A Tale of Two Teivah Riders: Noach’s Gilgul Corrects His “Small Believer” Shortcoming
It is not easy to completely characterize the hero of this week’s parsha. Avrohom Avinu was a Tzadik. Yitzchak Avinu was a Tzadik. Yaakov Avinu was a Tzadik. The characterization of Noach is less cut and dry. The pasuk does acknowledge his Tzidkus: “…Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations…” [Bereshis 6:9]. The fact that the Torah writes such about Noach is, of course, in and of itself, a great accolade. And yet, there is something very perplexing about the personality of this individual, whose family were the sole human survivors of the Deluge.
The pasuk states: “And Noach and his sons and his wife and the wives of his sons came into the Teivah, because of the flood waters (mipnei mei haMabul).” [Bereshis 7:7]. Rashi infers from the words mipnei mei haMabul that “Noach, too, was one of those with little faith “m’katnei Amanah” – he believed but he did not fully believe.”
We may talk about a person who is a great ma’amin (believer). Noach was apparently not a great ma’amin! Despite what he was told by Hashem, he did not enter the Teivah until he had no choice but to do so because of the onslaught of the torrential rains. Up until the last minute, he was hedging his bets and hesitated to enter the Teivah.
How do we reconcile this status of being a “small believer” with the pasuk’s earlier description of Noach as “Ish Tzadik, Tamim haya b’Dorosav“?
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was universally known for his uncanny ability to be melamed zechus on Klal Yisrael – always putting a positive spin on their actions, and defending them from accusations of spiritual laxity on their part. (He would take any situation and find a positive aspect about apparently incriminating behaviors. The classic story is that he came across a Jew greasing the axles of his wagon while wearing tefillin. Others recoiled at that sight: “How dare you wear tefillin while engaging in such unseemly labor?” Reb Levi would smile and say with satisfaction – “Ahh, look at this holy Jew. Even when he is greasing the axles of his wagon, he still wears tefillin!”) Such was the personality and philosophy of life of the great Chassidic master, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. If there was anyone who would be able to justify Noach’s actions and could reconcile these seemingly contradictory facets, it would be Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.
Indeed, in his sefer Kedushas Levi he writes that Noach was a great Tzadik. He interprets the expression “m’katnei Amanah” (a small believer) to mean that Noach did not believe in himself. He did not see himself as a Tzadik. Reb Levi Yitzchak explains that there are two types of Tzadikim. There is a Tzadik who feels confidence in his righteousness and he knows that “Tzadik gozer v’HaKadosh Baruch Hu Mekayem” (The Almighty follows the orders, so to speak, of a Tzadik). He knows that a Tzadik has incredible powers and can in fact – as it were – overrule the Master of the Universe!
As to the “complaint” against Noach – why did he not pray for his generation (as, for example, Avraham prayed for the salvation of Sodom) and ask that the decree of the Flood be annulled – Reb Levi Yitzchak explains, that is what is meant by “Noach was a small believer”. He did not see himself as any better than the people of his generation. Simply, he did not realize that he had the credentials to petition the Almighty to annul this decree! “On the contrary,” writes Rev Levi Yitzchak, “he considered himself to be just another member of the “Dor haMabul.” Consequently, he reasoned – “if I am going to be saved from this Flood, the other people in the generation will be saved as well, because I am no better than they are!”
“M’katnei amanah” does not mean that he had insufficient faith in the Word of G-d, but rather that he did not have the confidence and Emunah in himself. That is why he waited when the water was up to his ankles and then up to his knees and up to his thighs before entering into the Teivah at the last minute.
This attitude on his part explains many of Noach’s actions, that might imply criticism:
Why did he not pray for his generation? It is because his attitude was “Me? The Master of the Universe should listen to me? Why would my prayers be worth anything? Who am I?”
This approach reconciles how Noach could at the same time be an “Ish Tzadik – Tamim haya b’dorosov” and on the other hand also “M’katnei ha’Amanah“. This is a different interpretation of the idea “M’Katenei ha’Amanah.”
I heard this vort from my wife who heard it from Rabbi Shmuel Silber at his shiur this morning. However, Rabbi Silber added two additional points:
There is a kabbalistic concept of Gilgulim (soul transmigrations). A person enters this world with a job to do. If he does not fulfill his assigned mission, his soul is “recycled” so to speak and returns to this world in another body to be given a “second chance” to fulfill that mission. It is written in the “heilege sefarim” (holy books) that Moshe Rabbeinu was a Gilgul of Noach.
Moshe served as the “tikkun” (corrective action) for Noach. Moshe Rabbeinu was the most modest person on the face of the earth and yet he believed in himself and he believed in the power of his personal prayer. When the Ribono shel Olam said “I will destroy them (the Jewish people) in a moment” (Achaleh osam c’regah), by the aveyra of the Egel Hazahav (Golden Calf) or by other sins, Moshe stood up and fought to defend Klal Yisrael. This was the Tikkun of the Neshama of Noach through the personage of Moshe Rabbeinu.
The second point Rabbi Silber added was that we begin our day with the prayer: Modeh Ani Lefanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam she’he’chezarta bee nishmasi b’chemlah, Rabbah Emunasecha! What is the meaning of the expression “Rabbah Emunasecha“? Rabbi Silber suggested that perhaps it can be interpreted as “You have so much faith in me!” I woke up again this morning. Why? It must be because You think I can do the job. Your Emunah in me is so great that You return my soul every single morning, manifesting Your confidence in my ability to fulfill my mission in life.
As modest and as humble as a person must be, nevertheless he must have self-confidence (emunah Atzmis).
There is a sefer Shaarei haAvodah (some say it is written by Rabbeinu Yona in the 1200s) which notes that the first Bracha of the Shmoneh Esrei invokes the Supreme Power who is “Elo-kei Avraham, Elo-kei Yitzchok, v’Elo-kei Yakov“. The Shmoneh Esrei is known as Avodah (service). The first thing we must remind ourselves when we start our job of Divine Service is that “I have a distinguished lineage (yichus)! I descend from Gedolim! I am a Rebbishe Einekel! (Grandchild of a Holy Rabbi).” My Zeida was Avraham. My Zeida was Yitzchok. My Zeida was Yaakov. I am a somebody. I am not a nobody. A person must know that.
True, a person cannot have the attitude “It is my strength and the power of my hand that is responsible for my great wealth.” [Devorim 8:17] But a person needs to have faith in who he is and what he can do. This was the shortcoming of Noach, which was corrected by Moshe Rabbeinu.
The Pleasant Aroma of Mesiras Nefesh
I saw the following observation in a sefer called Nachlas Eliezer.
The pasuk says: “And Noach build a Altar for Hashem…” [Bereshis 8:20] When Noach emerged from the Teivah, he built an Mizbayach and offered korbonos (sacrifices). The Medrash Rabbah [34:9] comments on the fact that the Torah uses the word VaYiven (he built) rather than Va’Ya’as (he made) in connection with the Altar. The Medrash explains that the reason for the choice of the word VaYiven is because it can also be read as VaYaven, meaning “he understood” (etymologically related to the words binah and havanah, which mean ‘understanding’).
What did Noach understand? He understood why Hashem had commanded him to take more Kosher animals (7 pairs of each) onto the Teivah than non-kosher animals (1 pair of each). He understood that the reason was so that there would be “extra” Kosher animals from which to bring korbonos upon leaving the Teivah. So “VaYaven” (he understood) and “VaYiven” he built an Mizbayach immediately upon exiting from the Teivah. So says the Medrash.
There is a second on the very next pasuk. The pasuk begins “Hashem inhaled the pleasant aroma (Reiach haNichoach)…” [Bereshis 8:21]. The Medrash says that the reference here is to much more that merely smelling the roasted meat. The Medrash says that Hashem smelled the aroma of Avraham Avinu rising up from the Fiery Furnace into which he was thrown (for having broken his father’s idols). The Medrash continues that Hashem also smelled in Noach’s offering the aroma of Chananya, Mishael, and Azariah who were also thrown into a Fiery Furnace [Daniel Chapter 3] for refusing to bow down to the idol of Nevuchadnezer, King of Bavel.
Why did the Ribono shel Olam see or smell, as it were, the Mesiras Nefesh aroma of Avraham and the Mesiras Nefesh aroma of Chananya, Mishael, and Azariah in the korbonos of Noach?
The sefer Nachlas Eliezer writes that Noach did something over here that was very significant. The Ribono shel Olam told him to take 7 pairs of Kosher animals and only a single male-female pairing of the non-Kosher animals. Noach asked himself why. For the same money, he could have hypothesized that the purpose of ensuring a surplus of Kosher animals was to allow him to eat. He could have concluded “HaShem wanted me to be able to eat steak every night as a reward for my efforts!” Why then, did Noach assume that the reason for the surplus of kosher animals was that the Ribono shel Olam wanted korbanos? It is because when looking at the situation, Noach, rather than seeing his own needs, saw – as it were – Hashem’s “needs”. He put his pleasures and appetite and desires aside. He said, “No! Seven pairs are not for me! They are for the Ribono shel Olam.”
That self-denial, that small act of thinking about the big picture – something beyond oneself – was the first step of Mesiras Nefesh. Given the context of the Dor HaMabul – a generation that was into self-gratification and each person’s own pleasure – Noach took a step in the opposite direction. “No, I am not going to go ahead and enjoy myself. I am going to take those same animals that I could have eaten myself and sacrifice them to the Almighty. The Ribono shel Olam “smelled” in the aroma of that korban the Mesiras Nefesh of later generations: Of Avraham Avinu and of Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya. Their dedication and self-sacrifice grew out of this small act of Noach at the dawn of mankind.
People throw around the expression “Mesiras Nefesh” all the time. “It was raining and I came to the Chassanah – Ah! What Mesiras Nefesh!” “I drove two and a half hours to Lakewood to such and such — What Mesiras Nefesh!” Frankly, I used to be put off by such language, thinking that it was a cheapening of a term reserved for real self-sacrifice and self-deprivation.
Someone corrected me and explained that the expression Nefesh in Tanach can have a secondary meaning as well, as in the phrase “Im Yesh es Nafshechem” [Bereshis 23:8] (if it so be your desire). Mesiras Nefesh means that I put away my desire. I don’t want to get wet at night. I don’t want to schlep out on a cold winter night to attend somebody’s Chassanah. I would rather stay home in my cozy house. Going out requires “Mesiras Nefesh” because I give over my Ratzon, my desires, on behalf of someone else. A person does not need an act of martyrdom or self-sacrifice to be Moser Nefesh. A small act may also be Mesiras Nefesh. That is exactly what Noach did here. “I could have eaten these things, but I gave them to the Ribono shel Olam.”
That act modeled a behavior and had an affect such that ten generations later, Avraham Avinu was truly Moser Nefesh and scores of generations later, Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya, were literally Moser Nefesh allowing themselves to be cast into a Fiery Furnace rather than bowing down to an idol.
The other offshoot from this lesson is how an act of a human being can have an effect so many generations later. Towards the end of the parsha, the Torah writes “And Kush gave birth to Nimrod, he began to be a mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before Hashem…” [Bereshis 10:8-9]. We would assume that this pasuk is describing a fellow, Nimrod, who was a real mighty individual – a strong and muscular hunter. Rashi says that the pasuk is referring to something entirely different. Rashi describes Nimrod as a rebel – one who led a rebellion against the Master of the Universe. Rashi says that the pasuk is referring to any person (in future generations) who is disrespectful to the Almighty, so to speak, “who recognizes his Master and intends to rebel against Him”. Such a person can be titled “a Nimrod.”
Look at the next pasuk. “From this land came forth Ashur and built Nineveh, Rechovoth-ir, and Calah.” (Bereshis 10:11) A fellow named Ashur, after whom the nation and country is named (Assyria) came forth and built several cities. On the words “From this land came forth Ashur” Rashi writes: Ashur saw that his children were following in the path of Nimrod (rebelling against G-d). His reaction was “I’m out of here!” He left that land because he didn’t want to have anything to do with Nimrod and his influence. “I am not going to let Nimrod corrupt my children.” So, he went to a new land and he built for himself cities – among which was the City of Nineveh. The modern-day city of Mosul, Iraq is the ancient city of Nineveh.
Fast forward dozens of generations. There is a prophet named Yonah who goes to the city of Nineveh and gets on a soapbox. He proclaims “In forty days, the City of Nineveh will be overturned.” (Yonah 3:4) At Hyde Park in London or to Times Square in New York City there are people on soapboxes speaking to crowds. Many proclaim that the world is about to be destroyed. We usually call such people “Nuts!” No one gives these people a hoot of attention. They are Mishugaim!
Here Yonah comes to Nineveh; he gets up on a soapbox and announces that the city will be destroyed in less than six weeks. What happens? They listen to him. The whole city does Teshuva. The King of Nineveh repents. The animals repent. How did Yonah pull this off? How did he do it?
He was able to pull this off because it was Ashur who founded Nineveh. Ashur started Nineveh because he said “I am not going to let my sons be influenced by people who rebel against the Ribono shel Olam.” Because of the motivations of its founder, Nineveh was always karov l’Teshuva (having an affinity for repentance). Just like the act of Noach denying himself the pleasure of those steaks had an effect, such that ten generations later, Avraham Avinu was willing to become a martyr for the sake of Hashem and the same was true hundreds of years later with Chananya, Mishael, and Azarya. So too, the act of Ashur abandoning the wicked Nimrod and building a new city for his children, had an affect on the spiritual DNA of Nineveh’s occupants so many generations later – such that they all did Teshuva upon hearing Yonah’s warning.
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
- #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?
A complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit http://www.yadyechiel.org/ for further information.