Parashat Noah: The Challenge of Spreading the Torah to Others
This week we read Parshat Noah and observe first day of the new month, Rosh Hodesh Marheshvan.
It is customary to call the month of Heshvan “Marheshvan.” There are numerous reasons given for this practice. Some (see Sefer HaToda’a) suggest that since there are no festivals in the month of Heshvan, it is a “bitter” month. Others write that Heshvan is called “Marheshvan” to mark the beginning of the rainy season. Indeed, the verse (Yishayahu 40:15) uses the word “mar” to refer to a drop of water. Others say that it is a bitter month because in this month King Yeravam ben Navat switched (hemir) the month of Heshvan with Tishre, and celebrated the Festival of Sukkot in the Northern Kingdom (Melachim 12:32-33).
Interestingly, some commentators suggest that Marheshvan commemorates the great flood, the Mabul, described in this week’s parasha. The Torah says the Mabul began on the 17th of Heshvan, and in fact, each year we reach about the flood as we begin the month of Heshvan.
In this week’s parsha, the Torah (Bereishit 6:9) describes Noah as an ish sadik tamim (righteous man, who was perfect). Later he is merely called a sadik (7:1). The rabbis teach that when talking about a person in front of him, a person should only say “miksat shevaho” (partial praise). When God calls Noah, he calls him a sadik, while previously, in the narrative, he is more accurately described an “ish sadik tamim.”
Alternatively, Rav Yosef Karo, in his homilies, known as Derashot Beit Yosef, says that sadik refers to interpersonal behavior, and tamim refers to emuna (belief). R. Yosef Karo says in the generation of the dor hapalaga, he excelled in his faith (tamim), and in the generation of the flood, he was a sadik. Therefore, when God tells him to go onto the ark, He refers to him as a sadik.
There is a third way to reconcile this apparent contradiction. The Kerem Shomo explains that the word “sadik” refers to one who focuses on his own spiritual perfection. There is a higher level, a “tamim,” one who is complete, and who is interested in the completion and perfection of the world. He notes that elsewhere, the verse describes the Torah as “temima,” but only when it returns others’ souls, “meshivat nafesh.” If so, the Kerem Shlomo suggests that initially, Noah tried to preach and bring people closer to God. However, ultimately, they were a stubborn, violent generation, and therefore he felt that being a tamim was not effective, and he returned to being a sadik.
Why did Noah stop being a “tamim”? Why did he stop engaging and trying to improve the world around him?
We might begin to understand this based upon the following gemara. The gemara (Berachot 48a) relates the following story. “Abaye and Rava, when they were children, were seated before Rabba. Rabba said to them: To whom does one recite blessings? They said to him: To God, the All-Merciful. Rabba asked them: And where does the All-Merciful reside? Rava pointed to the ceiling. Abaye went outside and pointed toward the heaven. Rabba said to them: You will both become Sages.” What was it about their answers that led Rabba to say that they will both become Sages?
The Talmud (Shabbat 21b), regarding Hanukka lights, teaches that the misvah is to place the candles outside the door. In times of danger, however, it should be placed on the table inside. The Maggid MiKushnitz explained this passage in the following manner: The Hanukka lights represent the Torah. The light of the Torah must be outside. However, sometimes, it is a “time of danger” – society is so corrupt that a person fears that he will be negatively influenced. In this case, a person must light inside, i.e., when he fears that his spirituality will be compromised, he should leave the Torah in the house.
There is always a risk, and always a sacrifice when people must go out to bring the Torah to others. Indeed, the rabbis teach us that Sarah Imeinu was on a higher spiritual level than her husband, Avraham, as he was “outside,” with the people. That type of sacrifice, at times, is valid and legitimate. Some sadikim, however, aren’t willing to make this sacrifice.
This idea reminds of the Talmudic passage (Sukka 52b) which teaches: “If the evil inclination (menuval) meets you, bring him to the beit midrash.” This passage refers to a person who brings the Torah outside, to bring people closer to God. However, at times, a person sees that the yeser hara is getting the best of him. In that case, one should return to the beit midrash.
Rabba, in the passage cited above, asked these two young scholars, “Where does the Almighty reside?” The first rabbi emphasized the dedication necessary in the beit midrash, while the second rabbi said that eventually, one must go outside. These two approaches do not contradict each other; rather, together, they will become great rabbis, and their approaches will complement each other.
Let us return to Noah. Noah began teaching people, bringing the lessons of the Torah to the outside. At a certain point, he saw the toxicity of the outside world, and that spiritually he could not maintain a reasonable spiritual level in the outside world. The rabbis note, however, that Avraham was on a higher level, and he was able to both maintain his spiritual level and stay in the outside world.
Similarly, the Hafets Haim (Homat Hadat, Chapter 3) explains that this is the uniqueness of Avraham Avinu. There were numerous servants of God before Avraham, his predecessors could not become the fathers of Judaism, as while they may have been on the spiritual level of prophets, they were unable to perpetuate a spiritual life and bring the word of God to others. Therefore, the Hafetz Haim explains, God chose Avraham because of his ability to teach others.
Similarly, the Sefer Hahinuch explains that the obligation of peru urevu, to be fruitful and multiply, is to bring people to the world to perpetuate the way of God and the legacy of the servants of God.
When the flood water recedes, and Noah descends from the ark, God commands him to have children. Why does God tell him that? That commandment was already given to Avraham! God is emphasizing to Noah, that this time, Noah must go out and bring the legacy of the servants of God to the new world. Unfortunately, only Avraham assumed this challenge.
Now we can understand what is so bitter about this month: God had to destroy the world because even the sadik of the generation could not go out to influence the people That is why God chose Avraham, and not Noah, to be the forefather of the Jewish people.