These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #960 – Geshem Reigns – Mashiv Haruach U’moreed Hageshem? Good Shabbos!
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The Alter of Navarodok’s Take On “Noach Was Righteous In His Generation“
Over the years, we offered various interpretations for what is quite likely one of the most famous comments of Rashi in all of Chumash. On the phrase, “…Noach was a perfectly righteous man in his generations” [Bereishis 6:9], Rashi remarks: “There are those among our Rabbis who expound this as praise – all the more so if he had been in a generation of righteous people, he would have been even more righteous. And there are those who expound it as deprecation of Noach – according to the standards of his generation, he was righteous, but if he had been in the generation of Avraham, he would not have been considered anything of significance.”
The problem with this Rashi (which is based on Sanhedrin 108a) is — why would anyone try to find fault with Noach? Why expound the explicit praise of the Torah (“he was righteous in his generation”) in a derogatory fashion?
I recently saw an observation in the name of the Alter of Navarodok. This insight is in not p’shat [the simple interpretation]. It does not fit smoothly into the words of Chazal. It is in the context of “ayn meshivin al ha’drush” [one should not question homiletic interpretation of Scripture]. Regardless, the message is certainly correct even though it does not fit precisely into the words.
The Alter of Navarodok interprets as follows: The reason Noach was a righteous person (Tzadik) was because he saw what happened to the rest of his generations. Sometimes a person finds himself in a situation where the world around him is so corrupt and so immersed in immorality that the person is motivated to say, “I cannot be part of this generation because if I am going to be part of this society I will wind up like the rest of them!” The fact that the society around him was so depraved was his inspiration to rise above the entire society. He was afraid of becoming like everyone else; so he isolated himself from them.
Those who expound the phrase “a perfectly righteous man in his generation” negatively are saying that had Noach lived in a generation like that of Avraham Avinu where society was not so corrupt, Noach would not have had sufficient motivation to separate himself from the average behavior of society. Noach would have said to himself, “What is so bad about the way everyone else is living? I am happy to be just like my neighbor – no better, no worse.”
Sometimes we read stories about someone who was a successful Wall Street investment banker making 200 million dollars a year and purchasing a new car every six months. Suddenly the person says, “I don’t want this.” He goes off to Montana with his fishing pole or to Alaska with his hunting gun and is never heard from again.” He becomes fed up with the society he finds himself in and says, “I’m sick of the rat race; I’m sick of the competition; I’m sick of the one-ups-man-ship; I’m sick of it all!” He moves miles away from the nearest neighbor; he lives off the land; he hunts and he fishes; and he is happy as a clam. He might become a poet or an artist and make $10,000 a year and barely exist; but he is now the happiest guy in the world because he hated the society that he was in.
L’Havdil, this is what the Alter from Navarodok says about Noach. If he were living in Avraham’s generation, he would have been considered spiritually inferior – because he would not have had the motivation – of revulsion to the society around him – which inspired Noach to live a moral and righteous life.
The Root Cause of The Sickness Was ‘Rabbah‘
The narration of the Flood begins with the words “In the six hundredth year of Noach’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth; and the windows of the heavens were opened.” [Berseshis 7:11]. Rashi quotes a Gemara [Sanhedrin 108a] that G-d is punishing measure for measure; their sin was “the wickedness of man was great (Rabbah)” [Bereishis 6:5] and they were stricken by “the great (Rabbah) deep” [Bereishis 7:11].
In other words, the use of the term Rabbah as an adjective to “the great deep” waters is a code word recalling the word Rabbah at the end of Parshas Bereishis, which describes G-d seeing that the wickedness of man was great (Rabbah) and deserving of punishment.
What exactly is this sin called ‘Rabbah‘? Chazal say that the decree of the generation of the flood was sealed for their crime of wanton theft (gezel). Chazal also say that the sin of the generation of the flood was of a sexual nature (arayos) – incest and so forth. However, it seems that Chazal here are alluding to another factor in sealing the fate of this evil generation – the factor of “Rabbah“. What is the nature of this factor?
The Sefer Toldos Yitzchak (a Dayan in the City of Vilna) explains as follows. When a disease is diagnosed, doctors often distinguish between the symptoms and the underlying cause of the disease. The symptoms of the generation of the flood – in other words how the ‘disease’ manifested itself – were theft and incest, monetary corruption and arayos. Those were the symptoms of the sickness. But the root cause of the sickness was ‘Rabbah‘.
The sin of Rabbah (meaning great or excessive) was that they could not satiate their desires. The problem was that they did too much. Their passions, their lusts, their desires overcame them to such an extent that they became a hedonistic society. They could not get enough of the pleasures of this world. The sin of Rabbah is one of going overboard, of not being satisfied, of wanting more and more and more. This is the underlying illness which manifested itself in looking for extraordinary ways to satisfy their desires. Someone who is not satisfied with his own wife, might go out looking for other women; someone who is not satisfied with normal pleasures, might look for perverted pleasures. They began to engage in immoral behavior – gezel and arayos. However the underlying sin was that of insatiable desire, ‘Rabbah’.
The Toldos Yitzchak explains that this is why the appropriate punishment for them was that “the great depths (Tehom Rabbah) opened up.” Rain is a good thing. It is wonderful. The world cannot exist without rain. However, what happens when there is too much rain? That is not good either. That is destructive. Therefore, the “measure for measure punishment” was a flood. They sinned with Rabbah – a sin of excess. Yes, people need to have pleasures in this world. This is part of humanity, part of being a person. But it must be controlled, it must be within reason. Therefore, Hashem punished them with Tehom Rabbah. The Almighty is sending a message. Rain is a good thing, but too much rain can destroy the world. You sought too much of a good thing and you were therefore punished with too much of a good thing.
Rav Avraham Hurwitz says that with this idea we can understand another Medrash. The pasuk says, “The dove came back to him in the evening – and behold! An olive leaf it had plucked with its mouth. And Noach knew that the waters had subsided from upon the earth.” [Bereishis 8:11] The Medrash asks, “From where did the dove bring this branch?” “Rav Bibi says the gates of the Garden of Eden open up and she brought it from there.”
Why was that necessary? Any olive branch would have sufficed. The answer is that the Almighty is sending us a message. You are starting the world over again. You must know that the olive must have the taste of the Garden of Eden, the taste of spirituality – because spirituality can provide as much pleasure as a person needs. It needed to come from Gan Eden because it needed to have the taam ruchniyus [the flavor of spirituality]. Their problem was unbridled gashmiyus [physicality] – pleasure for pleasure’s sake. If someone infuses those pleasures with a spirit of ruchniyus, that is also a pleasure. That is a pleasure that can satiate the soul as well. The pleasures of ruchniyus are so much more satisfying than the pleasures of gashmiyus. The branch of the olive had to come from Gan Eden because it had to have the taste of Gan Eden – to introduce them to the pleasures of spirituality, which is the only way to prevent another flood from occurring.
I read a story recently in Rav Matisyahu Solomon’s sefer. He tells of a contemporary Rosh Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael who is a big marbitz Torah [disseminator of Torah knowledge] and a successful Head of Yeshiva. He has hundreds of students who are themselves disseminators of Torah. However, this Rosh Yeshiva started out as a Baal Teshuvah [a repentant]. It is more accurate to say that he did not start out as a Baal Teshuvah, but as an Avaryan [a sinner]. In his early days, he made it his life’s goal to taste all the physical pleasures of the world, the pleasures of the body. One day, he was approaching a House of Ill Repute in Haifa, an institution with bold signs on the outside of the building advertising the nature of the activities that went on within. He was about to enter the building and he saw a Charedi Jew walking by the building. As the Charedi Jew walked by, he covered his eyes to shield himself from the risqué advertising on the outside of the structure.
Suddenly this “Avaryan” asked himself, “What pleasure in the world does this man have that he is willing to give up the kind of pleasure I am about to take advantage of? He is overtly shunning this pleasure, so obviously there must be something in his life that exceeds the pleasure offered here. I need to find out exactly what that pleasure is.”
This, Rav Matisyahu Solomon says, was the beginning of this person’s odyssey that took him to a Yeshiva from which he developed into an Adam Gadol [great man] and a Rosh Yeshiva. He sensed that there was a ruchniyus-dik pleasure that he lacked and he was right! This is the interpretation of “an olive leaf it had plucked with its mouth” about which the Medrash says it had to come from Gan Eden. The world is beginning anew. Do not fall back into the trap of “the pleasures of this world”. There are other pleasures to be had. There are the pleasures of learning and the pleasures of being close to the Ribono shel Olam. These trump all the pleasures of this world.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Noach is provided below:
- # 027 – The Abortion Controversy
- # 069 – Ma’ariv and Mitzvos in the Land of Midnight Sun
- # 118 – Suicide: Is it Ever Permitted?
- # 165 – Euthanasia
- # 211 – Animal Experimentation
- # 255 – Preventing a Suicide
- # 301 – Teaching Torah to Non-Jews
- # 345 – Milah for Non-Jews: Is it Permitted
- # 389 – Abortion to Save a Baby?
- # 433 – Assisting in a Suicide
- # 477 – Tzedakah and Non-Jews
- # 521 – The Ben Noach & the Nectarine
- # 565 – The Golam
- # 609 – Cosmetic Surgery
- # 653 – The Har Habayis — The Temple Mount in Halacha and Hashkafa
- # 697 – The Case of the Fascinating Ger
- # 741 – Your Wife’s Medical Bills: Who Pays?
- # 785 – Spreading Bad News
- # 829 – Bending the Truth of the Torah
- # 873 – Stem Cell Research
- # 917 – Did Shimshon Commit Suicide?
- # 960 – Geshem Reigns — Mashiv Haruach U’moreed Hageshem? Hagoshem?
- #1004 – Shinui Hashem: Changing the Name of a Choleh
- #1048 – Zichrono Le’vracha: On A Living Person?
- #1091 – V’Sain Tal U’Matar – Starting Too Early?
- #1134 – Are Non-Jews Only Obligated in “The Seven Mitzvos”?
- #1177 – Teaching Torah To A Potential Convert?
- #1221 – Plastic Surgery for Shidduchim Purposes
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