R' Yehoshua Ibn Shuiv z"l (Spain; early 14th century) writes:
In Parashaht Bereishit, the Torah teaches us the fundamental fact
that G-d created the world. In the present parashah, the Torah
teaches us two more fundamentals of Judaism - hashgachah, i.e.,
that G-d watches, and watches over, man; and sechar va'onesh,
i.e., that G-d rewards or punishes man based on his deeds. The
principle of hashgachah is found in the verse (6:12), "G-d saw
the earth and behold it was corrupted." The principle of sechar
va'onesh is evident in the fact that G-d punished the generation
of the flood, but rewarded Noach.
Noach himself had to learn these principles, writes R' Ibn
Shuiv. Our Sages state that Noach lacked a certain degree of
faith (see Rashi to 7:6). R' Ibn Shuiv explains that Noach had
some doubts about the concept of hashgachah. This is why he
brought olot / burnt offerings after the flood (Bereishit 8:20).
An olah atones for improper thoughts, in this case, Noach's
doubts. Also, the gematria of olot (;-3) equals 500. The
midrash explains that the Torah wrote the word olot without the
letter "vav" specifically to reach that gematria, for "500 years"
is said to be the distance from heaven to earth. In other words,
R' Ibn Shuiv explains, Noach brought a korban whose gematria
equaled 500 because he had wondered whether the distance from
heaven to earth (500) kept G-d from watching man's every deed.
This is also why the Egyptians were struck with 500 plagues, as
described in the Pesach Haggadah. Note that the gematria of the
Hebrew acronym of the plagues - "detzach adash b'achav" - also
equals 500 (with the help of the gematria rule that permits
disregarding a difference of one). (Derashot R"Y Ibn Shuiv)
"For in seven more days time I will send rain upon the earth
. . ." (7:4)
What happened during these seven days? Our Sages offer three
answers: (1) For seven days, the sun rose in the west and set in
the east; (2) G-d mourned His world for seven days; and (3) Those
were the seven days of mourning for the tzaddik Metushelach, who
died a week before the Flood.
R' Aryeh Yehuda Laib Teomim z"l (Poland; died 1831) writes in
the name of his father, R' Yosef Teomim z"l (rabbi of Posen; died
1782): The second and third answers cited above are obviously
consistent with each other. Once Metushelach, the greatest
living tzaddik, died, the Flood became inevitable. Therefore, G-
d mourned both Metushelach and the rest of Creation. However,
how does the first answer, that for seven days the sun rose in
the west and set in the east, relate to the other answers?
R' Teomim explains: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) relates that the
Roman Emperor Antonius asked the sage Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi (known
simply as "Rebbe"): "Why does the sun set in the west?"
Rebbe answered: "Because it goes to greet its creator, as we
read in Nechemiah (9:6) [and recite in our daily prayers], `The
heavenly legion bows to You'." Rashi explains that the Shechinah
is found in the west; therefore the sun "bows" to the west. [The
explanation of this statement is beyond the scope of this
publication, but note that the Kodesh Hakadashim, the holiest
part of the Bet Hamikdash, was at the western end of the Temple.]
Based on this, says R' Teomim, we can understand why the sun
rose in the west and set in the east for the seven days before
the Flood. Usually, the sun sets in the west in order to "greet"
G-d. However, G-d was "in mourning" during those seven days, and
it is halachically improper to greet a mourner.
"G-d caused a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters
R' Levi ben Gershon z"l ("Ralbag"; 1288-1344) lists ten lessons
we learn from the story of the Flood. He writes in part: The
seventh lesson is that when G-d performs miracles, He does it in
a way that is as close as possible to the regular workings of
nature. For example, He made the Flood appear to be the result
of an abundance of water in natural underground springs and in
the clouds, rather than creating a new water source. Likewise,
when it was time to remove the Flood waters, He caused a wind to
blow, for the wind naturally dries the earth after a rain.
The reason G-d operates in this way is that the laws of nature
which He created are as perfect as can be. Thus, when it is
necessary to deviate from those laws, it is logical that He
should deviate as little as possible.
Ralbag adds: The foregoing is the opposite of what many
uninformed people among our own brethren think. When they speak
of a miracle, they attempt to describe it as being as contrary to
nature as possible, thinking that they are thus giving glory to G-
d. In fact, the opposite is true.
(Peirush Al Ha'Torah Al Derech Beur)
"Hashem descended to look at the city and tower which the
sons of man built. Hashem said, `Behold, they are one
people with one language for all, and this they begin to do!
And now, it will not be withheld from them all they propose
to do'." (11:5-6)
Rabbeinu Nissim z"l ("Ran"; Spain; 14th century) writes: The
commentaries have left obscure the explanation of the sin of the
Dor Ha'palagah / the Generation of the Separation (i.e., the
generation that built the Tower of Bavel) and the reason for the
generation's punishment. If the generation's intention was to
ensure that it remained united as one people, then they deserved
a reward, not punishment. After all, our Sages say: "Even if men
worship idols, so long as there is peace among them, the
Attribute of Justice does not act against them." And if their
intention was to ascend to the heavens [and attack G-d], one can
ask several questions. First, how could nearly all the members
of the generation agree to such a silly plan? Second, if all of
the people were fools, should G-d be angry with them? Their own
foolishness should exempt them from punishment. G-d's reaction
should have been as the verse (Tehilim 2:4) says, "He Who sits in
heaven will laugh, the Lord will mock them." Third, if they had
been heretics and blasphemers, would changing their language and
dispersing them across the earth have been sufficient punishment?
Finally, it seems clear from the verses that they were not
dispersed for anything they did, but rather for what they might
do in the future.
The answer to these questions may be found in the following
axiom: Any gathering of wicked people is bad, whether or not they
are actively engaged in an evil undertaking. The mere fact that
they congregate together strengthens the ties that bind them,
thereby increasing their ability to work together in the future,
pursuing their evil designs. (Conversely, any gathering of
righteous people is good, even if they are not working together
on a particular project at that moment.)
This explains the fate of the Dor Ha'palagah. At that
particular time in history, most people were idolators and
heretics. Also, they all spoke the same language. Finally, they
agreed to unite under one king - the evil Nimrod - and to live
together in one valley around the enormous palace that they would
build for that king - a tower, with its top in the heavens.
Their plan was not sinful in and of itself, but Hashem foresaw
that it was a recipe for disaster. After all, this was the same
Nimrod who had been Avraham's nemesis. [Note that the Torah is
not written in chronological order. Avraham was already an adult
when the Tower of Bavel was built and the generation dispersed.]
The foregoing sheds new light on the verse: "Hashem descended to
look at the city and tower which the sons of man built." So-to-
speak, He came down to look closely at their plans and ascertain
the likely outcome.
(Derashot Ha'Ran, No. 1)
R' Yehonasan Eyebschutz z"l - note that he died in 1764 -
explains the purpose of the Tower of Bavel as follows: The people
of that generation feared another flood, and they thought that
the only safe place for them was on the moon. They knew,
however, that launching a spaceship out of the earth's atmosphere
was beyond their capabilities. Therefore, they decided to build
a tower with its top in the heavens, i.e., near the top of the
atmosphere, and they planned to launch their ships to the moon
R' Amram Chasida z"l
His contemporary, the Chatam Sofer, referred to R' Amram as
"The prince of Elokim, a prince among the princes . . . It is
well known that he is proficient in all aspects of Torah."
R' Amram was born in Hungary in 1790, and, already as a child,
he yearned to settle in Eretz Yisrael. Once, when he was seven,
his family noticed that he was nowhere to be seen and that his
hat was missing. Setting out to find him, his father (R' Moshe
Nachum) encountered a peasant who said that a young boy had
passed by shortly before and asked for directions to Eretz
Yisrael. When the boy's father finally caught up with him, young
Amram burst into tears, "But I am on my way to Eretz Yisrael!
Why are you taking me home?"
As an adult, R' Amram served as rabbi of Mad, Hungary. Not
until he was 36 did he actually reach Eretz Yisrael. Settling in
Tzefat, he devoted himself to developing the community there
(which numbered 1,000 Jews). However, R' Amram lived in Eretz
Yisrael for only four years, and passed away in 1830.
In his eulogy for R' Amram, the Chatam Sofer said:
He was the master of Eretz Yisrael, who took his soul in his
hands and traveled with his family to the Holy Land. His
desire was to settle in the holy city, Yerushalayim, but for
various reasons, he was delayed in Tzefat. He wrote to me
last year that he was headed to Yerushalayim, but only half
of his prayers were answered [i.e., he reached the Holy Land,
but not Yerushalayim].
After he taught and disseminated Torah in Tzefat for four
years, he was called to the Heavenly yeshiva. The Rabbis of
Eretz Yisrael wrote that he literally died from grief over
the exile of the Shechinah - woe to that day. Not only was
he a great person, a Torah sage and a tzaddik even when he
was in the Diaspora, but in Eretz Yisrael he became as great
as two of us.
He died at age 40 - how can I be consoled?
R' Amram's daughter was among the 500 Tzefat residents killed
by an earthquake in 1832. The prominent Hungarian rabbis R'
Moshe Gruenwald (the "Arugat Ha'bosem") and R' Eliezer David
Gruenwald (the "Keren Le'David") were R' Amram's grandnephews.
(Sources: Gedolei Hadorot 510; Melizei Esh, 7 Av)
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