A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Noach 6 Cheshvan 5764 November 1, 2003 Vol.13 No.8
In This Issue:
Mr. Sam Davidowitz
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Rabbi Adler and the Torah Academy Faculty wish their
sincerest congratulations to their fellow faculty member, Mr. Bryan
Kinzbrunner on his recent engagement to Shira Frankel.
This week’s issue has been sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Darren Blackstein in observance of the
Yahrtzeit Rabbi Blackstein’s beloved parents
Reuven ben Yisrael & Miriam Chaya bat Simcha.
This week’s issue is also sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Michael Richmond in honor of the Bar Mitzvah
of their son Yitzchak this week.
Why We Do What We Do
by Mr. Sam Davidowitz- English Department
While the story of Noach and the flood is the obvious concentration of this week’s Parsha, like many biblical figures, very little is actually known about Noach. Many commentaries have struggled with their categorizations and their classifications of Noach concerning the first Pasuk of Parshat Noach: “Eleh Toldot Noach: Noach Ish Tzadik, Tamim Haya Bidorotav; Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, complete in his generations; with G-d, Noach walked” (Bereishit 6:9). This Pasuk seems like an obvious praise of Noach because the first time that he is mentioned in the Torah it is immediately noted that he was a Tzadik, that he was complete and perfect and that he walked alongside Hashem. Rashi notes that most assume this Pasuk to be one of praise and quotes the phrase “Zecher Tzadik Liberacha,” “The mention of a righteous person is for a blessing” (Mishlei 10:7). Rashi continues this line of thinking by stating that the Torah is trying to teach us “Sheikar Toldoteihem Shel Tzadikim Maasim Tovim,” “That the main offspring of the righteous are good deeds.” This line of thinking fosters the belief that Noach was a very virtuous person worthy of emulation.
The rest of Rashi’s commentary on this Pasuk, though, brings up some unusual issues concerning the ending of the Pasuk. Rashi comments on the word “Bidorotov” and states that many believe that this word implies that had Noach lived amongst righteous people, he would have been even greater. He also notes that many see “Bidorotov” as a having a derogatory connotation in this context: “Lifee Doro Haya Tzadik, Vielu Haya Bidoro Shel Avraham, Lo Haya Nechshav Lichloom,” “According to [the standards of] his generation he was a righteous person, but if he had been in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been anything [significant].” Rashi also comments on the last clause of the Pasuk: “Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “Noach walked with God.” In Parshat Lech Lecha, Hashem says to Avraham “Hithalech Lifanai,” “Walk before Me” (Bereshit 17:1). Rashi sees the difference in wording as an indication that Noach needed support while Avraham did not.
Rashi goes on to point out that Noach did not enter the ark until the last minute, as the Pasuk states, “Vayavo Noach Ubanav Vieshto Unishey Banav Ito El Hateva Mipnei Mei Hamabul,” “Noach and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark because of the waters of the flood” (Bereshit 7:7). Rashi comments that Noach had a lapse of faith, that his faith was not complete, that he did not enter the ark until the waters rose to an intolerable level: “Ma’amiyn V’ayno Maamin Sheyavo Hamabul Ahd Shedichakuhu Hamayim,” “He believed, yet he did not believe [completely] that the flood would come, and he did not enter the ark until the waters compelled him.” After all of the time that Noach spent building the ark, it would seem that his faith wavered right before the last step in the process.
An understanding of the grammar of the first Pasuk of Parshat Noach is essential when examining this crux. On a literal level, the Torah is stating that the Toldot, generations, or more aptly the legacy of Noach is that he was a righteous man who was complete and who walked alongside Hashem. What follows a semicolon explains, elaborates, or clarifies the clause that appears before the semicolon. “Eleh Toldot Noach: Noach Ish Tzadik, Tamim Haya Bidorotav; Et Haelokim Hithalech Noach,” “These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, complete in his generations; with G-d, Noach walked” (Bereishit 6:9). Therefore, what is the legacy of Noach? He was a Tzadik who walked alongside Hashem. Whatever doubts he may have had about the supernatural circumstances affecting his life only served to make him stronger and, in the end, Noach should be remembered for the outcome of his actions and the example that he set for his family.
At first glance, a crisis of faith may look like a major calamity, but one must understand that true faith can only be gained through questioning ourselves. It is said that when David Hamelech wanted to truly commune with Hashem he did it through his music, for he believed that his music could express his deepest emotions where he felt his words fell flat. At these times, he would play a series of dim notes followed by a series of higher, brighter notes that would signify the true essence of faith: those who come closest to achieving a true sense of faith have to truly understand what it is like to have a lack of faith. That is, having faith without thinking is not what Judaism is about. To follow the Torah because of upbringing or schooling is not complete; one must come to a point where he fully accepts upon himself certain obligations which he feels are a true expression of his faith in Hashem and reaffirms his commitment to a certain way of life or else he is just practicing his religion like an automaton.
Why Double Language
by Effie Richmond
The Torah writes in this week’s Parsha, “Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Haelokim Vatimalay Haaretz Chamas.” Later, Hashem says, “Vayomer Elokim Lenoach... Ki Malah Haaretz Chamas.” Why is there repetition? If the Torah tells us that the land self destructed before Hashem “Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Haelokim,” why does it add that the world was filled with Chamas (crime)?
The Rav zt”l points out that Chazal say that Hashchata, destruction, refers to the sins of idolatry (Avodah Zarah) and illicit relationships (Giluy Arayot), while Chamas refers to robbery (Gezel). The Ramban explains that when Hashem spoke to Noach, He based the decision to destroy the world on the sin of Chamas. Why did Hashem not mention Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah as a reason for the Hashchata? The Ramban explains that avoidance of Chamas is considered a Mitzva Muskelet, an obligation that is readily grasped from an intellectual perspective. Man can readily understand and appreciate the necessity to maintain law and order. Chazal refer to such Mitzvot Sichliot as Mitzvot that would be followed even had they not been written in the Torah. Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah, are considered Mitzvot Shliliot, Mitzvot that we must obey and restrictions we must follow simply because Hashem has commanded us to refrain from them. They are prohibitions that man would not place on himself if left to his own rational devices. (That is why the Ramban only refers to Giluy Arayot and Avodah Zarah and omits murder, Shfichat Damim, from the category of Hashchata, since murder is also a Mitzva Sichlit.)
Hashem tells Noach that He will destroy the world because it is filled with Chamas. Hashem says that even if He would be willing to overlook their transgressions of the Mitzvot Shliliot, namely Avodah Zarah and Giluy Arayot, He cannot overlook their violation of basic norms and ethical behavior. Their transgression of the Mitzvot Sichliot of Chamas and Gezel, which are restrictions that they should have understood on their own and never violated. Chazal said that the fate of the generation of the Mabul was sealed because of their violation of Gezel, which left a permanent mark on the generation and led to their destruction.
The Rav asked, why does the Torah use the words “Lifnay Elokim,” “Before God” when telling us that the generation self-destructed (“Vatishachet Haaretz Lifnay Elokim”). We can easily understand using these words when describing the Mitzva of “Usemachtem Lifnay Hashem Elokaychem,” “And you should rejoice before Hashem your God.” But how do these words fit here?
The Rav gave an explanation based on Shvuat Hapikadon, an oath that must be taken by a person entrusted to watch an item. The Torah describes the concept of Shvuat Hapikadon as “Nefesh Ki Techta Umaala Maal Behashem Vkichesh Beamito,” “A person who sins by committing a misappropriation offense against Hashem by lying to his neighbor.” The Tosefta explains that such an offense against his fellow man can only be committed by one who has previously been Moel Behashem, acted inappropriately towards Hashem. A Jew who fears Hashem (Bayn Adam Lemakom) will refrain from acting sinfully towards his fellow man (Bayn Adam Lechaveiro). In other words man is called a sinner not only because he violates the Mitzvot Sichliot, but because he has violated the Mitzvot Shliliot as well, and sinned towards Hashem. The Ramban says the same thing happened by the Dor Hamabul. They started out with Hashchasa, by rebelling against Hashem and the Mitzvot Shliliot of Avodah Zarah and Giluy Arayot and eventually ended up violating the Mitzvot Sichliot of Gezel and Chamas.
The Rav said that in Tefilat Neila we recite “Ata Noten Yad Leposhim,” that Hashem helps man “Lemaan Nechdal Meoshek Yadaynu,” “so that he can desist from the robbery of our hands.” Why do we not say “Lemaan Nechdal Mayaverot Yadeinu,” “so that he might desist from the sins of our hands”? Why use a term like Oshek instead of Avonot or Aveyrot that is more commonly used to refer to sin?
The Rav explained that Oshek is an all-inclusive term for all kinds of sin, similar to Chamas. (When the Torah says Ki Malah Haaretz Chamas it means that man committed all kinds of Aveyrot.) On Yom Kippur we say that Hashem assists man to repent for all sins, Oshek, that he committed. When man sins he loses his privileges, Zechutim, over himself. In Tefila Zaka we say that Hashem created man and all the parts of his body to serve Hashem and act morally, yet instead we have acted immorally and we are Gazlanim, theives. In Malachi, the prophet asks how it is possible to steal from Hashem? The answer is when man does not give Trumot and Maasrot, he steals from Hashem. If Hashem gives us wealth and we do not give Tzedaka, we are stealing from Hashem. If man uses his hands or his legs for sinful purposes, he is stealing them from Hashem, who created them so that we might perform Mitzvot with them. We forfeit our rights, Zechutim, over our own bodies. When we pray that we may desist from Oshek Yadaynu, we ask that we be granted the strength to resist the sin of Gezel through the misuse of either physical or material gifts given to us by Hashem. We pray that we might not repeat our sinful past when we were guilty of Oshek Yadaynu, misuse of our hands, indeed our very existence.
The Rav explained that the Dor Hamabul was filled with Chamas because they had perverted their entire physical and spiritual existence. They were guilty of Oshek, violating all of Hashem’s laws between man and God as well as man and man to the highest degree, and were punished accordingly.
by Yosef Novetsky
At the end of this week’s Parsha, there is a second tragic episode that gravely affects a large portion of the world’s populace - the episode of Migdal Bavel. In this incident, a very unified group of people decides to found a city in a valley in the land of Shinnar, a fertile area of Mesopotamia. When they arrive, these people decide to fire bricks, and build a city with a large tower whose top will reach the sky. The Torah says that this large project was undertaken because the people wanted to make themselves a “name," lest they become dispersed from upon the earth. Ironically, they actually do become dispersed upon the surface of the earth. Many commentators believe that when the builders say lest we be dispersed, they do not only mean to build this edifice for posterity. Rather, they are building this large edifice so they will not be scattered and decimated by a neighboring army, or another cataclysmic natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake, as they say, "Lest we be scattered upon the earth." Yes, the motives of fame and posterity are there, but the main thrust of their reasoning is that they want to stay alive. These fears are well grounded, as not many years before this city was built, a large flood wiped out the entire known world. So, the question is why Hashem decided to take the initiative of scattering these people if their motives are seemingly innocuous. After all, what is wrong with wanting to survive? The answer is that these people were directly disobeying Hashem’s call to Noach after he came back onto dry land. Hashem tells Noach to fill the land, exactly the opposite of what these people are doing. These people seem to be thinking that if we spread out, there are wild animals, marauding tribes, and other such forces, which will take advantage of our weakness. However, if we stay together, we will not be at risk, because we will have the strength of large numbers. What these people are doing here is showing a tremendous lack of faith in Hashem, and an enormous amount of faith in man’s greatness. These people think that if we stay together, we will do well, and if we do not, we will die. However, by giving man the command to fill the land, Hashem is saying that man will not be destroyed because they will fill the land. These people have an enormous amount of trust, as they able to put complete and total faith in one another for their personal protection. However, there is no trust in Hashem, as these people believe that they must be together for defense, and they do not believe that if they spread out, they will be able to survive, as Hashem said that they would. In this extreme lack of faith in Hashem lies the main reason for the dispersal. On the surface, these people did nothing wrong: they built a city with a large monument by which they hoped to be remembered. However, this city and their phraseology of "making themselves a name," shows that they are in this for themselves. They want to be remembered, they want to be known to future generations, they are in this for their own personal gain. However, there is no mention of Hashem - everything that happens is because of the strength of man and Hashem has no say in anything. This narrative is showing us that what these people think is totally wrong. Hashem has the final say in everything, and man has no say. This story is trying to show us that even though man is able to establish himself a name for posterity, he may not do this by himself. Rather, man may only establish his name for posterity with the help of God
High Buildings, Higher Spirits
by Ariel Caplan
“Vayomru Hava Nivnah Lanu Ir Umigdal Virosho Bashamayim Vinaaseh Lanu Shem,” “And they said, ‘Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves’” (11:4)
The story of the Dor Haflaga is certainly a puzzling one. It is unfathomable that a generation who lived at the same time as the survivors of the flood sinned so greatly and rebelled against God Himself.
Of course, the idea that the purpose of building the Migdal Bavel was to rebel against Hashem is not obvious from the text; rather it is derived from the word Bashamayim. The Ibn Ezra points out that elsewhere in the Torah there is a reference to “Arim Gedolot Uvetzurot Bashamayim,” “great cities (in Israel) fortified to the heavens,” which would seem to show that Bashamayim is just a way of referring to a great height. The Ibn Ezra then suggests something entirely different. He maintains that no one would have been stupid enough to challenge Hashem; rather the tower was meant to be a center for all civilization. He probably takes this idea from the next words in the Pasuk, “lest we be dispersed throughout the land,” as this would be a way for the Dor Haflaga to stay united. Interestingly, this idea appears to give Migdal Bavel a positive spin, as it would have united all the people in the world. Thus, it is odd that the Dor Haflaga were punished instead of being rewarded for their efforts.
The Ibn Ezra goes on to explain that in fact the Dor Haflaga’s goal was not necessarily a good one. While unification can be productive, it can also restrict growth. Without different backgrounds and viewpoints, there is no balancing factor to maintain perspective and objectivity. The Dor Haflaga intentionally attempted to inhibit the growth and development of society, and, as the Rashbam points out, were thus disregarding the commandment from Hashem of “Peru Urevu Umilu Et Haaretz,” to have children and populate the land. Hence, the confusion of languages and the dispersal of people part of were not a punishment but part of a correction. Diverse languages and areas make reunification almost impossible, thus ensuring variation among people and the development of different cultures.
However, there still must be some basis for the statement of the Midrash that the builders of the Migdal Bavel meant to rebel against Hashem. The answer may be found in the preceding Pasuk, which says that the people decided to use bricks instead of stones and lime as mortar. Rashi explains that this was necessary because there were no stones in Bavel. However, it is odd that the Torah would bother to discuss the materials used to build the tower. In addition, it seems that the Pasuk is in an odd place; it is as if the bricks caused the city and the tower to be built.
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld explains that the fact that they were using bricks was a tremendous thing in itself. It signified a great technological breakthrough; for the first time ever, people could create their own building materials if none were available. This led to a general feeling of power and control over their own fate. The Dor Haflaga were so carried away in this power trip that they believed they were able to do anything, including defeating Hashem.
Rav Sonnenfeld adds to his point by noting that the second Pasuk in the Perek states that the Dor Haflaga lived in “a valley in the land of Shinar.” It seems that if they wanted to build a tower as high as possible they would have started from a very tall place. However, they felt that they should start from a low place in order to accomplish their feat entirely on their own, without any help. Had they built on a mountaintop, they would have been utilizing a “contribution” of height from Hashem who created the mountain.
Once they had developed such overconfidence, they became wholly dedicated to their cause. The Brisker Rav notes the extent to which the people became carried away by pointing to the Rashi’s comment that when the languages were confused the people still tried to continue building. However, their confusion led to frustration and eventually murder. The Brisker Rav says that the reason for this is the inherent nature of man’s evil. Once one has resolved to sin, nothing will deter him even when his original means fail. Thus, those involved in the construction were so set on the completion of their project that they did not think about abandoning it. Instead, they acted irrationally and started to kill each other. In addition, even the murders themselves did not halt their work, and Hashem had to disperse everyone. This episode shows the spiritual depths to which a person can sink once his mind is made up to sin and the lack of thought and consideration that is possible when one sins.
This point is also made by R’ Yehonatan Eibeschutz, who asks how it is possible that these people thought they could reach the heavens. He answers that the people expected to build a tower high enough to pass the Earth’s gravity, making them weightless and allowing them to fly up to confront Hashem. It is amazing that they did not bother to consider important things like the time and effort required to make such a tower, the possibility that they would not be able to survive in space, or the impossibility involved in defeating an all-powerful being. The lack of forethought demonstrates that they were so set on rebellion that they did not consider the outcome. Similarly, any action that we do can have unexpected consequences. For example, a few words of Lashon Hara can ruin a Shidduch, but there are many cases where a few kind words have dissuaded people from committing suicide. Thus, Migdal Bavel is a lesson in considering the consequences of our actions, which can have a great impact on others, as well as on our own behavioral patterns.
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