Humanity as a whole is named after Noach, and the commandments that the Torah commands the nations are called the Seven Noachite Commandments. After the first stage of humanity that began with Adam Harishon ended with the tragedy of the flood due to the terrible moral deterioration, the second stage started from Noach and his family. This stage will not end, as Hakadosh Boruch Hu guarantees: ""And I will establish My covenant with you, and all flesh will no more be cut off by the waters of the flood, and there will be no more flood to destroy the land" (Beraishit ix, 11).
The second group is Yefet's, which emphasizes human understanding and the morality that results from it, and attempts to fashion a tastefully cultured world through various artistic means. There is no question that there is a prominent place for human morality, as Rav Kook says: "It is an evident matter that man must adapt himself to basic natural morality in all its depth and breadth." "One who fears Heaven must not reject man's natural morality, for then it is no longer pure fear of Heaven. The sign of pure fear of Heaven is when natural morality, which is planted in man's upright nature, increasingly rises to greater heights than how it stood without it" (Orot HaKodesh III, Introduction, p. 27).
Artistic works also merit a prominent place. "Literature, painting and sculpture serve to actualize all the spiritual qualities that are buried deeply in the soul of humanity. As long as even a single sketch that is hidden deeply in the soul is missing, has not been actualized, an obligation remains on the artistic occupation to bring it to fruition" (Rav Kook, Orot Ra'ayah, II, p. 3). Noach emphasizes that wisdom and human creativity is important, and must especially be connected to the tents of Shem. "May G-d enlarge Yefet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem," as the Gemara (Megillah 9b) comments: "Said Rav Chiya bar Abba: Yefet's beauty belongs in the tents of Shem." Yet throughout most of human history Yefet failed to understand this, and not only did he not attach himself to the tent of Shem but he even fought Shem and tried to nullify him. Today as well we find struggles between Western culture (which comes from Yefet's Bet Midrash) and Jewish culture. There is no doubt that we need to raise people of spirit who know how to bring Yefet's beauty into the tents of Shem. As the Rambam famously says in "Eight Chapters" [Shemoneh Perakim], "accept the truth from whoever said it."
The third group is Cham's, and includes people whose main occupation is with the physical and lowly aspects of life, without any real connection to the intellectual side of life, and with even less connection to its Divine aspects.
An examination of the structure of Beraishit and Noach clarifies this. The first stage of humanity ends with the birth of Noach, and indeed the end of Beraishit tells of Noach's birth, with the Torah explaining the meaning of his name: "This one will relieve us from our work and the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem has cursed” (v, 29), an explanation that does not appear by any of the other names in the long list in Chapter v. Likewise it later tells us "And Noach was five hundred years old, and Noach bore Shem, Cham and Yafet," as opposed to the other characters about whom the Torah reveals to us the name of only a single son.
(In parenthesis we can add Rashi's words on the pasuk: "Wasn't Yefet the eldest? But rather the first mention is of the righteous one who was born circumcised and from whom Avraham was descended." These comments teach us about the division into groups which we spoke about above, with Shem the most important one.)
The detailing by Noach teaches us that the first stage has ended and the second stage is starting. This stage lasted for ten generations, as the Mishnah (Avot 5:2) states: "There were ten generations from Adam to Noach."
At the end of Parshat Noach the Torah again provides details of Avraham and his family, which was not provided for the other names that appear in Chapter xi. This indicates the end of the first phase of the second stage, and that now a new stage is beginning with the appearance of Avraham, the father of the nation. Here too the number of generations is as in the first stage, as the Mishnah (Avot ibid) states: "There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham."
By Noach it states, "Noach walked with G-d" (vi, 9), whereas by Avraham it says "walk before Me and be wholehearted" (xvii, 1). Likewise Ya'akov says about his fathers: "…G-d, whom my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak, walked before Him…" (xlviii, 15). The Midrash Rabbah (30:11) explains: "Rabbi Yehudah said, This is comparable to a king who had two sons, one big and the other small. He said to the younger 'walk with me' (as he needs assistance), but to the bigger one he said 'walk before me' (he has the strength to walk in front of him). Thus by Avraham who had strength it says 'walk before Me,' whereas by Noach who was feeble it states 'Noach walked with G-d.'"
The description in the Midrash makes it clear that it is Hakadosh Boruch Hu who warns the generation, while Noach is passive as far as they are concerned. Although he does plant cedar trees and builds the ark, when the men of his generation approach him with questions he does not go out of his way to enlighten and explain to others. The command that Noach is given, "Come, you and your entire household to the ark…," forms a hint to him, enclosed within his own world, detached from those surrounding him, just like the ark in which they enclose and protect themselves. He had to toil day and night for the good of the animals that entered the ark with him, as Chazal comment on the verse "And Noach alone remained…" (vii, 232) – "he would groan and spit blood from the toil of the animals and beasts" (in the words of Rashi). Through this Noach was supposed to learn about his responsibility to all creation including animals, that it is not enough merely to worry for himself.
Moshe Rabbenu learned this method from the Avot who walked before Hashem. The Midrash Rabbah (ix, 11) explains: "Avraham is like a king's beloved friend who saw the king walking in the darkened alleys. The beloved friend looked out and provided light for the king through the window. The king looked and saw him, and said to him: ‘Rather than providing light through the window, come and bring light in front of me.'" Until Avraham arrived the world was shrouded in darkness, with two thousand years of chaos. Avraham, in his clear recognition of the Divine wisdom, enlightened the world with truth, as it says that Avraham took with him "the souls they made in Charan" (xii, 5), and Rashi explains: "He brought them under the wings of the Shechinah – Avraham would convert the men and Sarah would convert the women.” This is the walking before Hashem, the shining of the Divine light throughout the world, which reveals to the entire world that Hashem is G-d.
Avraham's attitude towards the men of Sedom is the opposite of Noach's approach. Avraham prays for and tries to save those "wicked people, very sinful towards Hashem," in complete contrast to Noach.
From the first two parshiyot that deal with the foundation of the world our unique function is made clear to us – to illuminate to the entire world with a lofty light. For this purpose we need to develop our Israeli characteristics, and through this we will merit that the words of Yishayahu the prophet will be fulfilled (ii): "And many nations will go and say, let us go and ascend the mountain of Hashem, to the house of the G-d of Ya'akov."
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