Divrei Azriel on Parshat Noah

Two divrei Torah by two of the kollel students.

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YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

Keep on Growing and Growing

By Jonathan Lubat

The first Pasuk in this week’s Parasha tells us of the greatness of Noah. “These are the offspring of Noah, Noach was a righteous man perfect in his generation” (Bereishis 6:9). Rashi, quoting the Bereishis Rabbah, picks up on the fact that the Torah specifically says Noah was righteous in “his generation.” He says that there are those who feel that this phrase connotes Noah in a praiseworthy manner, while others believe the exact opposite. Had Noah lived in a generation with other righteous people he would have attained a higher spiritual level. Those who view the phrase as criticism state that in his generation, Noah was viewed a righteous man; however, if he had been present in Avraham’s generation he would not have been considered a tzadik.

Rav Eliyahu Dessler points out a contradictory Midrash. Our Pasuk, specifically repeats the name Noah twice in a row, in order to equate Noah’s righteousness to Avraham’s, Yaakov’s, Moshe’s and Shmuel’s, whose names were repeated in a similar fashion throughout Tanach. This seems to contradict the second opinion in Rashi, which criticizes Noah in that he did not match up to the great individuals of other generations!

Additionally, the Gur Aryeh asks on our Rashi, that those who praised Noah stated, “Had he been in a generation of tzadikim…”, however, those who criticized him declared, “Had he been in the generation of Avraham….” What exactly is the difference between tzadikim and Avraham?

Rav Dessler explains that there are two types of virtuous people:  a “tzadik” and a “hassid. A “tzadik” is one who uses all of the abilities that Hashem has given him, and does everything that Hashem expects of him. However, a hassid is a person who goes even further. He tries his utmost to expand his horizons to gain more tools, and thus accomplishes much more than what was originally expected of him.

This, Rav Dessler explains, is the difference between the two Midrashim. In terms of being a “tzadik”, Noah ultimately fulfilled all that was expected of him just like Avraham, Yaakov, Moshe, and Shmuel. However, he did not take the next step, and surpass his fate, to become a hassid. The midrash was therefore critical of Noah. One is always expected to keep growing closer to Hashem and never stop, even if he is on the level of a “tzadik”!

Perhaps we can use this to answer the Gur Aryeh’s question as well. Had Noah been in a generation of “tazdikim”, he would have grown tremendously as a “tzadik”. However, compared to Avraham, Noah was nothing. This was because Avraham is the epitome of chessed. The characteristic of kindness is one of expansion; always yearning to do more and more . Avraham represented this attribute not only in terms of helping others, but also in continuously trying to grow and develop his relationship to Hashem. Thus, Avraham was a true chassid.

As Jews, we have to continuously grow and actively search for ways to get closer to Hashem. Even if we believe we are using all of our abilities to serve Hashem, we must constantly find ways to try to achieve more.

Faith is Everything

By Avi Libman

When the Torah describes Noah entering the teiva, it says, “וְהַמַּבּוּל הָיָה מַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ (7:6)”, “the flood was water on the ground". The next passuk states that Noah entered the ark “מִפְּנֵי מֵי הַמַּבּוּל” “because of the flood”. Rashi understands this to mean that although G-d told Noah to enter the ark earlier (7:1), only once the rain started did he actually decide to go in. Rashi is bothered by the following question: Why did he wait for the rain to force him into the ark? Was it not enough that Hashem told him that the flood was coming? The answer, according to Rashi, is that Noah was a man of little faith, "מקטני אמונה". Therefore, he did not enter the teiva until he was forced to by the rain and Rashi takes this to be a criticism of Noah.

This explanation is initially shocking to the reader, as the chumash describes Noah earlier as an איש צדיק ותמים (6:9).  Even more so, Rashi uses the words מקטני אמונה, which sounds as if Noah did not even believe in God in the first place! But how can faith be Noah’s weakness? Was this not the same man who spent 120 years of his life acting like an inspired prophet, risking his life building a teiva in anticipation of the moment that the rain would start? How can we understand Rashi’s criticism?

Rabbi Uziel Milevsky, Z”L, in the sefer Ner Uziel, is quoted as having said that to understand Rashi we first have to understand what emunah, or faith, means. Each of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith, as we have it printed in the siddur, begins with the words "אני מאמין באמונה שלימה" , “I believe with perfect faith”. But what if a person struggles with one of the principles? Should he simply skip it? Just say 12 of them and ignore that one? Of course not! Rather the individual should say all of the principles, and if he finds some of them are more difficult, he should work on those ones. He might feel that he is being dishonest by saying “I believe in perfect faith” when he truly does not, but perhaps we have to reevaluate the true meaning of the word faith.

To explain this, Rabbi Milevsky gave a mashal. When a surgeon meets with a patient and decides whether or not to operate, he has to carefully assess the situation. Could the patient survive without the operation? Will the patient recover after surgery? What are the chances that the patient will pass away during the operation itself? The surgeon might decide that the chances for surviving the operation are 60% and therefore the surgery should be performed. Although the surgeon knows that the chance of success is higher than that of failure, this evaluation only holds true if the operation is performed with full effort and confidence. However, if the surgeon operates in a depressed state, with the high possibility of failure in mind, or if he decides to only sterilize 60% of his instruments, then the chance of failure will become much greater.

This is one way that we can understand emunah. The same way the doctor is expected to act with 100% effort and precision, even though he feels that he might be working in vain, so too emunah demands from us that we act in a proper way, even in the face of doubts.

This is how Rabbi Milevsky explained Rashi’s critique of Noah. Everyone struggles with ideas of faith, including Noah, but we are expected to do the right thing regardless. If a tzadik like Noah had enough conviction to build a teiva for 120 years, then he should have also entered the teiva with the same fervor. It seems that at the last moment, Noah’s doubts got the better of him, and this was reflected in his lack of action.

With Hashem’s help, we should all take the lesson from this Rashi and strive to perform Torah and mitzvos to the best of our ability, even in the face of doubts. With that may we be zocheh to fulfill our ultimate potentials in avodas Hashem and conquer our uncertainties.