R' Shimshon Raphael Hirsch z"l (rabbi of Frankfurt a.M.; died
1888) writes about the month that begins today: The solemn yet joyous
month of the festivals is past, and we now enter the placid and quiet
month of Cheshvan [the only month of the Jewish calendar that has no
observances of any kind]. What a significant month Cheshvan can be if
we have been fully imbued with the spirit of Tishrei, R' Hirsch
declares. School, home, business and community all now commence a
tranquil half-year [until Pesach] of striving and enjoyment. Boys and
girls have returned to school, young men and young women have resumed
their preparations for life, workers have returned to the full-time
pursuit of their occupations, and mothers at home to their quiet,
unheralded caring for their families. When they all assemble at home
each evening, every cottage becomes a sanctuary, every table an altar,
and every breath, a hymn to G-d.
Our task now is to truly be Jews, R' Hirsch continues. We must
have the courage to build our homes as Jews, to conduct our married
life as Jews, to educate our children as Jews, to enlighten our minds
and warm our hearts as Jews, to enliven our conversation and plan our
action as Jews, and to consecrate our enjoyments as Jews. If we could
only carry all this out in the Jewish spirit, in the complete Jewish
spirit, then we might confidently await all the blessings that would
result from such a way of life. (Adapted from Collected Writings
Vol. II p.147)
"Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations . . ."
"[F]or it is you that I have seen to be righteous before Me
in this generation." (7:1)
The latter verse does not say that Noach was perfect, only
righteous. Why? R' Moshe Gruenwald z"l (1853-1911; rabbi of Khust,
Hungary, now Ukraine) explains: In his own right, Noach was righteous
but not perfect. However, when his merits were coupled with those of
the myriads of tzaddikim who were destined to descend from him, it was
as if he was perfect. Thus, he was "perfect in his generations," but
only "righteous . . . in this generation."
"Noach walked with G-d." (6:9)
Regarding the Patriarchs - Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov - we read
(24:40), "[G-d] before whom I walked," and (48:16), "G-d before Whom
my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked." What is the difference
between walking with G-d, as Noach did, and before G-d, as the
Also, we are commanded (Devarim 13:5), "After Hashem, your G-d,
you shall walk." What does this mean? Rashi indicates that walking
with G-d is a lower level than walking before G-d; presumably, then,
walking after G-d is an even lower level. Why does the Torah command
us to walk after G-d?
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l (1865-1935; first Ashkenazic
Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael) explains:
Following Adam's sin, mankind's mission has been to rectify the
spiritual damage that he caused. For reasons of His own, G-d does not
desire that the damage be corrected all at once. Rather, it is a
gradual process. Similarly, G-d reveals Himself only gradually, a
little bit in each generation in proportion to that generation's share
in repairing the damage that Adam's sin caused.
Walking "with" G-d, as Noach did, means serving G-d on the level
demanded from one's own generation. Noach served G-d perfectly to the
extent that was expected of him, but he made no impression outside of
his particular "area" of service. In contrast, Avraham walked
"before" G-d, i.e., he was not content to fulfill his duty and no
more. Avraham sought to expand his sphere of influence to both the
wayward members of his own generations and to his descendants.
Avraham sought to rectify a greater portion of the damage Adam had
done than Avraham's generation was expected to rectify.
But we can speak of a gradual rectification of the sin only
before the Torah was given. One could set a goal to do more than his
share only before Hashem gave us the tool - the Torah - to rectify
everything. With the tool that we have, we had the ability to return
the world to its perfect state a long time ago. (Indeed, this was
almost accomplished at the time of the Giving of the Torah, before the
Golden Calf was made.) Since then, we are playing "catch-up," and
that is why the best we can be commanded is to walk "after" G-d.
(Midbar Shur: Drush 13)
"Two of each shall come to you to keep alive." (6:20)
"Of every kosher animal take unto you seven pairs." (7:2)
Why did the non-kosher animals and birds come to the Ark of their
own accord, while Noach had to gather the kosher animals?
R' Moshe ben Nachman z"l (Ramban; 1194-1270) answers: Since some
of the kosher animals were destined to be offered as sacrifices, G-d
did not decree that they should come to Noach of their own accord.
R' Simcha Mordechai Ziskind Broide z"l (rosh yeshiva of the
Chevron Yeshiva in Yerushalayim; died 2000) elaborates further: G-d
created animals with the instinct for self-preservation. This is an
element the "yashrut" / "justice, fairness and integrity" with which
Hashem created the world; i.e., it is only fair that every creature
have the instinct to preserve its own life. It was that instinct that
drove two animals of each species to go to Noach and obtain a space on
However, the instinct for self-preservation could not drive the
kosher animals to the Ark, since going to the Ark meant eventual death
for some of them. It is true, observes R' Broide, that these animals
would preserve their lives for a full year by being in the Ark rather
than outside, in the flood waters. Nevertheless, it would not have
been yashar for Hashem to implant in the animals an urge to go to
their own deaths.
(Hayashar Ve'hatov p.9)
"Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a
How did Noach fall to such a low level? R' Avraham Saba z"l
(late 15th-early 16th centuries) explains: At first, Noach was called
(verse 6:9) a "righteous" and "perfect" man. Later, after he failed
to pray for his generation's salvation, he was called (verse 7:1)
"righteous," but not "perfect." Finally, because almost the entire
earth was wiped out "on his watch," so-to-speak, he was called a "man
of the earth."
Alternatively, R' Saba writes, the "vineyard" may symbolize the
secrets of Kabbalah. Perhaps Noach attempted to reach levels for
which he was not prepared and thus became "intoxicated."
"[S]ince the yetzer / inclination of man's heart is evil from
his youth." (8:21)
A visitor once entered the home of R' Yisrael Meir Kagan z"l (the
Chafetz Chaim; approx. 1838-1933) and found the elderly sage trying
to feed his toddler son Aharon. [This was son from the Chafetz
Chaim's second marriage when he was almost 70 years old.] The boy was
seated in a high chair, and his father was coaxing him, "Eat, Ahrele!
Eat, Ahrele!" The boy, however, refused to eat.
Noticing his visitor, the Chafetz Chaim asked: "Do you know why
the boy won't eat? It is the work of the yetzer hara." He explained:
"The Torah says that the yetzer hara is implanted in a person from his
youth. But what can the yetzer hara say to a toddler? He says,
`Don't eat, so you will be sick and won't have to go to cheder'."
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
Letters from Our Sages
This letter, published in She'eilot U'teshuvot Keren Le'David
(No. 13), was written by R' Eliezer Dovid Gruenwald z"l (died
1928), a prominent Hungarian rabbi and rosh yeshiva. It is
in response to a rabbi whose congregant had disobeyed an
order to cover his head with a tallit while leading the
services. When the rabbi protested, part of the congregation
argued that the rabbi had no right to insist on such a
practice. In his letter, R' Gruenwald discusses the origin
of the custom that the chazzan covers his head with a tallit,
and also discusses the authority of rabbis in general.
Regarding whether the chazzan must cover his head with a tallit,
the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 17b) says about the verse (Shmot 34:6),
"Hashem passed before him and called out" - "If the Torah had not said
this, we could never say it. The verse is teaching that Hashem
wrapped himself like a chazzan and taught Moshe how to pray the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy." [The expression "Hashem passed" is
reminiscent of the expression used in the Mishnah for leading the
prayers - "To pass before the lectern."] From this, the sage Magen
Avraham derived that the chazzan must always cover his head, in
contrast to the sage Levush who said that only during the Thirteen
Attributes of Mercy. After all, the Gemara implies that Hashem
"wrapped Himself" the way every chazzan does. [R' Gruenwald continues
to discuss both sides of the question and concludes that the better
custom is for the chazzan to cover his head, though he acknowledges
that it is not the universally accepted custom.]
In any case, that chazzan who refused to cover his head despite
an express command of the rabbi acted in a hefker / free-for-all way,
and one must examine whether he is one of the reformers. [Ed. note: In
this period, many congregations in Hungary were fighting difficult
battles to preserve their Torah-true identities.] And, certainly,
those congregants who dared to stand up to insult the rabbi, they
should be penalized, and it is forbidden for you to forgive them.
Although a talmid chacham generally may forego the honor due him, but
not when the honor of the Torah and its judges is disgraced.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
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