october 5th 2013
Heshvan 1st 5774
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How We Influence Others
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
It is written, “G-d said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with robbery through them, and I am about to destroy them from the earth. Make for yourself an Ark of gopher wood’ ” (Bereshith 6:13-14).
Rashi states, “Make for yourself an Ark – there are many ways available to Him for bringing relief and deliverance. Why, then, did He burden [Noah] with this construction? So that the people of the generation of the flood would see him occupied with it for 120 years and ask him: ‘What do you need this for?’ He would answer them, ‘G-d will bring a flood upon the world,’ and [in this way] they might repent.”
The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Noah to build an Ark, a command that seems to require an explanation. If G-d wanted to save him from the flood, could He not have simply put him some place where the waters of the flood would not reach? Why make Noah go to all the trouble of building an Ark?
The answer is that all this flowed from G-d’s compassion on His children. The Creator of the world does not desire the death of the wicked, but rather their repentance. Hence “there are many ways available to Him for bringing relief and deliverance,” meaning that the people of the generation of the flood would see Noah building an Ark and ask him about it. Noah would then tell them that because of their sins, G-d would soon bring a flood upon the world.
Let us try and imagine what may have happened: Noah was building the Ark for 120 years – 120 years of measuring and sawing. Now building an Ark of 300 cubits in length by 30 cubits in height is not something that is done inconspicuously, and there is absolutely no doubt that this work did not go unnoticed by the people of the generation, who definitely talked about it. At first, everyone began asking numerous questions, but his answers did not penetrate the heart of anyone. “A flood?!” they would respond with contempt. Nobody believed him, and thus years passed in this way. People were born and died, decades passed, and yet Noah was still adamantly building the Ark. It is likely that little by little, people began calling it “Noah’s Ark.” Nevertheless, nobody repented, not even one! Noah was an upright and just individual, a man who found grace in the eyes of G-d, and probably in the eyes of men as well. This is because the two are related, as the Sages say in the Mishnah: “Anyone with whom his fellowmen are pleased, G-d is pleased with him. Yet anyone with whom his fellowmen are not pleased, G-d is not pleased with him” (Pirkei Avoth 3:10). Noah was pleasing in the eyes of G-d and men, and yet none in his generation repented? How is that possible? With the exception of Noah and his family, none in his generation tried to enter the Ark, not even when the first drops of rain began to fall and he appeared to be right after all. What does that mean? Was Noah so unpersuasive? Did he not properly explain to people what he was doing, and that there was indeed going to be a flood that would affect the entire world?
Above all, how was our father Abraham successful in bringing those in his generation to believing in Hashem – as our Sages explain concerning the words, “The souls that they made in Haran” (Bereshith 12:5): “Abraham converted the men and Sarah the women” (Bereshith Rabba 39:14) – and yet Noah was not? Why?
The verse states, “Noah with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, went into the Ark because of the waters of the flood” (Bereshith 7:7). Here Rashi explains, “Noah was also among those whose faith was weak. He believed, yet did not believe that the flood would come, and he did not enter the Ark until he was forced to by the waters.” This interpretation is drawn from the Midrash, which states: “Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘He lacked faith: Had the waters not reached his ankles, he would not have entered the Ark’ ” (Bereshith Rabba 32:6). How are we to understand these words – that Noah lacked faith? That he believed, and yet did not really believe? The rain began to fall, and yet he still hesitated; he still did not really believe that the flood would come! How was it possible for Noah’s faith to have wavered, since G-d had spoken to him like one of the prophets, giving him the task of building the Ark? There is no way to imagine that his faith wavered. In fact it’s inconceivable, since he did what he was commanded to do for 120 years! If his faith had wavered, why would he do that? Yet if his faith was solid, why did he not enter the Ark before the waters reached his ankles?
We may say that Noah understood that the goal of building the Ark was to encourage those in his generation to repent. Hence he still tried to delay the end somewhat, hoping that someone might wake up and repent, rectify his sins and be worthy of entering the Ark. That is why Noah did what he did. However he was immediately criticized for it, since the Creator of the universe was fully aware of all that happens with man, and He knew that here Noah possessed a slight deficiency in his faith. In regards to a man of Noah’s stature, G-d’s demands are very stringent, to the point that Noah is said to have “believed, yet did not believe.”
In fact this may be the source of the great difference between Abraham and Noah. The faith of our father Abraham was so perfect that he harbored zero doubts, even when G-d told him to sacrifice his son Isaac, a command that was completely opposed to G-d’s promise that “in Isaac shall your offspring be called” (Bereshith 21:12). Even then, Abraham did not harbor the slightest doubt.
Noah was different in this regard, for he took Heaven’s intentions into consideration. He thought: It’s true that I was commanded to enter the Ark, but the Holy One, blessed be He, wanted people to repent, so perhaps I’ll wait here a little longer.” When he made this calculation, he introduced his own understanding into the mix, something that represented a certain deficiency in faith and absolute obedience to the Creator’s will. Hence of Noah it is said that “he believed, yet did not believe.” However our father Abraham did not ask any questions, which is why of him it is said: “He believed in Hashem, and He accounted it to him as righteousness” (Bereshith 15:6).
This is why Abraham, not Noah, succeeded in bringing those in his generation to faith. It was not because Noah did not speak well enough or exert enough influence. In fact he tried to encourage people to repent, and he went to great lengths in this regard, even to the point of waiting for the waters to reach his ankles before entering the Ark. He also built the Ark in full view of the people, making public proclamations of the coming flood, which everyone was told of. Yet because he lacked perfect faith deep within his heart, his words failed to have an impact on people, contrary to the words of Abraham.
From here we must realize that if we want to increase the glory of Heaven – if we want to have an influence on others – then the best way of doing this is by starting with ourselves! Only then will our influence have an effect. When someone wants to influence another person in a certain area, but is not himself perfect in that area, he is bound to fail. It cannot be otherwise. Yet when he works on himself, people will be influenced and motivated to emulate him!
Real Life Stories
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
It is written, “Noah began to be a man of the earth, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent” (Bereshith 9:20).
The Chafetz Chaim explained this using a nice parable, one described by the Maggid Mesharim, Rav Shabsi Yudelowitz Zatzal, as “delicious.” Here is the parable, as adapted and retold by the latter:
There was once a great Rav, a righteous man, who hosted a festive meal for his friends in his home. At the end of the meal, some excellent old wine was served. The Rav drank to the health of his guests, but since he didn’t know his own limits, he drank more than his fair share and became drunk. In fact not only did he get drunk, he began to jump up and dance. At first he danced on the floor, but then he climbed on a table and danced with joy – he himself, the Rav of the city – like a crude drunk, and in a particularly degrading way.
He then lay on the floor, beneath the table, and fell asleep.
A few hours passed. When he awoke and regained his senses, his wife painfully told him: “What shame! You were drunk! The Rav of the city got drunk! And you can’t imagine what you looked like – with your shirt open and all.” The Rav was shocked, overwhelmed, and dumbfounded.
“Yes, you,” said his wife.
The Rav fainted from grief.
This shame weighed so heavily on him that he decided not to leave his home for an entire month. “I danced on the table in a humiliating way in front of the city residents! How can I walk in the street?”
After a month, his shame diminished somewhat. He now felt capable of leaving his home, although he looked down as he walked. He made an effort to venture into the street, but walked slowly. As he was making his way past a photography studio on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, he saw a large picture in the window, about three feet by three feet in size. It was an image of him, the Rav, dancing on his table drunk!
“Oh, no!” He was stunned, not knowing where to hide his shame. He ran back home, his eyes lowered as he shed tears. “What will become of me? Where will I live? How can I show my face in public? Will I still be able to walk along the small streets of Jerusalem, where everyone knows me?”
Under cover of darkness, the Rav left his home accompanied by his family, and quickly moved out of the city. He fled to Beersheba.
On his first day in Beersheba, he began to walk along the small, secondary streets of the city, dejected and alone. He suddenly saw a large poster, about six feet by six feet, showing how the Rav of Jerusalem had gotten drunk and degraded himself. Woe to him! “Who brought this picture here?” he wondered. “What’s happening?”
He bolted back home, then packed his bags and left for America.
After about two weeks in America, he left his home and went to a bookstore. There in the storefront, he saw a new book on the subject of alcoholism. On the front cover of the book was a picture of “a rabbi dancing in his drunkenness.” Why? Because a single picture is worth a thousand words. The publishers of the book wanted this picture to serve as a lesson to everyone.
“Woe to me! All the children of America already know me!” he thought as every part of his body began to tremble from shame. “Everywhere I go, people will say: There’s the drunk that we were taught about in school.” It was truly the end for him!
During that time, the UN held a conference in Geneva on the problem of alcoholism, which was spreading around the world. The general assembly decided, among other things, that once every year from now on, the picture of the drunken Rav would be published throughout the world, in the Pacific, China, Japan, Africa, and the Americas. It was a good example for youngsters, to show them just what a respected individual can look like when he isn’t careful about drinking moderately, and even more so when it comes to hard liquor and other drugs! It was a great picture to use as an example.
When the Rav heard this, he began to weep. He said, “Where can I hide now? Tell me! In Japan people will know me! I’ll be known around the world! It’s the end!” He put his head between his knees and burst into uncontrollable weeping.
Nobody could console him, and he wept even more.
“Dear friends,” said the Chafetz Chaim, “do you realize that this story isn’t new? These things were written in the Bible almost 4,000 years ago, in Parsha Noah. The Torah testifies that Noah was righteous: ‘Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations.’ The righteous Noah drank, ‘and he uncovered himself within his tent’ because of the wine he drank.
“This happened once within his home – one time only – and in the strictest of privacy. Yet it is recalled to this day. Any child who goes to cheder learns about it in Parsha Noah: ‘Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations…. Noah began to be a man of the earth, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.’ Parsha Noah is studied throughout the world, in China and Japan, and every non-Jew knows what happened to him.
“See what happens,” said the Chafetz Chaim, “when a man makes a mistake just once: It is never forgotten.”
At the Source
He Was Righteous
It is written, “Noah was a righteous man” (Bereshith 6:9).
Why is Noah called righteous? Since he fed G-d’s creatures, he became like the Creator, as it is written: “For Hashem is righteous; He loves righteousness” (Tehillim 11:7).
Two men were called “righteous” because they provided food: Noah and Joseph. Of Joseph we read, “Joseph gave them bread” (Bereshith 47:17), and of him it is written: “For selling a righteous man for money” (Amos 2:6).
– Tanchuma HaKadum
The Decree Cannot be Revoked
It is written, “Make for yourself an Ark of gopher wood” (Bereshith 6:14).
Why gopher wood? Because of the gophrit (sulfur) from which the generation of the flood would perish. Another explanation: Gopher wood for yourself, but gophrit (sulfur) for them. Why did G-d order Noah to take gopher wood, rather than wood from another tree? Rabbi Yishmael said, “Just as the decree against the generation of the flood was sealed, likewise the fate Noah was also sealed. He was judged with them by gophrit [sulfur], but found favor, as it is written: ‘And Noah found favor.’ ”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “There is a decree before Me to judge Noah by sulfur as well. Yet because he is righteous, I cannot cause his death. However since the decree has been sealed, it cannot be revoked.” What did the Holy One, blessed be He, do? He ordered Noah to make an Ark of gopher wood, which evokes gophrit. As such, the decree would not be revoked, but Noah would be saved.
– Bereshith Rabbati
It is written, “As for Me, I am about to bring the flood” (Bereshith 6:17).
Why destroy them by water?
The people of the generation of the flood grew proud before Hashem only because of the benefits that He bestowed upon them. They said, “He [Hashem] does not need to tire Himself for us. Two drops of rain will suffice, since we have rivers and springs!”
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: “Because of the benefits that I provided you with, you are growing proud before Me? This is how you will be punished!” Thus we read, “As for Me, I am about to bring the flood.”
– Tosephta, Sotah 3
A Beneficial Delay
It is written, “For in seven more days…” (Bereshith 7:4).
Why after seven days? It was because the Holy One, blessed be He, delayed the flood for as long as Methuselah was alive.
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Noah: “On earth I have an old man who is completely righteous. I cannot bring the flood upon the world until he has left the world.”
He replied, “Sovereign of the universe, who is this righteous man?” He said, “Your forefather Methuselah.” He responded, “In that case, if he returns to You, the flood will come upon the earth as You have said?” He answered, “He has no more than a week to live, and then he will leave this world and the flood will come.”
This is the meaning of, “For in seven more days I will bring a flood upon the earth.” After those seven days passed, Methuselah died and the flood began.
– Aleph Beit of Ben Sira
It is written, “The beginning of his kingdom” (Bereshith 10:10).
Why did Nimrod become king?
Rabbi Yehudah said, “The garment that the Holy One, blessed be He, made for Adam and his wife were with Noah in the Ark. When they left the Ark, Noah’s son Ham stole it and bequeathed it to his son Cush and to Nimrod. When Nimrod wore it, all the beasts and birds came and fell at his feet, something which men attributed to his power. Hence they appointed him as their king.”
– Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer
In the Light of the Parsha
A Righteous Man, Perfect in His Generations
Noah did not allow himself to be influenced by the people of his generation, for he considered himself as a foreigner in this world, like someone who travels from place to place, his “home” simply being the next place he is heading to. When a person considers himself as a foreigner in this world, he does not come to sin. Such is the way of the tzaddikim: They consider themselves as foreigners in this world, reflecting their entire lives upon the fact that they must render an accounting to the Creator at the end of their days and return to a place of maggots and dust. One who reflects throughout his life on the fact that he will have to give an accounting, and that he is not the owner, but rather a foreigner in this world, will merit becoming a citizen in the World to Come.
The present world is like an inn, and the people of this world are like clients who rent a room there. Has anyone ever seen the occupant of such a room becoming its owner? As soon as he causes any damage to it, the real owner will come and throw him out. Thus the generation of the flood believed that this world belonged to them, and they began to damage the earth and fill it with violence. What did the Owner do? He wiped them off the face of the earth. Yet Noah, because he considered himself as a foreigner in this world, was saved from the waters of the flood.
How do we know that Noah did not consider himself as a citizen of this world? From what is said about him: “These are the offspring of Noah – Noah.” Now the Gemara teaches that repeating something twice annuls it (Bava Kama 45a). The name “Noah” comes from the same root as menucha (“rest”), and since Noah’s name is mentioned twice, it means that he had no rest in this world, but was like a foreigner in it.
Perhaps this is what the Sages meant when they said, “Talmidei chachamim have no rest in this world or in the World to Come” (Berachot 64a). They consider themselves as foreigners, and foreigners do not rest, for they are always thinking about their next destination, not where they actually are, a place where they are staying for only a short while.
Nevertheless, some of our Sages saw Noah in a negative light, saying that if Noah had lived in the time of Abraham, he would have been considered insignificant. In fact Abraham said of himself, “I am a foreigner and a resident among you” (Bereshith 23:4). Let’s think about this! If he was a foreigner, he could not have been a resident, and vice-versa. Yet our father Abraham, although Hashem gave him the land of Canaan as a gift – to him and his descendants after him – still did not consider himself a permanent resident, but rather a foreigner.
What is this referring to? Abraham considered himself as a foreigner in this world with regards to his own affairs. Yet with regards to the affairs of Heaven, he made himself into a very powerful resident, reprimanding people and bringing them closer to G-d. Abraham spread His kingdom around the world, causing Hashem’s Name to be spoken by every living being (Bereshith Rabba 39:16). The result was that all the inhabitants of the earth knew that this great city, the world, has a leader. As for Noah, because he considered himself a foreigner, not a resident – not even in regards to the affairs of Heaven – he did not reprimand his generation. As the Sforno writes, “Noah, even if he rebuked the evil deeds of the nations, did not teach them to know G-d and to walk in His ways, despite being righteous and perfect in thought and deed” (Sforno, Bereshith 6:8).
That is why some see Noah in a negative light, for Noah regarded himself as a foreigner and did not reprimand his generation, since only a permanent resident can do so. As for Abraham, although he considered himself a foreigner, he only acted as such in regards to his own affairs. In regards to the affairs of Heaven, Abraham considered himself a citizen and reprimanded those in his generation.
A Torah of Life
You Made a Golem of Clay - (Part II)
In last week’s article we discussed several instances in which animals were created by the Sages of Israel, and we examined the practical halachic questions and consequences that follow from a proof found in the Torah.
In his book Shem HaGedolim, the Chida discusses the gaon Rabbi Eliyahu, the Av Beit Din of Chelm, “who was very skilled in Sefer Yetzirah and had created a man, as his grandson writes. Someone told me that he heard from the son of the gaon and author of Sha’ar Ephraim about the wonders performed by the gaon Eliyahu through authentic Kabbalah ma’asit [practical Kabbalah], during times of absolute necessity and danger. I read in Responsa Ya’avetz that he heard from his father that the Golem created by the gaon Rabbi Eliyahu with Sefer Yetzirah was growing ever larger. He was afraid that it would destroy the world, which is why he removed the Holy Name that was embedded in its forehead, and it returned to dust.”
In the commentary Mikedem LaAyin by Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer Zatzal on another book written by the Chida (Midbar Kedemot), the Chida discusses this topic. He notes that one Friday evening, the Golem’s creator had forgotten to remove Hashem’s Name, which he had used to create it, from its mouth. He finally remembered after having recited the words “Mizmor shir leyom haShabbat,” and then removed it and ordered all the faithful in the Beit HaMidrash to repeat these words. Afterwards, the practice of reciting this phase twice began, and to this day it remains the custom in the Prague Beit HaMidrash.
Can a Golem Take Part in a Minyan?
In regards to the halachic status of such a creature, the Chacham Tzvi examined this question in his responsa. He wrote the following: “I doubt whether a man who was created by means of Sefer Yetzirah, like the one mentioned in Sanhedrin and the one connected to the gaon Rabbi Eliyahu, the Av Beit Din of Chelm, can take part in a minyan when ten men are needed, such as when kaddish and kedusha are said. Some claim that since it is written, ‘I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel,’ he cannot take part in it. However perhaps we should consider what is written in Sanhedrin: ‘The five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel [II Samuel 21:8]. … Was it Michal who gave birth to them? Surely it was Merav who bore them! However Merav gave birth to them and Michal brought them up, which is why they were called by her name. This teaches that whoever raises an orphan in his home, Scripture considers him to have begotten him’ [Sanhedrin 19b]. It follows that the work of the tzaddikim’s hands are included among the Children of Israel, since the deeds of the tzaddikim are their children.”
The Chacham Tzvi resolves this issue by noting that Rabbi Zeira said, “You who have been created by my friend [i.e., Rabba], return to your dust” (see Sanhedrin 65b), meaning that he killed him. If it had been possible to include him in a minyan, Rabbi Zeira would not have taken him out of this world. True, there is no prohibition against spilling blood in this case, since the verse specifically states: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Bereshith 9:6). This deals with a person who was begotten by a person, meaning that spilling blood only applies to one born of a woman. Now the being created by Rabba was not born of a woman. Whatever the case may be, if he had served a practical purpose, Rabbi Zeira would never have taken him out of this world. From here we conclude that such a being cannot take part in a minyan. Let us mention what the gaon himself, the Ya’avetz, said about the fate of the Golem he created after it had fulfilled the task assigned to it by his grandfather, Rabbi Eliyahu: “I heard from a sanctified mouth [i.e., the Chacham Tzvi] that after watching it grow ever larger, he feared that it would destroy the world. He therefore removed the Holy Name that had been embedded in its forehead, and it returned to dust. However it injured him on the face as he removed the Name.”
According to a tradition among the elders of the Chelm community, “The Golem was hidden in an attic at the entrance of the great synagogue, in the geniza, among torn books and sacred objects that had become unsuitable for use. There he remained, enwrapped in a torn tallit. It is forbidden to go up there because, numerous years ago, a man risked his life by venturing up there to look at some books, and he saw the Golem.”
Elsewhere we find a similar discussion on whether it is permitted to allow a man created by means of Sefer Yetzirah to take part in a minyan. As proof that it is prohibited, I have heard that if not prohibited, then why were Jacob’s nine sons obligated to include Hashem among them as their tenth? They could have simply created a Golem! We may refute this proof, but this is not the place for it (Menachem Tzion, Shem HaGedolim).
In Birkei Yosef (Orach Chaim 55:4), the Chida explains that he saw a letter from the Mahari Lei Katz, the son of the Sha’ar Ephraim, who derived a proof from the incident in which Rabbi Eliezer liberated his slave so he could take part in a minyan. By doing so, he transgressed the positive commandment: “They shall serve you forever.” If it had been possible to make a Golem take part in a minyan, he would have created one by means of Sefer Yetzirah, since Rabbi Eliezer was very powerful, as Midrash HaNe’elam tells us.
The Chida rejects this proof, however, for it is possible that Rabbi Eliezer refrained from doing so due to his piety. Furthermore, creating this Golem would have required a great deal of time, which he may have been lacking. In regards to the Halachah, the Chida concludes by saying:
“There is no doubt that such a man has the same status as a deaf-mute. In fact when such a man is created, the only thing he can do is breathe. He certainly cannot take part in a minyan, for he is like a man who cannot hear or speak, meaning that he does not take part in a minyan.”
Kneaded or Made?
Another interesting halachic view is expressed in Responsa Gueza Ishay, by Rabbi Yehuda Shemuel Ashkenazi:
“I wonder if the Sages, who possessed tremendous power and studied Sefer Yetzirah in order to create a man, could do the same on Shabbat. We may say that since they are doing nothing with their hands by using Sefer Yetzirah, but are creating a man or animal by combining the letters of G-d’s Name, the letters with which the world was created, the Torah does not prohibit this on Shabbat, for it is not work done by their hands. Alternatively, perhaps moving their lips to combine the letters of the Sacred Name, resulting in the creation of a man or animal, transgresses the prohibition against building on Shabbat. Or perhaps it may transgress the prohibition against kneading, which is also forbidden on Shabbat.”
Guard Your Tongue
He is Permitted to Inform Himself
If someone clearly sees that another person is trying to harm him, physically or financially, even if he has not heard anything from anyone about it until now, he is permitted to seek out and inform himself about that person. He may do so in order to determine if that person intends to harm him in a given area, for in this way he may learn how to protect himself. He does not need to worry that he will be encouraging others to speak disparagingly of that person.
– Chafetz Chaim