Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Parshas Noach

ותשחת הארץ לפני האלקים ותמלא הארץ חמס (6:11)

וזה אשר תעשה אתה שלש מאות אמה ארך התבה חמשים אמה רחבה ושלשים אמה קומתה

צהר תעשה לתבה ואל אמה תכלנה מלמעלה (6:15-16)

The Zohar HaKadosh teaches that prior to the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge, the serpent was known merely as “ח.” After it successfully enticed Chava to sin, Adam added to its name the letter “נ” from Hashem’s name of Lordship (אד-ני) and the letter “ש” from Hashem’s name ש-די, calling it נחש to mitigate its potential to bring evil into the world. Similarly, the accusing angel was initially known as ס-ם, but to counteract its wicked powers Adam added one of Hashem’s names and called it ס-מ-א-ל.

The Meged Yosef writes in the name of his grandfather, the mystic Rav Leib Sarah’s, that for a time Adam’s plan worked successfully. The additions from the Divine names kept the evil powers in check, and the world functioned reasonably for nine generations. However, in Noach’s generation the world was filled with חמס (robbery). They sinned so greatly that they allowed the serpent and prosecuting angel to regain their initial strength, as חמס is a combination of their original names (ח and ס-ם)!

In order to restore justice to the world, Hashem had no choice but to once again diminish the power of this dastardly duo. He commanded Noach to make an ark which would measure 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits tall, with the roof of the ark sloping upward to one cubit so that the rain would run off. Although one could mistakenly view these dimensions as arbitrary, the Meged Yosef explains the depth and precision of every detail in the Torah.

As each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value, we may re-express the dimensions of the ark as ש cubits in length, נ cubits in width, ל cubits in height, and an א cubit finish on the roof. The length and width are precisely the two letters needed to once again transform the “ח” back into נחש, while the height and the finish on top are exactly what were needed to reduce the mighty ס-ם into ס-מ-א-ל. The ark which was built with these dimensions allowed Noach to combat the “חמס” which was rampant in his generation and be saved from the flood brought to destroy it!

ויאמר ד' לנח בא אתה וכל ביתך אל התבה כי אתך ראיתי צדיק לפני בדור הזה (7:1)

ראיתי צדיק - ולא נאמר צדיק תמים. מכאן שאומרים מקצת שבחו של אדם בפניו וכולו שלא בפניו (רש"י)

Although the Torah previously testified (6:9) that Noach was completely perfect and righteous, when addressing him directly Hashem mentioned only that he was righteous, leaving out the full extent of his piety. Rashi explains that this teaches us that when somebody is speaking in the presence of the person he is praising, he should relate only a portion of that person’s admirable qualities.

Rav Akiva Eiger was once called upon to perform a seemingly impossible task: to eulogize somebody whose greatness was beyond his contemporaries’ comprehension: the legendary Gaon of Vilna. He began his eulogy by discussing this very difficulty, questioning how he could accept the responsibility of describing the greatness of the irreplaceable treasure which had been lost.

He explained that Rashi’s comment provided him justification to allow him to agree to the speech. The Gemora in Shabbos (153a) teaches that the soul of the deceased is present when it is being eulogized. In light of this fact, we may apply Rashi’s principle to conclude that when praising somebody who is present, one is only required to relate part of his praises, and in that case the eulogy may begin!

ויאמר אלקים זאת אות הברית ... את קשתי נתתי בענן והיתה לאות ברית ביני ובין הארץ (9:12-13)

Hashem told Noach that the rainbow will be the sign of His covenant to never again destroy the earth. Does this mean that rainbows never existed prior to the flood and Hashem changed the laws of nature in order to bring about their existence, or that they occurred previously but only now achieved a new symbolic meaning?

A number of our greatest Rabbis disagree about this very question. After initially assuming that if Hashem declared that He was creating the rainbow to serve as a sign, it must have been a new creation at that time, the Ramban proceeds to quote the Greeks, who maintained that their advanced scientific knowledge indicated that a rainbow was a natural result of light shining in moist air.

As a result, the Ramban concludes that rainbows naturally occurred prior to the flood, but only took on new significance at that time. As a proof to this position, the Ramban and Rav Saadyah Gaon note that Hashem didn’t say, “I am placing,” which would indicate that the rainbow was created at that time, but rather, “I have placed my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant.”

The Derashos HaRan (Derush 1) and the Gur Aryeh disagree, questioning how something which has always existed, such as the rising of the sun in the morning, can suddenly take on symbolic properties. They both write that although scientists teach that a rainbow is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, the laws of nature prior to the flood were such that the sun’s rays weren’t strong enough to create a rainbow. As for the proof from the verb’s past tense, the Ibn Ezra reconciles it with this opinion by reading it as saying, “I have placed – now – my rainbow in the cloud as a sign of the covenant.”

ויחל נח איש האדמה ויטע כרם וישת מן היין וישכר ויתגל בתוך אהלה (9:20-21)

ויחל - עשה עצמו חולין שהי' לו לעסוק תחלה בנטיעה אחרת (רש"י)

After the waters of the flood subsided and Hashem commanded Noach and his family to leave the ark, Noach encountered a desolate wasteland, a reminder of the year of unprecedented destruction the world had just endured. Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rebuilding which was necessary to render the world once again inhabitable, Noach chose to begin by planting a vineyard. The Torah criticizes his actions, noting that he desecrated and sullied himself by doing so. The end result was that he became drunk after drinking from the wine and passed out naked in a drunken stupor. Rashi explains that Noach’s error was that he should have overcome his craving for wine and begun by planting more essential trees.

The Medrash goes even farther, sharply contrasting the fact that prior to the flood the Torah refers to Noach as a righteous man with the fact that this error transformed him into a debased and sullied man. Although it may be true that Noach could have displayed better judgment in his priorities for rebuilding the earth, why was his mistake so catastrophic? As the vineyard also served a valuable purpose, why does the Torah take Noach to task for such a seemingly insignificant lapse in judgment?

The Medrash relates that on the night after the construction of the first Temple was finished, Shlomo HaMelech got married. The combination of the two celebrations was a cause for tremendous joy. So that he shouldn’t wake up early in the morning, his new wife hung a sheet with pictures of the moon and stars on top of his bed so that when he woke up, he would think it was still night and would continue to sleep. On that night, he slept until four hours after sunrise, and the Jews waiting eagerly to offer the morning sacrifice had to wait until that time, as the keys to the Temple were underneath his pillow.

When his mother heard that the sacrifice was being delayed due to his sleeping late, she went and woke him up and rebuked him quite soundly. Although it would have been nice to bring the sacrifice at the earliest possible time, nothing was actually lost as it was offered four hours after sunrise, which is still within its acceptable time range. Further, Shlomo did nothing wrong as he was rejoicing with his new bride, and he only slept late because she deceived him. Why, then, was his mother so upset with him?

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro answers that Shlomo’s mother understood the importance of a proper beginning, both to the Temple and to one’s marriage, as everything which happens subsequently is an outgrowth of that foundation. She therefore emphasized to Shlomo that no excuse in the world justifies damaging the foundation of a new project. Similarly, Rav Shapiro explains that in harshly denigrating Noach, the Torah is teaching us that although his decision seems to represent a trivial oversight, in reality his planting of the vineyard set the tone for his actions in rebuilding the world. Although it was possible to undo the damage caused by poor judgment, the solid foundation would still be missing.

As the recent Yomim Tovim fade into the past, we return to our daily lives. Whether we are returning to a new zman in yeshiva or the new school year, to our jobs or caring for our families, we should internalize the lesson of Noach and Shlomo, making sure to plant solid foundations which will help ensure success in all of our endeavors throughout the year to come.

אלה תולדת שם שם בן מאת שנה ויולד את ארפכשד שנתים אחר המבול ויחי שם

אחרי הולידו את ארפכשד חמש מאות שנה ויולד בנים ובנות (11:10-11)

In Parshas Bereishis, the Torah lists the ten generations from Adam to Noach to Avrohom and the years of their lives (5:3-32). A quick examination reveals that the average post-flood lifespan of the generations from Noach to Avrohom listed in our parsha (11:10-26) was significantly shorter than that of the post-flood generations. To what may this change be attributed?

Our great commentators suggest a number of explanations for this phenomenon. The Rambam writes (Moreh Nevuchim 2:47) that even before the blood, the average lifespan was only 70 or 80 years, and those who are mentioned as living much longer were exceptions to the rule. The Ramban disagrees and maintains that these individuals weren’t exceptional, but rather all people prior to the flood had longer lifespans. After the flood, natural conditions were no longer as supportive to humans, which resulting in declining lifespans. Finally, the Seforno suggests (8:21) that prior to the flood, there were no changes in the weather and in seasons, which allowed humans to remain much stronger. After the flood, unnatural changes in the earth and sun resulted in constantly changing weather conditions that left humans less healthy and shortened their lifespans.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (Niddah 61a) that Og survived the flood by fleeing to Israel, where the floodwaters didn’t reach. Why couldn’t Noach do the same? (Maharsha Zevachim 113a)

2) Regarding the birds, Hashem commanded Noach (7:3) to take seven pairs of each kosher species and one pair of each non-kosher species into the ark. He wasn’t required to take fish into the ark as they were able to survive in the water during the duration of the flood (Rashi 7:22). Why did the birds need to enter the ark to survive instead of flying in the air until the water receded?

3) The prophet Yeshaya describes (65:25) the peacefulness which will reign in the times of Moshiach, noting that even natural enemies such as wolves and sheep will dwell serenely side-by-side. Why is this considered such an accomplishment of the Messianic era when wolves, sheep, and every other species in existence peacefully coexisted on one level of the ark (7:8) for an entire year? (Rav Meir Shapiro quoted in Peninim Vol. 5 and Vol. 8)

4) Rashi writes (8:14) that the period of the punishment of Noach’s generation was 12 months. As his wicked contemporaries died immediately in the burning floodwaters, in what sense was their judgment prolonged by the mere fact that the water remained on the earth for a total of 12 months? (Rav Moshe Shapiro quoted in Chavatzeles HaSharon, Ayeles HaShachar 8:7 and 8:14)

5) The Gemora in Bava Kamma (91b) derives from 9:5 that it is forbidden to unnecessarily damage or hurt one’s body in any way. Does having plastic surgery for cosmetic reasons violate this prohibition? (Shu”t Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:66)

6) Does Hashem’s commandment to Noach and his sons (Rashi 9:7) to be fruitful and multiply mean that non-Jews are commanded to reproduce and bear offspring? (Tosefos Chagiga 2b d.h. lo with Maharsha, Tosefos Sanhedrin 59b d.h. v’ha, Torah Shleima Bereishis 1:28 Os 793, Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Melochim 10:7, Sh’eilas Shalom on Sheiltos 165, Toras Chaim)

7) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 229:1) that a person who sees a rainbow must recite a blessing praising Hashem for remembering and fulfilling His covenant (9:12-13) to never again destroy the earth. How can one look at a rainbow to say a blessing when the Gemora in Chagiga (16a) teaches that gazing at a rainbow will impair one’s vision? (Mishnah Berurah 229:5)

8) The Mabit writes that one should not call his children by names of people who lived prior to Avrohom. Rav Chaim Kanievsky questions this by listing 32 names of Biblical figures who preceded Avrohom and which are found in the writings of Chazal throughout the generations. How many of them can you identify? (Taima D’Kra)

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