Food For the Soul
The parsha Noach (Noah) is named after the famed builder of the ark. It is during this portion that we learn of the cataclysmic flood that destroyed life, save that of Noah, his family, and the animals he brought on board with him.
The Torah explains why this dramatic act was needed. Humankind had devolved into a moral abyss. Immorality in all of its forms was rampant. Hatred amongst the peoples of the earth was complete. There was one exception to this rule, Noah. Despite living in the most depraved of circumstances he maintained his dignity and righteousness. Noah “went with G_d,” as the Torah tells us. This means that G_dliness ennobled his life and the lives of those around him.
Upon their emergence from the ark Noah and his family were given seven special laws. These include: 1. Belief in one G_d / Not serving idols. 2. Not blaspheming G_d. 3. Not murdering. 4. Not stealing. 5. Not committing immoral sexual acts. 6. Not being cruel to animals. 7. Establishing courts of justice. These laws are meant to be the basis for all human society for all future generations. These laws clearly establish codes of decency expected of every human being.
The ark represents different things depending on who is looking. For the Jew the ark is the protection afforded by our Torah that is to be found in our synagogues, Jewish schools, and our homes. The walls of these edifices safeguard us from the destruction found in the outside realm. For the non-Jew, the ark represents strict adherence to the Seven Noahide Laws. Those laws are the Torah’s clear instructions as to what should be the goals and aspirations of all humanity.
During these trying times we must find refuge in our personal, communal, and even national arks. We must make sure that negative influences are securely locked out. Better still, we must allow the light of the enlightened to shine forth transforming the surrounding darkness into life-giving light!
From an article by Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort
The responsibility of service
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum writes: “In many ways, our post-Holocaust generation bears distinct similarities to Noah and family post-flood. We too are survivors, a pitiful remnant of the world that was. The temptation is to throw up our hands in despair, to refuse to take part in the rebuilding of a world where such injustice and iniquity can exist. This response, however, would make a mockery of the very real debt of gratitude we owe for having been spared and would insult the memory of those who died.
Our responsibility is to take up the burden of service, reach out to others and exert ourselves to the utmost in providing for their spiritual, emotional and financial needs. It may be difficult, we may well suffer personal damage in pursuit of our holy charge, but we dare not forsake our purpose. Right now there are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe and ignorant people to educate. We must not rest until we have expended our every last drop of sweat and blood and our ark is resting safely on the mountaintops of history.”
Mind Over Matter
Nobody ever died from a question
Rabbi Yossy Goldman writes: “There is an old Yiddish proverb, Fun a kasha shtarbt men nit–Nobody ever died of a question. It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get an answer to all your questions. We can live with unanswered questions. The main thing is not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our doubts. We can still do what has to be done, despite our doubts. Of course, I’d love to be able to answer every question every single one of my congregants ever has. But the chances are that I will not be able to solve every single person’s doubts and dilemmas. And, frankly speaking, I am less concerned about their doubts than about their deeds. From a question nobody ever died. It’s how we behave that matters most. So Noah, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don’t have to be fearless to get involved. You don’t have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don’t have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a Torah class. Perhaps his faith was a bit wobbly in the knees, but he got the job done. My kind of hero.”
The Zohar (I:72b) states that the rainbow is one of the signs of the future redemption. Commentators note that the rainbow indicates the purification and refinement that the world underwent by means of the Flood. Before the Flood the clouds were very coarse, thus preventing a reflection of sunlight. Thereafter, however, the clouds became more refined; they reflected sunlight, thus bringing about a rainbow. This, then, is the connection between the rainbow and the future redemption: The entire world will attain the peak of refinement with the coming of Moshiach.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
“Mommy, I think we broke some glass . . .”
It was time to intervene. I had pointedly overlooked the giggling, the dragging of every last sofa cushion, pillow and padding from the family room into the living room. I closed my ears to the swishing sound the bedding made as it was stealthily heaved down the hall. I ignored the thuds of little boys’ thumping onto piles of blankets and pillows piled high.
They knew I would disapprove of the mess, but they were having so much fun! Against my better judgment, I enjoyed listening to my boys as they schemed and planned, hoping to accomplish their covert mission below the radar of my watchful eyes. This was clearly a communal effort. They had formed their own building committee and constructed the best landing pad our furniture had to offer. But now, there was glass. Someone had the brilliant idea to see what would happen if a glass-framed photograph was placed on top of the pile. Would it catapult up? Indeed. Broken glass all over the carpet. It was time for dispersal. Boys were sent to put on shoes and return each item to its proper location. The vacuum was plugged in, and the crackling sound of shards being suctioned into the canister put a definitive end to the revelry.
You may ask why I did not intervene sooner. They were literally turning the house upside down, and putting more than the usual wear and tear on important household items. Why did I wait so long? I took my cue from the Ultimate Parent, G-d. The Torah shows us in this week’s Parshah that peace is so tantamount to a functional society, G-d is willing to overlook His children’s ungodly motivation if they are striving to achieve their goals harmoniously.
Parshat Noach relates two stories of human actions requiring divine punishment. First, and more prominent, is the flood which destroyed all of humanity save Noach and his family. The sages tell us that Noach’s generation committed all kinds of idolatrous sins. Their ultimate destruction, however, came as a result of stealing—the definitive disrespect of man for his fellow man. The second story is a bit more nuanced. We are told of a group who share one language. They come together to build a city with a tower that would reach up to the heavens. According to the rabbis, this tower would allow them to wage war on G-d. We read about the building of bricks and mortar, and what appears to be the completion of the tower, until G-d descends and prevents them from finishing the city by dispersing them all over the earth and mixing up their languages.
Rashi—the foremost commentator on the Torah—asks a brilliant question: why was the generation of Noach, whose major sins were not explicitly against G-d, completely destroyed, while this other generation, whose ultimate goal was to fight G-d, simply dispersed? In his answer Rashi teaches us a very important lesson about G-d and our role as members of the human race: The generation of the Flood were robbers, and there was strife between them, and therefore they were destroyed. But they (the builders) behaved with love and friendship amongst themselves, as it is said (Genesis 11:1), “One language and uniform words.” Thus you learn that discord is hateful, and that peace is great.
We see an image of G-d deriving pride from His children, even when they are actually out to get Him! But, after enjoying a moment of considering that generation’s love for one another, He needed to put a definitive stop to their antics. As a mother, I have a responsibility to teach my sons to do the right thing. But the right thing can mean, at least ephemerally, getting along and cooperating. When this brotherly love is not ultimately for the greater good, I do need to put an end to it. In the meantime, though, for a few brief moments, I can kvell (take pride) over how beautifully they play together and the mutual respect my sons are developing for one another.