The pasuk in Parshas Noach says: “Make for yourself a Teiva (Ark) of Gofer wood, with Kinim (compartments)…” (Bereshis 6:14). The Medrash in Bereshis Rabbah (Chapter 31) connects the word Kinim in this pasuk with the term Kinim (pair of birds) used in the purification ritual of a Metzorah. The Medrash states: “Just like this Kain (bird pair) purifies the Metzorah, so too your Teiva will purify you.”
Kinim is not a very common word for compartments or rooms, but that is the word that the pasuk uses here in Parshas Noach. The Medrash zeros in on this peculiar usage of the word to connect the Kinim in the Teiva to birds’ nests, which are also called Kinim.
This Medrash is fertile ground for exposition. Somehow there is a connection between Noach and Metzorah. What on earth does Noach have to do with a leper? That is problem number one.
Problem number two is that the Medrash is implicitly saying that Noach required some kind of purification. There is a Medrash Tanchuma that is even more explicit about this. The Medrash comments on the pasuk “Leave the Teiva” (Bereshis 8:16) by stating that Noach hated being in the Teiva. He was constantly praying to the Almighty, “Get me out of here!”
It is hard for us to imagine what it was like for Noach to be locked up in the Teiva for a year. The Teiva was far from the Princess Cruise Line or any other luxury liner. The Teiva was a very crude building. Noach and his family had to share this crude building with every single type of animal and creature on the face of the earth. This was no picnic.
The Medrash notes that the Ribono shel Olam responded to Noach’s constant pleas to be released from the Teiva: “This is a decree from before Me that you will not leave this enclosure until twelve months are complete.” In other words, “Sorry, Noach. This is a punishment. You need to be in this Teiva for an entire year.” If this seemed like a prison, it is because it was a prison. It was meant to be a prison. Noach needed to experience this purification process for twelve months until he was permitted to leave the Teiva.
Thus, Noach was not merely in the Teiva to escape from and survive the Flood. It was also a penance. He needed to pay a price. He needed to be there locked up with all these animals for twelve months. So we see clearly from this Medrash that Noach needed purification.
The question is, what did Noach do that caused him to need to experience this ordeal and to pay this price to achieve purification?
Many commentaries—such as the Alshich, the Meshech Chochmah, and the Chasam Sofer—say the same thing. The aveira for which Noach had to do penance was that his righteousness was strictly between himself and the Almighty. He did not go out and seek to improve the state of the people around him, as Avraham later did.
There was a Heavenly claim against Noach because he did not save anyone else of his entire generation. He took care of himself and his family, but he let the rest of the world literally go down the tube. That is an indictment of Noach.
So now we understand the midah k’neged midah of why Noach had to sit in the Teivah for twelve months by himself: You sat alone in your own four amos (cubits) during your entire lifetime and did not go out and have a positive effect on other people. Your punishment is that you will in fact need to sit alone! This is the purification-punishment that Noach needed to endure.
And what is the connection between Metzorah and the Teivah? I saw a beautiful observation in the sefer Ateres Shalom. Just as the Kein (birds’ nest) purifies the Metzorah, so too the Kein (compartment) will purify Noach. Chazal say that a person gets Tzaraas because of Lashon HaRah. The Zohar famously says there are two types of sinful speech: Evil speech, and failure to use Good speech.
If someone can give a complement but instead keeps quiet, that is also an aveira involving speech. The ‘Gift of Speech’ can be used to defame, but it can also be used to encourage. It can be used to give people mussar and to straighten people out. In fact, the Zohar writes that just as people are punished for Evil speech, so too people are punished for keeping quiet and not taking advantage of the opportunity to use Good speech. Certainly, if people are on an improper path and someone has the opportunity to speak to them and correct them but keeps quiet, that too is an aveira.
This is the connection between Metzorah and Noach. Noach did not speak when he was supposed to speak. Just like a Metzorah may be punished for NOT speaking Good Speech, so too, that was Noach’s aveira as well.
Sometimes Only Hashem Realizes…
The pasuk says “And Elokim saw the earth and it was corrupt for all flesh corrupted its way on the earth.” (Bereshis 6:12). Rav Chatzkel Abramsky asks a question: Why was it only “And Elokim saw that the earth was decadent”? The pasuk seems to imply that only the Ribono shel Olam saw that things were bad. What about all of society?
Rav Chatzkel Abramsky explained that sometimes when society begins to decline, the society does not realize how far they have drifted. We need the Ribono shel Olam to say, “My gosh! Look at what has happened.”
Before the Mabul, things had become so corrupt and people had become so accustomed to the corruption and the decadence and the depravity that He was the only one to notice the problem. “And Elokim saw” but everyone else said, “This is just the way it is!”
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited 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?
- #1441 – Backing Out of a Purchase Agreement – What Are the Consequences?
- #1485 – I Just Saw a Rainbow – Should I Tell My Neighbor?
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.