Ask The Rav

> > > Parshat Noach

Parshat Noach

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).
After the flood, Noach's family is divided into three central groups, each one bearing a unique function and different essence. All of them together form the humanity we are familiar with today.
The first and most important group is Shem's, as we find in Noach's blessing: "Blessed be Hashem, the G-d of Shem, and let Cana'an be a slave to him" (ix, 26). Hashem's name is mentioned only by Shem, implying that his actions are based on a connection to Hakadosh Boruch Hu and from an attempt to act according to the Divine Will. In addition, Shem establishes Batei Midrash, as demonstrated by Noach's words to Yefet: "May G-d enlarge Yefet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem" (ix, 27). He is not only concerned with his own learning, but rather acts so as to widen his knowledge to include others. Those who wish to seek Hashem come to this Bet Midrash, like Rivkah Imenu: "And the children struggled together within her, and she said: 'If it is so, why do I live?' And she went to inquire of Hashem" (xxv, 22). Rashi explains: "'to inquire of Hashem' – to the Bet Midrash of Shem."

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.
The process of the rehabilitation of humanity did not end with its division into three central groups. A new nation sprouted out of Shem’s group, the Israelite nation, which began with the appearance of Avraham Avinu who was commanded, "Get yourself out from your land, your birthplace and your father's house to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation…" (xii, 1-2).

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."
An understanding of the difference between Noach and Avraham will enable us to grasp the important change in the world that came with the appearance of the latter.

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.'"
Noach was indeed righteous in his generations, meaning in the generations in which he lived, but he did not act to raise the world through his influence so that it could continue and be able to receive the Torah through which it will be lit up with the lofty Divine light. The Midrash Tanchuma (Noach 5) says: "'Make yourself an ark of gopher wood.' Said Rav Huna in the name of Rav Yossi: Hashem warned the generation of the flood for a hundred and twenty years so that they might repent. When they did not repent, He said, 'Make an ark.' Noach arose, repented, and planted cedar trees. They would say to him: What are these cedar trees for? He said to them: Hakadosh Boruch Hu wishes to bring a flood to the world and He told me to make an ark so that my household and I will escape. They would laugh at him and mock his words, and he would water those cedar trees and they grew…and they would mock him. After a while he chopped them down and sawed them, and they said to him: What are you doing? And he would explain to them and warn them. Since they did not repent He immediately brought the flood upon them."

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.
Noach's method of worrying for himself brought increasingly diminishing returns. The Torah informs us, "And Noach, the man of the ground began, and planted a vineyard" (ix, 20). The Mesech Chochmah explains that "there are two methods in the service of Hashem. One way involves a person who devotes himself to His service and goes to meditate. The other refers to someone who deals with the needs of the public and nullifies himself for the good of the whole and puts himself entirely at their disposal. It would appear that the one who meditates would rise step by step while the other would fall from his spiritual level. Despite this we find that Noach who stayed aloof and did not reproof the members of his generation was originally called a righteous man and later descended from his level and became a man of the ground, whereas Moshe Rabbenu was called an Egyptian man, but since he sacrificed himself for Israel by killing the Egyptian he is called the man of G-d who reached the ultimate perfection a man can achieve."

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.
The Midrash Rabbah (31:12) says: "Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Levi says: The entire twelve months that Noach was in the ark he had no need neither for the light of the sun nor the light of the moon, but rather he had a jewel that he would hang up, and when it dimmed he knew it was day and when it brightened he knew it was night." That precious stone was for Noach's own benefit. Conversely, Avraham Avinu also had a precious stone for an entirely different goal, as the Gemara in Baba Batra (16b) states: "'And Hashem blessed Avraham with everything' – said Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai: A precious tone hung round Avraham Avinu's neck, and any sick person who saw it was immediately healed." This stone was for the benefit of others, as befitting Avraham, who influences and corrects the world.

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."

Print this page
Send to friend
Top of page
"BEIT OROT" is a registered trademark of American Friends of Beit Orot, Inc.  All Rights Reserved   |  Contact Us  |  Site Map
site by entry