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Noach

This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Noach

1 Marcheshvan 5768

October 13, 2007

Vol.17 No.5

In This Issue:

Faulty Faith?

by Shlomo Klapper

The Torah states that Noach went into the Teivah "MiPenei Mei HaMabul," "due to the waters of the flood" (Bereishit 7:7). Rashi comments on this Pasuk that "Af Noach MiKetanei Amanah Hayah, Maamin VeEino Maamin SheYavo HaMabul," "Noach, too, was one of those of little faith; he believed, but didn't believe fully that the flood would actually come." Therefore, Noach did not enter the Teivah until he saw with his own eyes that the waters of the flood had started to fall. Rashi's explanation raises a very difficult problem: How could Noach, who was the biggest Tzaddik of his generation and has been compared to Avraham (though not as great as Avraham), have even the smallest doubt that the words of God would be fulfilled?

The Oheiv Yisrael puts a positive spin on this Pasuk, explaining that robust, fervent faith in Hashem is very effective in that it can make one's hopes and desires come true. Therefore, Noach was faced with a troubling quandary. Of course Noach believed that the word of God and God Himself were omnipotent! Can one think that a Tzaddik on the level of Noach wouldn't believe this? However, Noach knew that, as a Tzaddik, what he believed in had the potential to actually happen. Therefore, Noach didn't want to believe too strongly that the Mabul would come, since perhaps his belief would cause the flood to occur! Noach therefore chose to be a "Maamin VeEino Maamin" until the waters started to pour, at which point it became clear that his belief had not played a role in causing the Mabul to happen.

On a similar note, Rav Yitzchak of Vorki relates a different interpretation of Rashi. Of course Rashi cannot assert that Noach had faulty faith! Rashi's observation goes as follows: "Af Noach, MiKetanei Amanah Hayah Maamin," "Even Noach believed in those of diminished faith," and alleged that they would repent before the flood came. Therefore, "VeEino Maamin SheYavo HaMabul," "(Noach) did not believe that the flood would come," since if people repented, God would have no basis for destroying the rest of mankind. However, this substantial atonement never happened, and God was forced to cleanse the world through the flood.

Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv relates this explanation to a parable which deals with how a person's faith can sometimes falter. Reuven asked his friend Shimon if Levi is trustworthy, since Levi had asked Reuven for a loan. Shimon responded, "You can trust him without reluctance." Based on Shimon's words, Reuven would immediately grant Levi a decently-sized loan. However, if Levi wanted to borrow a small fortune, Reuven might have reservations about his faith in Levi's trustworthiness, because maybe Shimon's words wouldn't apply to such a large loan. This is what Rashi meant by "Maamin VeEino Maamin." Our faith in Hashem must be unrestricted and unreserved. Noach had no problem believing in God for the small things, since he knew that they were true. But when a titanic episode, one that required a leap of faith, was set to take place, Noach limited his belief in God, and was "Maamin VeEino Maamin." Rashi is trying to teach us that faith in Hashem is authentic only if one believes what one does not witness with his own senses on the same level that he believes what he perceives with his own senses; if one falls short of this standard, it is considered diminished faith.

The Talmud relates a message of Rabi Eliezer HaGadol, "One who has bread for today but still asks, 'What will I eat tomorrow?' experiences flawed faith" (Sotah 48b). This message of Rabi Eliezer HaGadol in fact parallels Rashi's. Faith is not limited to one's field of vision, so the future bread in one's basket and the unthinkable word of God must be as real to people as the present bread in one's basket and the small miracles that Hashem performs on our behalf every day. If one does not have this level of faith, say Rabi Eliezer HaGadol and Rashi, he can be described as "MiKetanei Amanah.

This approach can answer a problem that the Gemara (Bava Batra 25b) initiates. The Chachamim wonder how one knows that the land of Babylonia is located farther north than Eretz Yisrael. They answer that Yirmiyahu's prophecy that, "MiTzafon Tipatach HaRaah Al Kol Yoshevei HaAretz," "The evil will develop in the north upon all inhabitants of the land" (Yirmiyahu 1:14) is the source. The evil that is referred to here is the nation that will destroy the Beit HaMikdash and conquer Eretz Yisrael, namely, Babylonia. The Sages' extrapolation of Babylonia's location from a Pasuk presents a simple problem: Any ordinary traveler knows that Babylonia lies to the north of the land of Israel, so why do the Chachamim need a Pasuk to learn this well-known piece of information? The answer is that since the Sages' belief in Torah was so powerful to them, they believed in what they could not see, the Torah, over what anybody could observe (editor's note: see Radak to Yirmiyahu 1:14 who explains that Babylonia lies to the northeast of Eretz Yisrael). Noach was a very righteous person, but according to this approach, Noach believed in the unthinkable, relenting and entering the Teivah only once the waters started to pour from heaven.

These two explanations, both of which explain Noach's delayed entry to the Teivah aptly, represent two different schools of thought. The second approach requires complete faith in Hashem, since He will provide and care for His nation. On the other hand, the first school realizes the potential of Emunah in Hashem, but believes that complete Bitachon is not the only necessity. Although they have the same level of faith in Hashem, proponents of the first view believe that action needs to be taken and that sometimes a person needs to exemplify passive actions.

Big Gifts in Small Packages

by Chaim Metzger

This week's Parasha ends with the death of Terach, as the Torah states, "VaYamot Terach BeCharan," "And Terach died in Charan" (Bereishit 11:32). One might inquire as to why the location of Terach's death would matter, as the Torah does not mention the place of death for any other person in the lineages in which Terach is included. One may answer based on Rashi that Hashem's wrath remained in the world up until this point, but it eased when Avraham started teaching Hashem's ways. Why would Hashem's wrath disappear when Avraham began teaching but not when other people, such as Sheim and Eiver, taught the ways of Hashem? The Gemara (Avoda Zara 9a) responds that the two thousand years before Avraham were devoid of Torah, but then Avraham heralded an era of Torah that spanned 2,000 years. We may ask, though, how the limited region affected by Avraham could be more significant than that affected by those before him? Moreover, what action did Avraham take that allowed him to herald this new age?

Avraham had a very different approach from his predecessors. Sheim and Eiver established places where people could learn; however, they did nothing to help people realize that Hashem was the true God. Avraham, on the other hand, taught Hashem's existence to everyone and instructed his disciples to do the same, allowing word of Hashem's greatness to spread far and wide, thereby ending the previous era. In this new age, Hashem judged everyone in a more favorable way, so that although the wicked were punished, the punishments of the general populace were not as harsh as those before Avraham. This can be compared to two countries. In one country, people live fairly well, so the righteous are rewarded by achieving relative riches, and in the other country, people barely scrape by, and the righteous are rewarded by having all the basic necessities at all times. The first country represents the era post-Avraham, while the second is pre-Avraham. The post-Avraham generation deserved to be a prosperous society because in it, the Torah was being spread throughout the world. From this, we can learn that taking care of one's family and immediate community is not sufficient; we must be responsible and try to help all of Klal Yisrael as much as we can. Even one person can greatly influence the fate of his whole generation.

The Making of a Tzaddik

by Yitzchak Richmond

To most children, Noach is portrayed as a great Tzaddik who, along with his family, was spared from the Mabul. In fact, the Ramban, Bechor Shor, Ralbag, Radak, and many other Parshanim believe that Noach was a full-fledged Tzaddik.

However, this rosy view of Noach is not shared by all commentators, and some, the most famous being Rashi, disagree. Rashi, commenting on "Tamim Hayah BeDoratov," "[Noach was] perfect in his generation" (Bereishit 6:9), quotes two opinions in found in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 108a). Reish Lakish explains this phrase as being positive, i.e. that Noach was great even in his corrupt generation and would have been greater still if he had lived in a greater generation surrounded by other righteous people. Rabi Yochanan, on the other hand, treats this phrase as a negative. Noach was great only in comparison to those around him; if he had been in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been considered a great person.

Another possible deficiency of Noach is that the Pasuk tells us, "Et HaElokim Hit'haleich Noach," "Noach walked with Hashem" (ibid.). Although at first glance this seems to be something very positive, Rashi explains otherwise. He contrasts Noach's walking with Hashem to Hashem telling Avraham "Hit'haleich LeFanay," "Walk before Me" (Bereishit 17:1). While Noach needed support and therefore walked with God, Avraham was able to strengthen himself to walk before God on his own. An example of this is found later in the Parasha, where Rashi clarifies why the Torah adds the seemingly superfluous statement that Noach entered the Teivah "MiPenei Mai HaMabul," "because of the flood waters" (Bereishit 7:7). Rashi explains that Noach did not enter of his own volition because he was lacking in faith. Therefore, he waited until Hashem pushed him to enter the Teivah by beginning the flood. The Radak rejects this notion, claiming that Noach was pure and without deficiencies.

The Imrei Shefer goes even asserts that Noach should have prevented the Mabul from happening by objecting to his generation's practices. Unlike Avraham, who, as Rashi (Bereishit 12:5) comments, spread Hashem's name and converted people, Noach didn't make any attempt to better his generation.

How do so many Parshanim say great things about Noach - that he was a Tzaddik both Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam LaChaveiro - when Rashi points to Noach's deficiencies?

An answer may be formulated based on the Netziv. The Gemara in Berachot (7a) grapples with the issue of theodicy - why some righteous people suffer while others prosper, and some wicked individuals prosper and others suffer. The Gemara explains (according to one opinion) that a full-fledged Tzaddik (Tzaddik Gamur) will prosper, a full-fledged Rasha will suffer, a fairly righteous person (Tzaddik SheEino Gamur) will suffer, and a fairly wicked person will prosper. The Netziv defines a full-fledged Tzaddik as one whose nature is to be evil but works on himself until he overcomes his inborn inclination completely. The opposite is true with a full-fledged Rasha. Perhaps Noach was an example of a Tzaddik Gamur; originally, his nature was to be evil, but eventually it became second nature for him to do good.

While the Ramban subscribes to this idea, stating that Noach was the opposite of evil, Rashi and the Imrei Shefer seemingly do not. I suggest that Noach was not a Tzaddik Gamur, but he was close to it. He was not as great as Avraham. Although he had many great attributes, he also had some deficiencies, such as a lack of fervor and drive. Therefore, even though he was saved from the Mabul and was a truly righteous person, he suffered much difficulty in his life, such as being mocked for making the Teivah (see Rashi to 6:14 s.v. Aseih), experiencing the trauma of the Mabul, and being defiled by his son, Cham (9:22; see Sanhedrin 70a). Thus, while Rashi is correct in stating that Noach had some shortcomings, Noach was for the most part an outstanding Tzaddik.

A possible issue with this explanation is that although it explains how Noach was imperfect in some respects, it does not explain how Noach can be identified as being Tamim, complete. After all, he was not perfect. The Torah Temimah offers two answers. Firstly, one can explain Tamim not as being complete in deeds, but rather as being born complete in the body, i.e. having a Brit Milah (see Avot DeRabi Natan chapter 2). The basis for this is that Avraham was not called Tamim until he had a Brit Milah of his own (17:1-2). A second explanation is demonstrated through the Taamei HaMikra ("trop"), which, in addition to providing musical form, determines punctuation. According to the Taamei HaMikra, "Tamim" flows with "Hayah BeDorotav." This serves as a basis for the opinion that Noach was Tamim only in respect to his generation, but relative to other Tzaddikim, he was not Tamim.

Oftentimes, we find ourselves in the same struggle as Noach, fighting our natural inclination towards evil. Rav Moshe Feinstein once said that originally, he was a very short-tempered individual. However, he was able to transform and elevate himself, and he developed into an extremely humble and kind man. We should always strengthen ourselves in this respect and remember that even if we aren't perfect and fail to change our nature completely, we should not despair. For even Noach, who was unsuccessful in changing himself completely, was called a Tzaddik.

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