Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32 )
Bereishis, 6:9: “These are the offspring of Noach: Noach was a righteous man (tzaddik), pure (tamim) in his generations.”
Bereishis, 7:1: “And G-d said to Noach, you and all your household, come to the Ark, because I have seen that you are righteous (tzaddik) before me in this generation.
Rashi, 7:1: “And it does not say, ‘tzaddik tamim’ [as it did in the earlier verse]. From here we learn that we say only part of the praise of a person in front of him, and all of it when not in front of him.”
The Torah Portion of Noach begins with G-d’s description of Noach as a tzaddik and tamim – righteous and pure. However, a few verses later, G-d speaks directly to Noach and praises him as being righteous but omits the other term of praise – pure. Rashi explains the difference – in the first verse, the Torah is describing Noach not in his presence, whereas when G-d is speaking to Noach, He is relating Noach’s greatness to Noach himself. Rashi writes that we learn from here that when praising someone in front of them, we should only partially praise then, but when he is not presence, we should fully praise him.
The Maharil Diskin1 offers a different approach to explain the difference in the two verses. He explains the exact meanings of the terms ‘righteous’ and ‘pure’: The title, ‘righteous’ refers specifically to a person who has conquered his base desires. For example, Yosef is called, Yosef Hatzaddik (the righteous) because he overcame his inclinations to withstand the great temptations of Potiphar’s wife. In contrast, the word ‘pure’ is used to apply to someone who has pure belief in G-d – as it says in Devarim, “tamim tehiyeh im HaShem Elokecha” – be pure with Hashem, your G-d. The opening verse in the Portion teaches that Noach excelled in both these areas – he controlled his desires, and he was a pure in his belief.
The Maharil Diskin then discusses the two generations in this Portion – the generation of the flood and the generation of the dispersion who built the Tower of Babel. The generation of the flood believed in G-d, but they were unable to control their base desires. Hence, their main sins were in the areas of immorality and corruption. In contrast, the generation of the dispersion did not sin in areas relating to base desire, rather they were guilt of heresy – they wanted to rebel against Hashem. As it says, “they left from Kedem” – Kedem refers to Kadmono Shel Olam – God who was the first in the World.
Returning to Noach, the Maharil Diskin explains that the opening verse in the Portion is teaching that Noach excelled in both areas – he was in total control of his desires, and did not sin in areas of immorality, and at the same time, he had no trace of heresy.2 However, a few verses later, when G-d instructs Noach to enter the Ark, he is contrasting Noach’s actions to the behavior of the generation of the flood. As we have said, that generation’s primary failing was not in the area of belief in G-d, rather in the realm of lust and immorality. Accordingly, at this point, G-d emphasizes Noach’s excelling in this area in particular. Therefore, there is no need at this juncture for G-d to stress Noach’s Emunah, because that was not the main issue with the generation of the flood.
Throughout history, these two areas of failings have been the cause for Jews to leave the Torah way. However, it is interesting to note that the decisive factors have changed over time. After the Enlightenment, many Jews came to question the basic tenets of belief, and were influences by various, heretic ideologies that offered false promises of salvation from the great suffering endured by many Jews. Thus, while lust could certainly have been a contributing factor, the main cause of Jews leaving the fold was in the realm of belief.
In more recent generations, this has changed. People leave the Torah for a number of reasons3 but primarily ideology is very low in the list. When asked about their attitude towards G-d, many such people do not have developed ideological arguments, rather they more often have anger towards certain aspects of Judaism. In addition, very often, the physical attractions of the secular world, are far more appealing on a superficial level than the perceived restrictions of a life of Torah observance. The same applies in general with regard to people who are brought up secular – material desires are often a far stronger motivating factor than ideology.
Many don’t want to follow the Torah because they wrongly perceive that it will take away from their lives. Their desire for physical pleasure a underlying driving cause for rejecting Torah.
The failing of the generation of the flood is the one that is the primary cause of the secularization of the Jewish population. The way to confront this challenge is to demonstrate that the Torah can provide far deeper and more meaningful ‘pleasures’ than anything that the secular world has to offer.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Maharil Diskin al HaTorah, Bereishit, 6:9. Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, who lived in the 19th Century and was the Rabbi of Brisk. At the end of his life he lived in Jerusalem.
- It is true that when the Flood began, Noach was slow to enter the Ark and the Sages fault him for this, calling him ‘meikatnei Emunah’ – as being from those who are small in belief. The commentaries offer a number of explanations of this startling Rabbinic saying, but they are in general consensus that the Sages are viewing Noach in a very strict manner, based on his great righteousness, and on our level, he was very great in his belief in God.
- Often relating to painful experiences in their religious upbringing.
Reprinted with permission
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