Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Torah Study - Delight Amidst Devastation
Among his myriad other qualities, Noach, it seems, may also have
been the world's first Talmid Chacham (Torah scholar). Into the Ark,
Noach was told to take, "Of every pure animal... seven and seven, a
mate with its mate, and of the animal that is not pure, two, a male
and its mate. (7:2)" Rashi notes that while to us, the distinction
between "pure" and "impure" animals is elementary, Noach, who at
this stage was still close to a thousand years away from the Jews
receiving the Torah, should seemingly have had a difficult time
understanding the difference. From here we derive, writes Rashi, that
Noach must have studied Torah.
How exactly Noach studied Torah before it was given is a matter of
discussion among the commentaries. Some understand that since
man was created with 248 limbs, corresponding to the 248 positive
mitzvos of the Torah, and 365 sinews, corresponding to the 365
negative commandments, it was possible for one who attained a high
level of physical sanctity to, as Iyov/Job put it (Iyov 19:26), "Find G-d
from one's own flesh," - and grasp Torah wisdom through the body.
Others understand that since Hashem, "gazed into the Torah, and
created the world (Zohar parshas Terumah 2:161a)," thereby using
the Torah as a blueprint for creation, it would be possible, by
painstakingly studying the physical world, to "reverse engineer" the
Torah, and derive the blueprint from the final product.
Whatever the case, Rashi (quoting Bereishis Rabbah 26:1) insists
Noach must have been studying Torah, for if not, how was he to
know which animals were pure, and which were impure? Yet upon
closer examination, is his proof really that compelling? First of all,
might Hashem not have told Noach, in an unrecorded conversation,
which animals are "pure," and which are "impure?" Furthermore,
Rashi earlier (6:20) quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108b) that animals
would come to Noach, seeking to enter the Ark. The Ark, however,
would only "receive" those animals that had not "corrupted their
ways," refusing to allow entry to degenerate animals. (How exactly the
Ark did so? Your guess is as good as mine.) If so, isn't it possible that
the Ark similarly allowed entry for seven pairs of pure animals, and
only two impure animals, thereby allowing Noach to fulfil Hashem's
instructions without compelling us to say he studied Torah? What is
it that forces Rashi to say that Noach was indeed a Torah scholar?
The Tchebiner Rav, HaRav Dov Berish Weidenfeld zt"l, was a Torah
scholar of great renown, and a leader of Torah Jewry after the
Holocaust. During the War, he lost his wife, two sons, and three
daughters - may Hashem avenge their blood - narrowly escaping the
jaws of death himself. Two of his daughters also survived. One of
them married Rav Goldshtof zt"l, and the other married the renowned
Torah giant Rav Baruch Shimon Shneerson zt"l.
One night in Jerusalem, his son-in-law Rav Goldshtof paced nervously
outside the door to the Rav's study. Recently, the Rav's family had
been in high spirits, after a son had been born to Rav Shneerson - a
first grandson for the Rav! It was, in some way, a degree of
consolation; a statement that although the Nazis - may their names
be blotted out - might have extinguished the lives of most of their
family, they had now begun to build anew. However, just days after
the child's birth, doctors had informed them that the baby's life was
The Tchebiner Rav was sitting in his study, wrapped up in Torah
study, when the devastating news came from the hospital: The baby
had passed away. The dreadful task of relating the news to the Gaon
had been placed on the shoulders of Rav Goldshtof.
Anxious and grieving, he knocked on the door. When it opened, he
found himself standing face to face with the splendorous figure of the
Rav, deep in thought. A volume of the Rashba's commentary lay
open on his desk. Rav Goldshtof's eyes began to well with tears when
his father-in-law asked him, "How is the child?" Without saying a
word, the look on his face said it all. "It's all over."
No doubt, this must have razed the Rav's universe all over again.
During the horrors of the War, he had lost the people dearest to him.
Now, hoping to rebuild and breathe new life into the family, his
building had once again collapsed.
Years later, Rav Goldshtof described the encounter: "I had no idea
what kind of reaction to expect. When I broke the news, my father-in-
law placed a hand upon the door frame, and leaned his head against
it. There was a terrible silence as he stood there, absorbed in his
thoughts. Then he turned to me, and quoted the words of the
Psalmist (Tehillim 119:92), 'If not for Your Torah, my delight, I would
have perished in my distress."" The horrific news must have scorched
his heart; his first grandchild was gone. His only refuge was the
delight of Torah study. (Me'oros HaDaf HaYomi - Kiddushin 69.)
Rashi explains that the reason Noach was to take more pure animals
aboard the Ark than impure, was so that he could bring offerings
from them upon his exit. Let us ponder for a moment the world
Noach encountered when he disembarked from the Ark. In a word -
there was nothing. A world of complete destruction and devastation.
No humans remained; no animals remained. There was no trace of
the world Noach had known for the last 600 years. Everything had
been overturned and annihilated by the torrential waters of the flood.
The desolation was absolute. Think about how we felt as we saw the
WTC collapsing and disintegrating, and with a shudder, tried to
imagine what it would have been like to be inside. Noach had left a
world bustling with people and animals, and came back to absolute
nothingness. Yes, it had been a corrupt world; yet it was the only
world he had ever known.
How can Hashem tell Noach, who would surely be in a state of utter
shock, to take seven pure animals of each species, in order to bring
from them offerings of thanksgiving upon leaving the Ark? How can
He expect Noach to be in the frame of mind to think about
rebuilding, when all around him all he could see was devastation and
Of every pure animal, take unto you seven and seven - in order to
bring offerings after you leave the Ark. From here - says Rashi - we
see that Noach studied Torah. Only one who studies Torah could
find within him the moral strength to gladden his heart with sacrificial
offerings, even in the midst of upheaval and desolation. If not for the
Torah, my delight, I would surely have been lost in my anguish.
The Torah has been, and continues to be, the "delight" of our nation,
throughout our troubled history. May Hashem give us the insight to
appreciate its wisdom, and take delight in its wondrous mysteries.
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication is sponsored by Mr. and
Mrs. Chaim and Tzivi Perl, in honor of their son,
Binyamin Beinish's Bar Mitzvah. Mazal tov to the
grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Herschel Perl, Mr. and Mrs.
Pesach Chase, and Mrs. Friedman. ******
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.