

    Noach was a great man but he is not the progenitor of the Chosen People. He did kindness, but only after he was instructed to. He rebuked the people, but only after God had told him to do so as a reactive person, who needed external circumstance to arouse him to action.

    By contrast, Avraham did not need to be motivated to serve God. He did not wait for people to come to him in order to teach them Torah. He reached the level of true kindness through great effort. It is incumbent upon us, his descendants, to emulate him and seek and pursue opportunities to make a difference to the Jewish people.


    1. Noach, 6:9.

    2. For example, Rashi states on this passuk that had Noach been alive in Avraham’s generation he would not have been considered a tzaddik. Also see the next Rashi in the verse.

    3. See Gur Aryeh on the Passuk; Michtav M’Eliyahu, 2nd Chelek, p.168; Shelah HaKadosh, Parshas Noach, Torah Ohr, 2.Tiferes Shlomo.

    4. Michtav M’Eliyahu, 2nd Chelek, p.178.

    5. Seforno, Bereishis, 6:8.

    6. See Meiri, Avos, 5:2: Lechem Shamayim on Avos (by Rav Yaakov Emden zt”l), 5:2. Seforno, Toldos, 26:5. Chasam Sofer, Hakdama to Yoreh Deah entitled ‘Pisuchey Chosam.’ Chofetz Chaim in many places; see Chomas Hadas, opening chapters.

    7. A classic work of Jewish though that outlines how to develop a relationship with HaShem.

    8. One of the leading Rabbis in the first half of the 20th Century – he played a leading role in saving Jews from the Holocaust and founded the great Yeshiva, Lakewood, that is located in New Jersey.

    9. The founder of the great Yeshiva, Ponevezh, that is located in Bnei Brak.

    10. The founder of the Beis Yaakov movement that provided an educational structure for young Jewish women, and is credited with stemming the secularization of many women in the early part of the 20th Century.

  4. Noach(Genesis 6:9-11:32)
    The “Righteous” Noach
    by Rav Ozer Alport

    Noach, the namesake and focus of this week’s parsha, seems at first glance quite contradictory. On one hand, the Torah explicitly testifies in the beginning of the parsha that Noach was perfectly righteous, and he alone merited to be saved from the destruction which befell his contemporaries. Everyone alive today is descended from him and exists only in his merit.

    On the other hand, Rashi points out that some Sages question how pious Noach truly was. The verse emphasizes that he was righteous in his generation, which can be read as implying that if he had lived in another generation, such as that of Avraham, he wouldn’t have been considered unique or special in any way. This is difficult to understand. If the Torah explicitly praises Noach, why do the Sages minimize his greatness, and why do they specifically compare him to Avraham?

    Further, Noach wasn’t righteous enough to be completely exempt from the pain and suffering which was meted out to the rest of his generation. He was forced to survive the flood by spending a year in cramped quarters together with the rest of the animal kingdom, and he enjoyed no rest as he was constantly busy feeding each animal at the time when it was accustomed to eat. If he was indeed so righteous, why wasn’t he simply told to escape to the Land of Israel, which according to one opinion (Talmud – Zevachim 113a) was miraculously protected and spared from the flood until the waters subsided?

    Furthermore, after Noach survived this difficult experience, he received permission to exit the ark and was given a promise that God would never again destroy the world. Noach responded by planting a vineyard, getting drunk, and debasing himself (Genesis 9:20-21). How could he have fallen so far so quickly?

    The answer to these apparent contradictions lies in the Zohar (Vol. 3 15a), which questions why the Haftarah (Isaiah 54:9) refers to the flood as “Mei Noach” – the floodwaters of Noach. Since Noach was the righteous tzaddik who was spared from the destruction, why is the flood named for him, implying that he was somehow responsible for it?

    The Zohar answers that God commanded Noach (Genesis 6:14) to make an ark to save him and his family from the impending flood. During the 120 years that Noach was busy doing so, he neglected to pray for his contemporaries to repent their sins and be spared, and as a result, he was held accountable for the flood which may have been prevented through his prayers.

    The Zohar teaches us that although Noach was personally righteous, he was content with his own individual piety to save himself and his family without being properly concerned about the welfare of his contemporaries. The Midrash compares Noach to a captain who saved himself while allowing his boat and its passengers to drown. With this insight, we can now appreciate that Noach’s spiritual level was indeed complex and somewhat contradictory. He withstood the tremendous temptation to join the rest of his sinful generation and remained uniquely pious, yet at the same time he could have done much more on behalf of others.

    This explains why he is specifically denigrated in comparison to Avraham, who was the paragon of chesed and whose entire life was focused on helping others. When Avraham was informed by God about the impending destruction of Sodom, he didn’t content himself with the fact that he wasn’t endangered, but repeatedly beseeched God to overturn the decree and spare them from destruction.

    As far as why this was in fact the case, Rabbi Nachum of Horodna explains that Noach was born into a pious family. His grandfather was the righteous Methushelach, who lived to the age of 969 and for whom the flood was delayed until the end of the week of mourning after his death (Midrash Rabba 32:7). As such, Noach was content to follow in the righteous ways of his family and felt no need to focus his energies elsewhere. Avraham, on the other hand, was raised in an idolatrous environment which he forcefully rejected. Because his life circumstances forced him to discover God on his own, he was more naturally inclined to work to disseminate the knowledge of God to others.

    Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch writes that this explains why Noach was forced to endure such a difficult and exhausting year in the ark, instead of living peacefully with his family in the Land of Israel. Even though Noach was deemed sufficiently righteous to be saved and to repopulate the earth, he was found lacking in the area of feeling compassion for others. In order to teach this lesson, God required him to spend the duration of the flood engaged in continuous chesed, feeding the various animals around the clock, each with its own unique menu and eating time. The Midrash adds that Noach was so busy feeding the animals that he was unable to sleep that entire year in the ark, and when he once brought the lion’s food a little late, it responded by biting him (Rashi, Genesis 7:23).

    Still, although it is important to do acts of kindness for others, the Meshech Chochmah points out that one might assume that one nevertheless loses out in the process, as the time and energy dedicated to others come at the expense of investing in his own growth and development. However, he quotes a Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 36:3) which points out that precisely the opposite is in fact the case. Although Noach is initially introduced as an “ish tzaddik tamim” – a perfectly righteous man, his lifelong focus on himself caused him to fall and be transformed into an “ish ha’adama” – a man of the earth (Genesis 9:20).

    In contrast, Moses, who dedicated his entire life to the welfare of others, was originally described (Exodus 2:19) as an “ish mitzri” – an Egyptian man who was forced into exile – but through his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people he elevated him to the pinnacle of perfection and was called (Deut. 33:1) an “ish haElokim” – a man of God. This teaches that a person never loses out by doing chesed for others.

  5. Parshas Noach
    Out of the Darkness
    by Shlomo Katz

    The Gemara (Berachot 29a) asks: “Why are there seven aliyot in the Shabbat Torah reading?” It answers: “They parallel the seven times that King David referred to a ‘kol’ / ‘voice’ in connection with water [in Tehilim ch.29].”

    R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l (1865-1935; Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains: At first glance, attaining shleimut (roughly translated, “perfection” or “completeness”) seems to be the result of work and action, whereas rest seems to be unproductive and lacking value. In reality, though, the shleimut that is attained through action is made possible by the rest that preceded the action. Being at ease mentally enables the actions that one takes to be focused.

    R’ Kook continues: Similarly, in the world in general, shleimut seems to result from actions such as building, while there seems to be no wisdom or value in destruction. However, when we observe the shleimut that results from destruction, we recognize that everything is guided by the wisdom and counsel of the Great Counselor (paraphrasing Yirmiyahu 33:19). Regarding this, King David said (Tehilim 46:9), “Go and see the works of Hashem, Who has wrought devastation in the land.”

    In this vein King David referred to seven ‘kolot’ / ‘voices’ in connection with water. Water is the opposite of an inhabited settlement, which is a manifestation of man’s intelligence and represents the pinnacle of creation. Nevertheless, in the seas we see the Hand of Hashem and hear the Voice of Hashem [Tehilim 29:3–“The Voice of Hashem is upon the water”], just as we see His Hand and Voice in destruction, as in (Tehilim 29:5), “The Voice of Hashem shatters the cedars of Lebanon”–a reference to the Bet Hamikdash, which was constructed of that wood. Even so, that chapter continues (29:10), “Hashem sat enthroned at the Flood; Hashem sits enthroned as King forever.” This is because, through the destruction of the Flood, the world was cleansed of evildoers who were not fit to accomplish the purpose of creation–bringing about the revelation of Hashem. (Ein Ayah: Berachot, Ch.4 No.43)


    “And as for you, take yourself of every food that is eaten and gather it in to yourself, that it shall be as food for you and for them.” (6:21)

    The Gemara states, as if quoting Hashem, “The entire world is sustained in the merit of My son, Chaninah [one of the sages of the Mishnah].” This means, explains R’ Elazar Shapira z”l (1808-1865; Rebbe of Lancut, Galicia; son of the author of Bnei Yissaschar), that the tzaddik of the generation is the conduit through which blessings and sustenance flow to the entire world. Ironically, that tzaddik does not need to work hard to support himself. Even if he performs only a token act of hishtadlut / physical effort, he finds his sustenance.

    R’ Shapira continues: This lesson is learned from our verse. How so? Because Hashem told Noach to take food for all of the creatures that would be on the Ark, but Hashem never told Noach how long their stay on the Ark would be. It seems that it did not matter. As long as Noach performed some modest hishtadlut, the sustenance of all the creatures on the Ark would be guaranteed in his merit. (Yod’ai Binah)


    “Then Hashem said to Noach, ‘Come to the Ark, you and all your household, for it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me in this generation’.” (Bereishit 7:1)

    R’ Yaakov Yosef z”l (maggid / preacher in Vilna and Chief Rabbi of New York; died 1902) asks: This verse explains why Noach was saved, but why were his sons–especially Cham–saved? He answers:

    We see here an example of a son benefitting from the good deeds of his father. Indeed, the Gemara (Berachot 7a) says that if you see a wicked person living a life full of good things (“rasha v’tov lo”), it is very likely that his father was righteous. This is why we repeatedly invoke the merit of the Patriarchs in our prayers.

    Nevertheless, we should not expect the merit of our ancestors to outweigh our own deeds. Thus, for example, the Torah says about Yishmael (Bereishit 21:17), “G-d has heeded the cry of the youth in his present state.” Our Sages explain that Yishmael was righteous at that moment and was judged accordingly. However, the implication is that had Yishmael been unworthy, even the merit of his father Avraham could not have helped him.

    Where, then, is the line drawn? After all, Noach’s merits did save his wicked son Cham! R’ Yosef explains that the merit of a person’s forefathers can protect him so long as he does not reject that for which his forefathers stood. Noach possessed fear of G-d, says R’ Yosef, but he did not serve Hashem in a way that allowed his children to inherit his beliefs. It follows that Cham did not reject Noach’s beliefs, which were never really offered to him. Thus, he was able to enjoy the fruits of Noach’s good deeds. (L’bet Yaakov: Drush 11)


    “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your offspring after you . . .” (9:9)

    In this and the following verses, the word brit / covenant is used seven times. We also find that Hashem established 13 covenants with Avraham Avinu (see ch.17). How was Hashem’s covenant with Noach different from Hashem’s covenant with Avraham?

    R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk, Lithuania) explains: The covenant with Noach was a covenant to preserve the laws of nature, as we read (8:22), “Continuously, all the days of the earth, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease,” unlike during the Flood, when those laws were suspended. Thus, there were seven covenants, paralleling the seven days of creation.

    In contrast, the covenant with Avraham was a promise to establish a personal relationship with his descendants, to be their G-d, and to allow them to attach themselves to Him through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot. Thus, there were thirteen covenants, paralleling the 13 principles by which the Torah is expounded and the 13 attributes of mercy through which Hashem relates to the Jewish People. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim: Potei’ach Yad)


    “Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard.” (9:20)

    Rashi z”l explains: He debased himself in that he should have planted a different plant first.

    R’ Ovadiah Sforno z”l (Italy; died 1550) writes: He began with something unseemly; therefore, things that should not be done resulted [i.e., he got drunk and was humiliated by his son Cham]. This is because a small error in the beginning leads to a large error in the end, as is the case in matters of science.

    R’ Alter Chanoch Henach Hakohen Leibowitz z”l (1908-2008; rosh yeshiva of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva in New York) asks: Did Hashem ever tell Noach not to plant a vineyard? Moreover, Noach’s intention surely was for the sake of Heaven–for example, to have wine for libations to accompany his sacrificial offerings! Why, then, is he deserving of criticism?

    R’ Leibowitz answers: This is what R’ Ovadiah Sforno is teaching–that notwithstanding the absence of a prohibition, and notwithstanding Noach’s good intentions, Noach should have asked himself if his deeds were appropriate for the situation. Noach failed to ask himself whether planting a vineyard at this time was seemly, and therefore he stumbled.

    R’ Leibowitz continues: This is not some chumrah / stringency; it is a Torah obligation, as is written (Devarim 6:18), “You shall do what is fair and good in the eyes of Hashem.” [See Maggid Mishneh, end of Hil. Shecheinim]. (Chiddushei Halev)


    Letters from Our Sages

    This letter was written by R’ Reuven Dov Dessler z”l to his son R’ Eliyahu Eliezer z”l (1892-1953; author of Michtav M’Eliyahu). The writer was a successful businessman and, with his brother, was the primary supporter of the “Talmud Torah” of Kelm, the yeshiva founded by R’ Simcha Zissel of Kelm z”l for the study of mussar.

    This letter is printed in Kitvei Ha’Sabba Ve’talmidav Mi’Kelm, p.546 (No. 41).

    We say in Birkat Hamazon, “And through His great goodness, we have never lacked, and may we never lack, nourishment, for all eternity.” This is wondrous! Mortals do not need nourishment after they die. “All eternity” is after death; what good is a candle in the sunlight? [In other words, what good does nourishment do in a place where no one needs it?]

    Apparently, nourishment for the soul is needed–even for the dead, even for all eternity–so that one can “live.” If one does not toil on Erev Shabbat, what will he eat on Shabbat? [If one does not prepare nourishment for his soul in This World, on what will he “live” in the World-to-Come?]

    The verse (Yishayah 65:13) has already warned: “[Therefore, thus said My Lord, Hashem Elokim,] ‘Behold, My servants will eat and you will starve; behold, My servants will drink and you will thirst . . .’” This [realization] is one of the key things that mussar [study] calls upon a person to picture.

    May we merit to make the necessary preparations successfully, and may it go well with us.

    Your father, who loves you with his soul
    Reuven Dov

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