R' Mendel Hirsch z"l (1833-1900; eldest son of R' Samson
Raphael Hirsch) observes in his commentary to this week's
haftarah that Parashat Noach appears to be about destruction, but
it also is about a new beginning. The parashah contains a
"comforting promise" that, with or without mankind's cooperation,
G-d's Will will be done and His plan for creation will be
In the haftarah, writes R' Hirsch, the words of the prophet
Yishayah "set us in that deeply longed-for time when the Exile
will have accomplished its work of purification, refinement and
education." The haftarah brings "that true message to the Mother
[Zion] who for so long was left lonely and grieving." "Her
children have long refused to recognize her and have forsaken
her. Now she receives the joyful tidings that more are coming
home to her than she had ever seen about her. [In the words of
the verse, `More numerous are the children of the desolate one
than the children of the one when she was united with her
husband, says G-d.'] That which the times of independence and
good fortune - when they were gathered around the visible
sanctuary of G-d - could not achieve, the centuries of trials in
the Exile have accomplished. Those who were distant from her
[Zion] in space have become near to her in spirit. Those who
were once spiritually and morally estranged from her return as
sons and daughters." (The Haftoroth p. 14)
"And as for Me - Hineni / Behold, I am about to bring the
Flood-waters upon the earth to destroy it." (6:17)
The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 31:15) interprets: "Hineni" -
Behold I agree with the words of the angels who said (Tehilim
8:5), "What is mankind that You should remember him?" [This
midrash refers to an earlier midrash which relates that the
angels encouraged Hashem not to create man because he would be
R' Yitzchak Ze'ev Yadler z"l (late 19th century rabbi in
Yerushalayim) writes: Surely the midrash does not mean that the
angels were proven right and G-d was wrong! Rather, the midrash
means the following:
The word "Hineni" always means "Here I am!" "I stand ready!"
(See Rashi to Bereishit 22:1.) Hashem, too, said, "Hineni! I
have always stood ready to heed the words of the angels and to
destroy mankind if its deeds warranted. I, too, knew that man
would sin, but I did not heed the angels in the first place
because man's free will and his ability to sin are necessary for
his mission on earth. Now, however, I will destroy this
generation, as I have always stood ready to do if it became
"I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign
of the covenant between Me and the earth . . . and the water
shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh."
What precisely does the rainbow symbolize? R' Chaim
Friedlander z"l (mashgiach of the Ponovezh Yeshiva; died 1986)
Kabbalists teach that when a prophet sees the form of a circle
in a vision, it symbolizes G-d's all-encompassing view of the
world. Every person and every thing is seen by G-d, with no one
standing out more than the others.
R' Friedlander adds: A circle has no right side, symbolizing
Hashem's kindness, nor left side, symbolizing Hashem's judgment.
Accordingly, says R' Friedlander, the semi-circular rainbow
symbolizes G-d's promise not to judge the generation in which the
rainbow appears. Were He to judge that generation, it would be
found liable for punishment. Instead, the rainbow tells us, G-d
will view a wicked generation as part of the continuum of
history. Even if a particular generation is too wicked to
survive, it will survive, and perhaps even flourish, because G-
d's all-encompassing view sees the worthy descendants who will
come from the wicked generation.
(Siftei Chaim: Pirkei Emunah Ve'hashgachah p. 40)
"I will not continue to curse the ground again because of
man, since the imagery of man's heart is evil from his
If man's predisposition to sin is reason enough to prevent a
second deluge, why was it not reason enough to forestall the
Flood? R' Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer z"l (1815-1871)
This verse refers to the fact that man forms bad habits and
ideas in his youth and is not always able to rid himself of these
habits and ideas after he reaches maturity. However, we know
that the generations before the flood developed mentally much
faster. For example, the story of Kayin and Hevel (in which they
brought sacrifices and Kayin killed his brother) apparently took
place when they were one day old. Accordingly, those generations
did not have the excuse that our verse offers.
From the Midrash . . .
"Hashem saw that the wickedness of mankind was great upon
the earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his
heart was but evil always" (Bereishit 6:5). Thus it is
written (Kohelet 6:1), "There is evil I have observed
beneath the sun, and it is prevalent among mankind."
Said the Holy One, He is Blessed, "Look what these wicked ones
do! When I created them, I gave each one two servants, one good
[the yetzer hatov] and one bad [the yetzer hara], but they
abandon the good one and attach themselves to the bad one." Thus
we find that King Shlomo wrote (Kohelet 9:14-15), "There was a
small town with only me'at / a few inhabitants; and a great and
mighty king came upon it and surrounded it, and built great siege
works over it. Present in the city was a poor wise man who,
through his wisdom, saved the town. Yet no one remembered that
poor man." The "small town" is the body. The "few inhabitants"
are the organs of the body. The "great king" is the yetzer hara,
who builds siege works to entrap the body. The "poor wise man"
is the yetzer hatov, who helps the "city" escape and directs it
down the path of life. Nevertheless, no one remembers that poor
(Aggadat Bereishit 1:4)
R' Chanoch Zundel z"l (lived in Bialystok, Poland in the early
19th century; author of popular commentaries on Ein Yaakov and
various midrashim) writes: The parable regarding the great king
and the poor wise man appears to be inaccurate, for the parable
has the poor wise man already inside the city when the great king
lays siege to it. In contrast, Chazal teach that the yetzer hara
enters a person at birth [as we read in this week's parashah
(8:21), "The imagery of man's heart is evil from his youth"],
while the yetzer hatov does not arrive until one becomes a bar or
bat mitzvah. The parable itself alludes to this when it refers
to the body's organs as the "few inhabitants." Surely the body's
organs are not few; rather the midrash means they are young when
the great king lays his siege. [The word "me'at" may be
translated as "few" or "little."]
The answer is as follows: The gemara teaches that man is taught
the entire Torah before he is born. And, an oath is administered
to him at the moment of birth that he will be righteous and not
wicked. The Torah that one has learned and the oath that he took
are the yetzer hatov to which the parable refers. Although one
does not remember this yetzer hatov when he is born, thus
permitting the great king - the yetzer hara - to lay siege to
him, nevertheless, the yetzer hatov is present within man. What
do the Sages mean when they say that the yetzer hatov enters a
person at age 13 (or 12)? That the yetzer hatov recognizes the
futility of fighting the yetzer hara while a person is still
immature, and that it therefore remains out of sight. It is
during those 13 years that "no one remembers that poor wise man."
R' Dr. Hillel Hakohen Klein z"l
R' Dr. Hillel (Philip) Hakohen Klein, one of the leading rabbis
of New York in the first quarter of the 20th century, was born in
Baratcka, Hungary in 1849. He was a child prodigy and at the
young age of 12 was accepted to the Pressburg Yeshiva headed by
R' Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer (the "Ketav Sofer"). Four years
later, he enrolled in the yeshiva of R' Dr. Ezriel Hildesheimer
in Eisenstadt, Hungary.
One of the stated goals of the Eisenstadt yeshiva was to train
rabbis who would be capable of combating the Reform movement. To
further that goal, the students, including young Hillel Klein,
were taught German and classical languages alongside limudei
kodesh / sacred studies.
By age 17, Hillel Klein was already a lecturer in the
Eisenstadt yeshiva. Two years later, he left Eisenstadt for
Vienna, where he entered a Gymnasium (high school) and later
university. He also was invited by Vienna's Orthodox rabbi, R'
Zalman Spitzer (brother-in-law of the Ketav Sofer), to give a
daily gemara lecture in his synagogue, the renowned Schiffshul.
In 1869, R' Hildesheimer invited his former student to assist
him in opening a new rabbinical seminary in Berlin. In 1871, R'
Klein received semichah / ordination from R' Binyamin Zvi
Auerbach of Halberstadt and from R' Hildesheimer. In 1873, he
received his doctorate from the University of Berlin.
In 1875, we find R' Klein in Kiev, Russia as the personal tutor
to the son of Israel Brodsky, one of the wealthiest Jews of the
time. (Brodsky had contributed the funds necessary to found the
kollel of the Volozhiner yeshiva.) Five years later, R' Klein
moved again, accepting the appointment to the rabbinate of Libau
In Libau, R' Klein had the unusual role of being both the
official rabbi and the rabbi who was accepted by the Orthodox
community. (The official rabbi was required to have a secular
education and, in many communities, did not possess the Torah
scholarship the community demanded.) Perhaps because he was
different from other official rabbis, R' Klein was eventually
expelled from Libau by the government.
In 1890, R' Yaakov Yosef, the Chief Rabbi of New York,
suggested to Congregation Ohab Zedek on Manhattan's Lower East
Side that it engage R' Klein as its rabbi. (The shul's chazzan
was Yossele Rosenblatt.) Soon after his arrival in New York, R'
Klein was appointed to the additional position of dayan /
rabbinical judge on R' Yosef's court. R' Klein was deeply
involved in kashruth supervision in New York City and assumed
increasing responsibility as R' Yosef's health failed. Together
with R' Dr. Bernard Drachman and Rev. Dr. Pereira Mendes, R'
Klein worked to convince factory owners to close on Shabbat and
to hire Sabbath-observant workers. In addition, women were
encouraged not to shop on Shabbat, and stores in Jewish
neighborhoods were encouraged to close. R' Klein also was
involved in arbitrating labor disputes that led to better working
conditions for shochtim and for matzah bakers.
In 1902, R' Klein was appointed President of Yeshiva Rabbeinu
Yitzchak Elchanan, then the only yeshiva in the United States.
In that capacity, he led the drive for the yeshiva's first
permanent building and he led a campaign to clearly establish
that the Jewish Theological Seminary had left the Orthodox fold
and was not a yeshiva. In 1906, R' Klein established the
"Semichah Board" of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, and
awarded what might have been the first ordinations granted on
R' Klein was involved in founding or leading many other
organizations including the charity Ezras Torah and Agudath
Israel of America. R' Klein's wife was Julie Hirsch, daughter of
R' Mendel Hirsch, the eldest son of R' Samson Raphael Hirsch.
They were married in 1881. R' Klein died on March 21, 1926.
Sponsored by: Mrs. Esther Liberman and family
in memory of husband and father
Yaakov Azriel ben Aharon David a"h