Volume 26, No. 2
Sponsored by Mrs. Esther Liberman and family in memory of husband and
father Yaakov Azriel ben Aharon David a”h
King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (10:25), “When the storm passes, a wicked one
is no more, but a righteous one is the foundation of the world.” R’
Yehoshua ibn Shuiv z”l (Spain; early 14th century) writes: A wicked person
is compared to a storm because he damages others before disappearing without
a trace. In contrast, a righteous person is solid like a foundation; not
only does he have permanence, but others can rely on him.
R’ ibn Shuiv continues: Our Sages stated that this verse refers to the
generation of the flood. “When the storm passes, a wicked one is no more.”
Like a storm, the generation of the flood did great damage and then met its
end quickly. On the other hand, “a righteous one is the foundation of the
world.” From the righteous Noach, an entire new world was built.
In addition, writes R’ ibn Shuiv, this parashah contains several foundations
of our beliefs. In last week’s parashah we learned that G-d created the
world. In this week’s parashah we learn that G-d continues to supervise His
creation (hashgachah) and that He rewards and punishes those who do good and
bad respectively (s’char va’onesh). As our Sages note, Noach himself had to
learn these lessons, for even he doubted that the flood would come until the
rain started falling. It is for this reason that Noach brought olot
sacrifices after the flood, for an olah atones for heretical thoughts. R’
ibn Shuiv notes that the gematria of the word “olot” [Bereishit 8:20] equals
500, the number of years that Noach’s was less than what was expected of
him. [Noach was 600 years old at the time of the flood. However, our Sages
say that, at the time of Noach, the age before which sins did not count, was
100.] (Derashot R”Y ibn Shuiv)
“These are the offspring of Noach--Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his
generations; Noach walked with Elokim. Noach fathered three sons--Shem,
Cham, and Yafet.” (6:9-10)
Were Noach’s sons righteous as well, or were they saved only in their
father’s merit? R’ Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim z”l (1843-1905; rabbi of
Ponovezh, Mir and Yerushalayim; known by his initials as “the Aderet”) answers:
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 108a) teaches that the fate of the generation of the
Flood was sealed because of the sin of petty theft. Writes the Aderet:
Since only one family was saved, this presumably means that everyone else
was a thief. If so, why were they punished; each one was only stealing back
what was his! Even if one assumes that A stole from B, who had stolen from
C, who had stolen from A, A would not be liable for stealing from B since
one is permitted to collect a debt from his debtor’s debtor (i.e., from B,
who had stolen from C, who had stolen from A)!
Perhaps one will say instead that everyone stole from Noach, who did not
steal from anyone. That is why they were considered guilty. However, this
cannot be, for our verse says, “Noach walked with Elokim.” The Gemara
(Shabbat 149b) states that a person who is the cause of another person’s
being punished is not permitted to enter G-d’s inner sanctum. Since Noach
was able to walk “side-by-side” with Elokim, it is apparent that Noach was
not the cause of the flood. This indicates that Noach was not a victim of
his generation’s theft.
The only possible conclusion, therefore, is that the people had stolen from
Noach’s sons. And, since the generation was punished for that, we can infer
that Noach’s sons themselves did not steal. Rather, they were righteous.
“The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with
robbery through them; and behold, I am about to destroy them from the
If man sinned, why were the animals punished? R’ Yosef Bechor Shor z”l
(12th century; France) explains: Everything was created for man’s benefit.
[If man is destroyed, there is no need for the rest of existence.] (Bechor
“As for Me--Behold, I am about to bring the Flood-waters upon the earth to
destroy all flesh in which there is a breath of life from under the heavens;
everything that is in the earth shall expire.” (6:17)
Why did Hashem choose water as the way to destroy the world? Also, we read
at the end of last week’s parashah (6:3), “Hashem said, ‘My spirit shall not
contend forever with Man be’shagam / since he is but flesh; his days shall
be a hundred and twenty years’.” Literally, this verse is stating that the
Flood would begin in 120 years. However, Midrash Rabbah notes that this
verse alludes to Moshe Rabbeinu--first because the gematria of “be’shagam”
equals the gematria of “Moshe”; second, because Moshe lived 120 years. What
is the connection between Moshe and the Flood?
R’ Yehuda Loewe z”l (Maharal of Prague; died 1609) answers in light of
another question: Moshe Rabbeinu’s name recalls that he was drawn from the
water (see Shmot 2:10). Why was that event so significant that it was
memorialized in his name?
Maharal explains: Water has no form of its own; instead, it takes the form
of whatever container it is in. In contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu achieved the
highest “form” that a person can achieve. [In Maharal’s thought, the term
“tzurah” / “form” is synonymous with both perfection and intellect.] Moshe
was “drawn from the water,” i.e., he was as far removed from the character
of water as could be.
In this light, it is not surprising that Moshe Rabbeinu’s own sin--hitting
the rock to obtain water (Bemidbar ch.20)--led to his downfall. For the
same reason, Pharaoh’s astrologers had predicted decades earlier that the
redeemer of Bnei Yisrael “will ultimately suffer misfortune through water”
(Rashi to Shmot 1:22). Moshe Rabbeinu and water are opposites; therefore,
they cancel each other out.
Maharal concludes: The destruction of mankind in our parashah was
necessitated by mankind’s failure to achieve its intended form, in contrast
to Moshe, who did achieve the perfect form. This explains why the
destruction occurred though water. Likewise it explains why the Torah
alludes to Moshe Rabbeinu in this context. (Gevurot Hashem ch.18)
R’ Yehonasan Eyebschutz z”l – note that he died in 1764 – explains the
purpose of the Tower of Bavel, which appears in our parashah, 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 from there. (Tiferet Yehonatan)
“When Terach had lived seventy years, he fathered Avram, Nachor, and Haran.”
R’ Yosef Gikatilla z”l (1248-1310; Spain; author of the kabbalistic work
Sha’arei Orah) writes: Terach’s name signifies that he caused G-d’s anger
“to boil.” Why was it G-d’s Will that a great tzaddik such as Avraham be
born from such a wicked person? He explains:
G-d did man a favor by giving him free will, for otherwise man could not be
rewarded for his good deeds. Likewise, if man did not have free will, G-d
could not have a “Chosen People,” for that would cause the other nations to
complain, “Why did you force that nation to do Your Will? It’s Your fault
that we are distant from You!”
To highlight the impact of man’s free will and the fact that G-d chose the
nation whose ancestor chose Him voluntarily, Hashem arranged for Avraham to
be fathered by Terach, someone who could not have been a positive influence
on his son. (Haggadah Shel Pesach Tzofnat Paneach)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R’ Shlomo ben Avraham ibn Aderet z”l
(Barcelona, Spain; 1235-1310; known by the acronym “Rashba”), one of the
most widely-quoted Talmud commentators and halachic authorities of all time.
Besides his extensive Talmud commentary, more than 3,000 of his letters and
several essays survive. This letter is undated; the editor of the Mossad
Harav Kook edition of Rashba’s letters suggests that it was written to
Rashba’s student, the Torah commentator Rabbeinu Bachya z”l.
You asked: Why does the Torah say regarding most of the generations from
Adam to Avraham, “X fathered Y,” rather than “X had a son and named him Y,”
[as we find regarding the sons of Yaakov, for example].
Answer: Know that giving something a name indicates its permanence, while
something that is destined to be destroyed is not worthy of having a name.
This is indicated by the verses (Mishlei 10:7), “The name of the wicked
should rot;” (Iyov 18:17), “His memory will be lost from the land;” [in
contrast to] (Yeshayah 55:5), “In My House and within My walls I shall give
them a place and a name, . . . , an eternal name shall I give them, never to
be cut down;” and (Tehilim 72:17), “May his name endure forever, may his
name connote mastery as long as the sun endures.”
Therefore, you will find that the verses are very precise: Regarding the
descendants of Kayin, all who were destroyed in the flood without a trace,
it does not say about a single one of them, “He called his name . . .” But
of [Adam’s third son] Shet, from whom the world was established, the Torah
says, “She called his name Shet,” and it provides the reason for his name
(see Bereishit 4:25). Likewise it says (4:26), “As for Shet, to him also a
son was born, and he named him Enosh.” Afterward, the Torah returns to the
earlier formula of not mentioning the newborns’ namings because their
descendants were destroyed in the Flood as well, except for Noach. In
contrast, of Noach, who remained [after the Flood] and from whom the world
was rebuilt, it says (5:28-29), “Lemech lived 182 years, and fathered a son.
He called his name Noach saying, ‘This one will bring us rest from our work
and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem had cursed’.”
[Why then does it not say, “He named him . . .” About each generation after
the Flood? Rashba explains:] We already know that all of those generations
had permanent existence; it is not necessary for the Torah to emphasize
that. At this point the Torah is not concerned with those individuals, but
rather with identifying how the nations devolved from Noach’s family. Also,
they are mentioned only so that we can reach Avraham’s story. (Teshuvot
Ha’Rashba Ha’shayachot L’Mikra no. 2)
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 Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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