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Noach 5766

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

Parshat Noach Shprintzee Herskovits

Parshat Noach is called after the name of its main character, whose
name means comfort. When you think about it, the name is really an
oxymoron considering that this parsha is all about the Flood which
destroyed mankind (there's not much comfort in that). One might further
question why water was specifically chosen as the first conveyor of
extreme destruction. That's a pretty bad rap to give to water and one
that seems to stick throughout history, as we see water come up again
and again in situations associated with suffering or death. The first
of the ten plagues that are brought upon Egypt in an effort to destroy
that nation, involves water being turned to blood. The final wiping out
of that nation occurs via the waters of the Reed Sea. The Jews'
complaining for water in the desert results in Moshe's being barred from
entering the Land of Israel. In Sefer Yonah (the Book of Jonah) Hashem
decides to teach that prophet a lesson by throwing him to the mercy of
the sea, where he is swallowed by a whale. And yet despite these
examples, water is also used to describe something that is considered to
be the opposite of suffering, even a source of life. That something is
the Torah, which is referred to as "Mayim Chaim--the waters of life".
How are we to understand this contradictory nature of water?

The commentary Baal Haturim (R. Yaakov Ben R. Asher) who often uses
G'matriah (numerical value) as a basis for his explanations, tries to
explain why water was specifically used to destroy the world. The Torah
tells us that the reason why the Flood came was because (6:11) "The
earth became corrupt before Hashem, and the land was filled with
CHAMAS". Rashi explains the word "chamas" as thievery, based on
another instance in the Torah where the word Chamas is found clearly
referring to stealing (in Sefer Yonah). So according to Rashi, even
though Mankind was involved in other horrible transgressions (such as
murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality--all of which are implied with
the word "corrupt"), thievery was the final straw which brought the
Flood. The idea is that even more than the other three transgressions,
thievery causes an irreparable breakdown in society. "Thus", says
Rashi, "Chamas is what really brought about the destruction of the
world". (Interesting how a certain group out there today calls
themselves by this same name. Coincidence? I think not.)

The Baal Haturim applies his numerical insight to Rashi's explanation
and comes up with a connection between water as a destructive vehicle
and this destructive vehicle of Chamas. He points out that the
numerical value of Chamas, which is made up of the Hebrew letters
chet=8, mem=40 and samach=60, totals 108. This is the same numerical
value of the phrase "the waters of Noach", which in Hebrew is "May
Noach", made up of mem=40, yud=10, nun=50 and chet=8. Baal HaTurim uses
this numerical connection to teach us that the generation of Noach was
paid back "Midah K'negged Midah--measure for measure", which is the way
Hashem always metes out reward and retribution. Thus, because they were
involved in chamas (stealing) which destroys society, Hashem paid them
back with "May Noach" (the waters of Noach) which destroyed the world.

But one might ask "Did Hashem really base the mode of destruction of the
world merely on something that has an interesting numerical
connection?" In addition, doesn't it seem like this explanation comes
after the fact? In other words, it seems to help substantiate water as
being an appropriate payback for chamas, but that's only after water has
already been established as the method of payback.

Another commentary, Daat Z'kanim, brings a parable to explain why Hashem
chose water as the mode of destruction of the world. There was once a
King who built a beautiful palace and gathered a group of blind people
to live in it. The King commanded his servants to support these blind
people with everything they needed and more, so that they would
experience the highest level of comfort. Every time the King passed by
the palace and the blind people heard the hooves of his horses and the
wheels of his chariots, they would stand in the doorways and on the
balconies and sing out praises and blessings to the King. Once, the
King asked his servants what all the commotion was about and they told
him that the blind people were calling out their thanks to him.
Whereupon the King said to himself, "If these people are calling out to
me and singing my praises in such a grand manner despite the fact that
they can't even see all the beauty in the palace, how much more so would
I receive blessings and praises from people who could actually see all
the beauty!"

So the King had all the blind people removed and replaced with people
who could see. The trouble was that after a short time these people
"saw" how good they had it and as a result their ego kicked in. Once
ego set in, they started to look at what the next person had just to
make sure that he or she didn't have it better. Inevitably when this
happens between people, discontent and jealousy set in. Thus, the
people soon became bitter and angry because each believed that the other
had it better. As a result, when the people saw the King pass by, they
stood in the doorways and on the balconies and yelled at him saying,
"Whoa to us, that you trapped us into this horrible place where we don't
have enough to satisfy our needs!" The King asked his servants what the
noise was about and they told him that the people were cursing him for
what he had done to them. When the King realized the extent of their
ingratitude he said, "Better to get rid of them and bring back those who
praised me". So he commanded his servants to get rid of all the
"seeing" people and return the blind ones to his palace.

When Hashem created the world, it was covered in water as it says in
last week's parsha (Bereishit, 1:2) "And a wind from Hashem moved over
the surface of the waters". In Tehillim (Psalms, 93:3) it says "Like
the waters raised their voice"--i.e. in praise of Hashem. When Hashem
saw that the waters were praising Him, He said, "If water praises me
despite the fact that it can't see and appreciate everything that this
world has to offer, how much more praise would I receive from beings who
could see and appreciate all the beauty in this world!" So, Hashem
removed the waters that covered the Earth to make room for a new
creation--Mankind. Unfortunately, the more human beings saw what this
world had to offer, the more discontented they became. This led to
Mankind's committing murder, adultery, idolatry and even thievery,
because everyone believed that the next one had it better. When Hashem
saw how Mankind responded to the wonderful gifts that he gave them He
said, "Better to get rid of them and bring back the waters who praised
Me." So Hashem had all of Mankind wiped out via water, which replaced
them as the original source of praise to Hashem.

Water is considered the source of all. It existed before anything else
in this world. It acts as a facilitator for new creations too--as
babies develop in a water-filled sac. In addition tow ater, there is
something else that Judaism considers to be the source of all. That's
the Torah. It can be no coincidence that the Gemarra says that while a
baby is in its water-filled sac in the mother's womb, there is an angel
in there teaching the baby Torah. We are also told that Hashem used
Torah as a blueprint from which to create the world and that the sole
purpose of the world is to keep the Torah. Thus, if water is the
physical source of everything, Torah would be the spiritual source of
all.

Based on what we've just said, perhaps the name "Noach" is not such a
misnomer for this parsha. In fact, it may actually help us better
understand why Noach was saved from the Flood. Maybe the message here
is that involving oneself in Torah (as Noach did) can turn waters of
destruction into waters of life. And this involvement in Torah allows a
person to return to his or her spiritual source, which should provide
that person with a great deal of comfort.

Shabbat Shalom,
Shprintzee


 

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