Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 2
1 Cheshvan 5758
November 1, 1997
Mrs. Esther Liberman and family,
in memory of husband and father
Yaakov Azriel ben Aharon David a"h.
The Saltzman family in honor of Josh's Bar Mitzvah.
Zev Kipperman, in appreciation of the
expressions of sympathy and support
shown by the community during
the shiva for his mother, Kate Kipperman, a"h
Rashi, commenting on the verse, "Noach was perfect in his
generations," cites a famous dispute among the Sages: "Some
interpret this verse favorably -- how much more so would Noach have
been righteous had he been in Avraham's generation! Others
interpret this unfavorably -- had he been in Avraham's generation,
he would have been nothing."
R' Yosef Yoizel Horowitz z"l (the "Alter of Novardok") writes
that the Sages do not disagree regarding the fact that Noach was
righteous, nor is it their intention to compare Noach's
righteousness quantitatively with Avraham's righteousness. Rather,
Chazal's disagreement is regarding what motivated Noach. One view
says that Noach searched for the truth, and therefore he was
righteous. And, if he found the truth while living among the
degenerate people of his time, how much more certain it is that he
would have found the truth in Avraham's generation!
The other view contends that Noach was motivated to be righteous
only because he was repulsed by his contemporaries' immorality.
Their degeneration forced Noach to take a stand, so-to-speak. Not
so, had he lived in Avraham's time, when immorality was not so
prevalent. In that generation, Noach would have remained
The Alter explains further: A passenger may ride in the first
class compartment of a train, but that alone does not tell us
whether he is a wealthy person. In wartime, one may ride first
class simply to avoid the soldiers and refugees who are packed into
the train's coaches. On the other hand, if one rides first class
in peace-time, when there are plenty of seats in the cheaper
coaches, that is an indication that one has money to spend.
Similarly, it is undisputed that Noach was objectively righteous.
He "rode first class." What the sages question, however, is
whether he rode first class to avoid the other passengers or
because that is where he truly wanted to sit.
(Madregat Ha'adam p.7)
An Astonishing Midrash
"Two-by-two they came to Noach" (7:9) these are the days when
the complete Hallel is recited.
The days when the complete Hallel is recited outside of Eretz
Yisrael are the first two days of Pesach, the two days of Shavuot,
the nine days of Sukkot and the eight days of Chanukah. These days
are alluded to in the above verse as follows:
"Two-by-two" alludes to the two days each of Pesach and Shvauot.
"They came" has a gematria of nine, and alludes to the nine days
Finally, "to Noach" has the same gematria as "Chanukah."
How can the rainbow be a sign?
How can the rainbow, a predictable natural phenomenon, be a sign
of the covenant between G-d and man that G-d will not bring another
flood? The following are among the answers offered by the
R' Avraham ibn Ezra z"l (12th cent.) writes: The physical laws
which cause a rainbow to appear first came into existence after the
flood. (Ibn Ezra: Bereishit 9:13) [Most commentaries disagree
R' Ovadya Sforno z"l (15th cent.) writes: The rainbow referred to
in this parashah is the not the rainbow with which most people are
familiar (called a "primary rainbow"). Rather, it is a so-called
"secondary bow," whose colors are the mirror image of a primary
rainbow. Scientists have been unable to explain why a secondary
bow occurs. (Sforno: Bereishit 9:13) [Today the reason is
R' Yitzchak Abarbanel z"l (16th cent.) writes: The physical laws
which cause a rainbow to appear existed from creation, but there
had never been a rainbow before the flood. This was due to a
difference in atmospheric conditions before and after the flood.
(Abarbanel: Bereishit 9:13)
Maharal z"l (16th cent.) explains: The scientific explanation is
the immediate reason why a physical event occurs. The Torah's
explanation is the ultimate reason why the event occurs. (Be'er
Hagolah, Part VI) [Note: Maharal was addressing Chazal's
explanation of eclipses, not rainbows, but the same principles
apply. In essence, Maharal teaches that science explains "how";
the Torah explains "why."]
R' Yehonatan Eyebschutz z"l (18th cent.) writes: The Torah is not
referring to the regular rainbow but to a techelet/blue-colored
rainbow. This is a sign of G-d's covenant because of the
similarity between the Hebrew words "techelet" and
"kelayah"/"destruction." (Ya'arot Devash I:12)
R' Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna z"l (19th cent.) writes:
There is no reason why parties who wish to make a sign between
themselves cannot choose an existing natural object to be that
sign. Something is a "sign" because people decide to treat it as
such. There are three reasons why a rainbow is a fitting sign that
G-d will not bring another flood:
- Since the rainbow appears near the end of the rain,
it reminds us that G-d will soon stop the rain because of
His kindness, even if we are not deserving.
- The rainbow represents G-d's glory, as it is written
(Yechezkel 1:28), "Like the appearance of a bow that
would be in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the
appearance of brilliance all around. That was the
appearance of the glory of Hashem." A king does not show
his glory when he is angry.
- The rainbow represents a warrior's (G-d's) bow turned
away from the enemy (man), showing that the battle is
over. (Sefer Haberit, Part I, Essay 10, Ch. 12)
"Noach walked with G-d." (6:9)
Rashi comments: Noach walked with G-d because he needed G-d to
R' Yosef Yoizel Horowitz z"l (the "Alter of Novardok") explains
in what way this is a praise of Noach. Noach used all of his
abilities to serve G-d, until he had nothing left to give. The
rest was up to G-d.
Chazal say that a person could never defeat his yetzer hara
without Hashem's help. First, however, one must use all of his own
forces to fight the yetzer hara.
Chazal say that Noach was a believer and a non-believer, and the
waters of the flood had to push him into the ark. This means that
he believed in his ability to use his own strength against the
yetzer hara, but was not confident in receiving Hashem's
assistance. His contemporaries, on the other hand, would have been
content to accept Hashem's help, but they were not interested in
using their own efforts.
This is why the same flood-waters which pushed Noach into the ark
pushed his undeserving contemporaries away from the ark. In fact,
concludes the Alter, this is true of every test from Hashem.
Precisely the same test which elevates the worthy person puts down
the unworthy person.
(Madregat Ha'adam p.6)
"Let us build us a city, and tower with its top in the
heavens . . ." (11:4)
What was the intention in building this tower? R' Yehonatan
Eyebschutz z"l (1690-1764) explains: The generations following the
flood feared another deluge, and thus sought places of refuge. One
such potential refuge was the moon.
The ancients understood, however, that the earth's atmosphere
which they believed to be five miles thick made launching a
spacecraft difficult. They therefore hoped to build a tower that
would penetrate the atmosphere so that they could launch their
escape-craft from its top.
R' Yehuda ben Kuraish z"l
late 9th - early 10th centuries
R' Yehuda was one of the earliest grammarians to teach that
Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic words all stem from similar roots.
Although different in their development, these languages are
strongly related and therefore exhibit the same grammatical forms.
This means that the Targum (Aramaic translation) can shed important
light on the meaning of the Torah, and R' Yehuda admonished the
Jews of Fez not to disregard the reading of the Targum together
with reading of the Torah in Hebrew, as instructed in the Talmud
R' Yehuda strongly rejected the literal interpretation of verses
that assign human qualities to the Creator. He uses the maxim "the
Torah speaks in the language of man" to explain all anthropomorphic
and anthropopathic (the attribution of human characteristics and
feelings, respectively, to non-humans, in this case, G-d) verse of
R' Avraham ibn Ezra praises R' Yehuda's work, Sefer HaYachas,
also called Sefer Av V'eim, a dictionary of Semitic tongues which
has been lost. Ibn Ezra counts R' Yehuda among the "Elders of the
Holy Tongue," and instructs that his works be treated with respect.
R' Yehuda also composed liturgical poems for Yom Kippur. He lived
in Tahort, Tunisia. (Sources: The Artscroll Rishonim, p.49; Shem
Hagedolim: Erech Av V'eim)
Copyright © 1997 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ("lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah"), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Project Genesis
start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present
may be retrieved from
to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.