These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: # 1177 – Teaching Torah To A Potential Convert? Good Shabbos!
Parshas Noach describes in detail the decadence of the Generation of the Flood. They were corrupt and amoral, engaging in forbidden relationships, in theft, and in such degenerate practices that HaKadosh Baruch Hu eventually had to destroy the entire society with the exception of Noach and his family.
In light of this, it is difficult to understand the following Midrash Tanchuma. The Midrash writes: How far did the sin of the Dor HaMabul extend? Their problem was that they used to say “We don’t want to know the opinion of the Torah (Da’as Torah ayn anu mevakshim)”. At face value, this is a very difficult Midrash to understand. The pasuk states the extent of their decadence. So what does the Midrash mean that they were destroyed because “they did not seek out Da’as Torah“?
I saw in a sefer that the Midrash is not trying to understand “how bad it became.” The Midrash is trying to understand “How did it all begin?” It did not start with extreme decadence. It started out far more subtly. Slowly but surely, things have a tendency to unravel. They throw this away, they throw that away, until they arrive at a terribly low spiritual level. But that is not where it all starts. So, when this Midrash asks about the nature of the corruption of the Dor HaMabul, the question is not about the end result. The Midrash inquires: How did it all begin? Where did they go wrong that an entire generation could sink so low?
On this the Midrash answers – because they were not interested in learning “the Torah’s opinions about matters.” This means that they did not try to understand what the Torah really asks of human beings. There is an expression, “There are the lines, and then there are the ‘between the lines.'” The Dor HaMabul did not want to know what the ‘between the lines’ were. They asked “Does it say you cannot do this?” It was because that attitude was so pervasive that eventually they sank to the level spelled out in the Torah.
For instance, the Midrash says on the pasuk, “For the earth was filled with chamas (robbery) because of them.” [Bereshis 6:13]: This is what the people of that generation often did: They would walk by a fellow who sold pickles (the Midrash actually gives the example of selling lupines, but since no one here has ever seen a lupine, we will speak about pickles). The seller had a barrel of pickles. Someone passes by and takes a pickle without paying for it. The seller yells “thief!” The customer argues “I am not a thief. The value of a single pickle is not even worth a perutah!” A second customer walks by, sees what the first customer got away with, and he also takes a pickle. “It’s worth less than a shaveh perutah; this is not gezel; you cannot take me to court!” And so it went the entire day until by evening the seller had no pickles left and no income.
What was this attitude? How did they come to this state of corruption? It was because they felt “You cannot take me to court for less than a perutah value of merchandise!” That was their attitude.
Now, when the Torah says “Don’t steal!” we understand that a person will not be brought to court for stealing less that a perutah in value, but what is “Da’ata shel Torah?” What is the Torah’s intent when formulating this commandment? The Torah’s intent is “You do not do that!!!” It is not right! Do not tell me “You can’t sue me! You can’t take me to court!” That may be the letter of the law, but that is not the spirit of the law.
When the Midrash Tanchuma places the expression “Da’ata shel Torah ayn anu mevakshim” (we do not seek the Torah’s opinion on the matter) in the mouths of the pre-Mabul populace, they are expressing the sentiment of people who ignore the Torah’s intent in formulating a legal system. The Torah’s intent is that this pickle guy should not be left with no pickles and no income. This is not right! The Torah does not want that. This too is chamas (robbery).
Later on, when Sarah is angry with Avraham for not sticking up for her in her argument with Hagar, she uses the expression “Chamasi alecha” [Bereshis 16:5]. This is the same root as the word Chamas here by the Dor HaMabul. The Midrash there comments that the word Chamas in the expression Chamasi alecha means “failure to speak up.” “I am your wife; she is your handmaiden. You see how she is talking to me and you did not say anything to object! You withheld your words!” The commentaries explain – Avraham withheld the words that he should have used to speak up in protest to Hagar. He withheld them, thereby “stealing them” from Sarah, so to speak.
This is a far finer spiritual shortcoming than the incident with the pickles, but it can sometimes be chamas not to say anything! The Gemara says [Brochos 6b] there is something called Gezel ha’Ani. Rashi explains that when a pauper says ‘Good morning’ to you and you do not respond, that is considered Gezel and Chamas! (You withhold an item from him – your ‘Good morning’ – that he rightfully has coming to him).
From where does this idea come? It is Da’ata shel Torah – it is the “spirit of the law.” This is what is “between the lines” of the Torah’s instruction to us.
The Ramban on Parshas V’Eschanan contains an idea which, in my humble opinion, is one of the most important teachings of the Ramban in his entire Chumash commentary. On the pasuk “You should do that which is right and good (yashar v’tov) in the Eyes of G-d…” [Devorim 6:18], the Ramban explains that this pasuk comes to include a command to also do that which is not spelled out in the Torah. Even if the Torah does not say it black on white, a person is nevertheless supposed to understand and try to define “What does Hashem want from me?”
The Torah cannot legislate every single thing that might happen in the world. How is a person supposed to know? The answer is the Torah tells us to “Do the right thing”. Whatever is “yashar” (straight, with integrity) is the “opinion of Torah.” The sin of the Dor HaMabul was that they refused to see the implications of the Torah, what the spirit of the law was, and what G-d wants from human beings. If that is a person’s starting point, eventually he winds up at the level of “The land became corrupted before the L-rd and the land was filled with robbery.” [Bereshis 6:11].
The Talmud [Bava Kamma 102a] states “All of Nezikin is a single tractate.” The Ramban writes that this means that the tractates of Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra constitute a single Talmudic entity.” What does this mean?
It means the following: Bava Kamma is about damaging one’s neighbor. The Achronim say that Nezek (damage) is a form of Gezel (theft). Later chapters in Bava Kamma are all about theft – Merubeh, haGozel Eitzim. Nezek, Gezel, HaChovel – these are serious matters!
Bava Metzia is not about such blatant and overt things. Bava Metzia involves arguments between neighbors – I found this Talis first, no I found the Talis first; questions about how to pay workers and when to pay workers. In Bava Metzia we are not talking about crude theft and damages, we are speaking about refined monetary questions. Responsibilities regarding the returning of lost items – this is Bava Metzia.
What is Bava Basra? Bava Basra is about my own property I am not allowed to do things that may disturb my neighbor. The smell may bother him, the sight may bother him, he does not like that I can see into his window. That is Bava Basra. By strict Torah law, there are no such restrictions. If I want to have a pig farm that is piled high with manure in my back yard – where does the Torah specifically prohibit such practice? It does not! If the neighbor has a problem with the smell – let him move somewhere else! From the strict Torah law, this might be permitted, but that is not what the Torah is about.
All of Nezikin is one tractate – Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, and Bava Basra. It starts out in Bava Kamma with crude theft and damage. It ends with Bava Basra which is “polite theft” (Eidele Gezeilah). It is not even about Gezeilah. It is about being a good neighbor. Where does it say in the Torah to be a good neighbor? That is, in fact, exactly what the Torah is all about. That is what the Dor HaMabul failed to see.
The Lesson of a Zeida’s Influence and Imprint
Toward the end of the parsha, there is a list of generations following Noach, which include the following information: “And Cush gave birth to Nimrod. He was the first to be a mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before Hashem; therefore, it is said: ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Hashem.‘ The beginning of his kingdom was Bavel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. From this land, Ashur went forth and built Nineveh, Rehovoth-ir, Clalah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah, that is the great city.” [Bereshis 10:8-12].
What is the purpose of these pesukim? Who pays attention to this? Rashi explains what it means that Nimrod was “a mighty man.” Rashi says the name Nimrod comes from the fact that this individual instigated a mered (rebellion), in which he aroused the entire world to rebel against the Almighty, in what became known as the Dor HaHaflaga (Generation of the Dispersion). Nimrod was the instigator of the project to build the Tower of Bavel, which was a symbol of mankind’s rebellion against Heaven. Rashi interprets the words Gibor Tzayid (mighty hunter) to mean that he entrapped the people with the arguments of his mouth, convincing them to rebel against Hashem. He talked a sweet game and he used his powers of persuasion for distancing the population of the world from their Creator. Any person who has the audacity to be disrespectful of the Ribono shel Olam is called a “Nimrod” (rebel). He knows there is a G-d and he willingly chooses to rebel against Him.
Then the pasuk says “from this land Ashur went forth.” Rashi comments: When Ashur saw his children becoming ensnared and entrapped in the persuasive powers of Nimrod leading them to rebel against G-d, and participate in the building of the Tower, he left them! Ashur said, “I have had it! I am leaving. I am not going to be part of this. My children are already ensnared by Nimrod, but I am out of here.” What did he do? He built the great city – Nineveh.
Nineveh? Does that ring a bell? Of course it rings a bell! “…For Nineveh was a great city to the L-rd…” [Yonah 3:3] (I am told that the city of Mosul which is in Iraq is the ancient city of Nineveh.) Nineveh did Teshuvah. This is the story of Sefer Yonah. The whole city – all the Goyim – everybody did Teshuvah. Where did this come from? It came from the fact that Nineveh had a founder – a great-great-grandfather – Ashur, who proclaimed, “I am not going to be part of Nimrod!” He left. He built a city called Nineveh.
There is quite a bit of time between the times of Noach and the times of Yonah ben Amitai. This is a lesson to us of the imprint and influence a Zeida can have. Because he did not want to have any part of Nimrod’s project and heresies – I am going to build my own city! – that city turned out to be “the shining city on the hill” called Nineveh. Such is the power of an ancestor.
Many times in life there are people who are Tzadikim, who are moser nefesh for Torah and mitzvos – and we look at their parents and we even look at their grandparents and we say: From where did they get this inspiration? The parents and grandparents are very simple individuals. We ask – what is the source of such spiritual greatness? The answer is that this person could have had a great-great-grandfather who is long gone and buried. The great-great-grandfather was a Yareh Shamayim, a Talmid Chochom, a holy Jew! Those seeds lie deep in the recesses of this person’s DNA. This is the story of Ashur and Nineveh. Ashur walked away from Nimrod’s rebellion and started a city of his own, which generations later became an Ir Gedolah L’Elokim.
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. 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
- #1265 – All You Ever Wanted to Know About the Bracha on a Rainbow
- #1309 – Dilemma of Day School Rebbi: A Non-Jewish Child in His Class – Can He Teach Him?
- #1353 – The Uniqueness of the Hebrew Language
- #1397 – Must One Eat Meat on Shabbos?
- (2019) – Backing Out of a Purchase Agreement – What Are the Consequences?
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