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.

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