Parshas Noach

Generation to Generation


These are the generations (toldos) of Noach: Noach was a righteous man, peerfect in his generation; Noach walked with G-d. (Bereishis 6:9)
After telling us that Noach found "chayn" in the eyes of G-d at the end of last week's parshah, this week's parshah comes back and praises Noach even more. However, it is amazing how what seems to be so simple at first is, in the end, quite complicated. As Rashi points out, the wording of the verse can be taken to mean one of two things: either Noach was righteous in spite of his generation, or, because of his generation. According to the former opinion, the Torah is praising Noach; according to the latter opinion, the Torah is criticizing Noach, albeit in an oblique way.

However, the most obvious deviation in the posuk is the way it skips over the names of Noach's children and instead mentions Noach's righteousness. Says Rashi:

"Because the main 'descendants' of a righteous person are his good deeds." (Rashi)
The Ibn Ezra and the Radak interpret the word "toldos" to mean his "experiences" (which it often can), and therefore the posuk would be referring to all that is about to happen to Noach. However, the Ramban disagrees with this, because the events of one's life are not in his control, and therefore cannot be called "his toldos." For this reason, the Ramban leaves the verse in its literal form, referring to Noach's real sons, Shem, Cham, and Yafes (whom are named shortly thereafter).

However, for the same reason, one can ask how one's children can be called his "toldos" as well, based upon the following:

... What did The Holy One, Blessed is He, do? He brought suffering to Chizkiah, and then told Yeshiyahu, "Go and visit the sick," as it says,
"In those days Chizkiah became ill to the point of death; and Yeshiyahu son of Amotz, the prophet came and said to him, 'So says Hashem, L-rd of Hosts,
"Command your house for you shall die and not live." (Yeshiyahu 38:1).' What is meant by "you shall die and not live"? You will die in this world, and you will not live in the World-to-Come.
"Why do I deserve such a severe punishment?" asked Chizkiah. "Because," answered Yeshiyahu, "you have not had children."
"But I saw through ruach hakodesh (Holy Spirit) that I would have evil children."
"What business have you with kavshei Rachmanah (G-d's hidden plans)?" (Brochos 10a)
Because Chizkiah, with the help of prophecy, was able to see the evilness of his potential progency, he took the safe route and avoided marriage and having children. However, as the Talmud points out elsewhere, "The world is made for procreation" (Arachin 2b), and Chizkiah was taken to task for his decision. G-d's response to Chizkah: Your job is to have the children, and to raise them the best you can. What they will end up being like, however, will be My decision in the end, based upon the needs of creation.

This does not absolve parents from pouring their hearts and souls into raising physically, intellectually, and spiritually healthy children. However, it does mean that once parent has done exactly this, to the best of his or her ability and opportunity, and still the child doesn't fulfill all expectations, it is not a sign of failure. There is a greater Force at work, even in child-rearing, and one must live with that reality if one is to be a successful and healthy parent as well!

Perhaps this is why Rashi chose to interpret the word "toldos" as "good deeds." In the end, our personal good deeds are the only real "descendants" that we give birth to and have control over, in terms of outcome. This is the underlying premise of:

All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven. (Brochos 33b)
The results are in G-d's hands--but our attitude at any given moment in time is completely our own, based upon what we have become in the course of time.
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G-d said to Noah, "You and all your household will go into the ark, since I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. From each of the pure livestock you must take seven pairs, male and female. From the livestock that is not pure, [take] two- male and female ..." (Bereishis 7:1-2)

"Pure ... In the future they would be considered pure for Israel. From here we see that Noach learned Torah." (Rashi)

How else would Noach have known how to distinguish between the pure and impure animals? Therefore, concludes the Talmud (as quoted by Rashi), Noach must have known about the concept because he learned Torah.

Not so fast, says Da'as Zekeinim:

"It asks in Zevachim, 'How did Noach know [how to distinguish between pure and impure animals]? The Ark itself gathered together the pure animals--all that the Ark didn't gather was therefore impure.'"
According to this, says the Da'as Zekeinim, Noach didn't have to distinguish between one type of animal and another type; the Ark did it for him, or, rather, G-d did it for him miraculously. However, Rashi wasn't stating his own opinion, but was quoting the Talmud itself, which is why the Da'as Zekeinim continues with the following answer:
"'The ark itself gathered together the pure animals' is referring to the birds, because, as Rashi explains on the verse, 'From the birds according to their species ... '(Bereishis 6:20) means, only those which mated with their own kind was Noach to save. If so, then the Talmud is really asking, 'How could Noach know such a thing?' and answers, 'Because only those which came to the Ark on their own were of such a nature.'"
However, with respect to livestock and the like, Noach himself had to figure out which were pure and which were spiritually impure. For that, concludes Da'as Zekeinim like Rashi, Noach had to know Torah.

The only question remaining is, how? Torah was not given until the year 2448/1313 BCE--what and how did Noach learn?

The answer is:

When G-d sought to make creation, He looked into the Torah as if it was a blueprint, and began creating (Bereishis Rabbah 2:4).
If you want to build a house, the first thing you have to do is decide what kind of house you want. Then, normally, you try to explain this to the designer, who then tries to interpret your plans onto his plans, so that the builder can realize, what in your mind, is your potential dream home. The final product is an 3-D realization of a two-dimensional expression of an idea.

A trained individual can walk onto the job site and by merely looking at the walls and floors, reverse the procedure in his mind and see the plans that gave rise to the structure he is walking through. If he's really good--sensitive and astute--he can even sense the philosophy of the owner, designer, and builder, by the design, method of building, and the materials that were chosen.

This is what the Midrash means. Every detail of creation is another expression of G-d's plan for creation, and what He intended by it. It is our life's aim to understand that plan, and to fit into it. We do that by learning Torah. However, for Noach, whose life pre-dated the giving of Torah, he simply studied the "house" he found himself in until he was able to understand the plans that gave rise to creation--the Torah itself.

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All flesh that roamed the earth died (vayigva)--the birds, the livestock, and the animals--and all the creeping crawlers on the earth, and men. (Bereishis 7:21)
The word "vayigva" is often used, in the Torah, to indicate the death of someone. However, as the Ibn Ezra explains, there is a more subtle meaning as well:
"The word 'vayigva' denotes the instantaneous leaving of the soul from the body without suffering and delay ... The legs are gathered up on the bed, and immediately the person dies. All "geviah" means death, but not all dying is geviah (i.e., instantaneous). Therefore, it is written "vayigva" by the Flood." (Ibn Ezra, Bereishis 25:8)
According to the Ibn Ezra, death came quickly for the generation of the Flood. Perhaps they were completely overwhelmed by the waters of the Flood; perhaps it was the boiling hot waters that killed them instantly. In any case, since the Ibn Ezra is pointing out a distinction in ways to leave This World, it is worth mentioning that the Talmud says:
There are 903 kinds of death in the world, as it says, "The escape from death (totzaos)..." (Tehillim 68:21); the numerical value of "totzaos" is 903; the hardest of deaths is askara (croup), and the easiest of all is neshikah (Divine kiss). Askara is like a thorn in a ball of wool which lacerates backward; others say it is like the gushing water at the entrance of a canal; neshikah is like the extraction of hair from milk. (Brochos 8a)
The Talmud does not elucidate on the other 901 forms of death, but what they all have in common, it would seem--except for neshikah--is that they represent all natural forms of death which happen at the hand of the Angel of Death. Only neshikah is a supernatural death, the result of a high level of spiritual revelation that results in the instantaneous and painless extraction of the soul from the body.

Historically, few people have merited to die in such a pleasant way. To date, the list includes the Forefathers (and probably the Foremothers), Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. However, it says that anyone who merits to live into the period of Moshiach will also die by neshikah as well, because the Angel of Death will no longer have any power over man.

The reason is Kabbalistic. As we learned from last week's parshah, death was the result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we learn elsewhere, death occurs specifically to purify the physical body which became spiritually defiled as a result of the sin of eating. The more pure the body is at the time of death, the less there is a need for purification through death itself. During Moshiach's time, the physical world will undergo a tremendous spiritual rectification, no longer necessitating the involvement of the Angel of Death.

This is one of the main reasons there are four kinds of capital punishment in Torah. What difference does it make how a person who committed a capital offence is executed? The answer is, because each form of death effects the soul's ability to leave the body, which is an important part of the purification process to prepare a person for life in the World-to-Come. So, in a very real sense, the way we live our lives in This World is very much a preparation for the way we will leave This World, and to enter the worlds beyond it, as the Generation of the Flood found out. For, though their deaths may have been quick, they had been far from pleasant.

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He [Nimrod] was a mighty trapper before G-d. Therefore, there is a saying, "Like Nimrod, a mighty trapper before G-d!" (Bereishis 10:8)
If anyone embodied the attitude of the Post-Flood generation, it was Nimrod, of whom the Talmud states:
Why was he called Nimrod? Because he caused others to rebel (himrid) against His kingship. (Eiruvin 53a)
Accordingly, he is credited as being the first king of Bavel, and the builder of the Tower itself. What exactly did Nimrod trap? It seems as if Nimrod was extremely well-versed in using [Divine] Names to bind angels to do his bidding, and this is what it means when it says, "was a mighty trapper before G-d."

Apparently, the people of the Generation of the Dispersion were experts at oaths and the use of Holy Names which they knew from the generation of Enosh, as it says, "They began to call out in the Name of Hashem ..." (Bereishis 4:26). They knew how to use the Names of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and could perform Kabbalah Ma'asios (Kabbalistic acts), and did so for the sake of hedonistic pleasure and idol worship. It was a very rebellious generation, for, when they built the Tower, they placed a sword on top of it (Bereishis Rabbah 38:6), as if to say, "You, G-d, rule the heavens-we'll rule the earth!"

This just goes to show how far G-d is willing to go to preserve free-will. As the Nefesh HaChaim points out, even Black Magic (the real stuff) is really G-d, though He works behind the scenes so that the person doing it appears to be authentic. Why? So that man can choose to either believe in G-d, or to disbelieve in Him, as the Talmud says:

All is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven. (Brochos 33b)
Since the word for "fear" is the same as for "see," it can be read, "All is in the hands of Heaven except one's vision of G-d."

Even "Faith-Healers," says the Talmud, are successful only in order to test a person's belief. According to Rebi Akiva, sicknesses often have time limits, due to end at a specific moment. So what does G-d do? He "coincidentally" brings healer and healee together at just the right moment, to give the impression that it was man, not G-d, that brought about the infirmed person's miraculous recovery--another test of faith in G-d.

Today we don't have too many people walking around with the spiritual skills of Nimrod. However, do we have quite a few people living who have great physical skills, capable of manipulating the world we live in to accomplish all kinds of "miraculous" results. But who's really behind it all, in the end?

It's a million-dollar question, and the answer is worth even more--as first Noach, and then Avraham have proven.

Have a great Shabbos, and don't forget your boots.
Pinchas Winston

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