This week’s Parsha begins with the Passuk[verse], “Ayleh Toldos Noach, Noach” [these are the generations of Noach, Noach]. Why does it say “Noach” right after the verse claims it will list his offspring. To show that Tzaddikim [righteous people] don’t just live for their children. It is easy to say, “I will make sure my children are good people”. However, Tzaddikim know they have to first “raise themselves”, they have to work on themselves. The first person we must rear/discipline is us. Never live just for the children – our efforts must be put into making OURSELVES good people.
We learn in Mishna “Assarah Doros M’Adam Ad Noach”[there were ten generations from Adam until Noach] and “Assarah Doros M’Noach Ad Avraham”[ten generations from Noach until Avraham]. Ten generations of thousands of people lived ‘twixt Adam and Noach in which there was no purpose to Hashem keeping people alive because the world was corrupt, but Hashem withheld punishment. Ten generations and the world was still corrupt, so G-d brought the flood and wiped out the world, starting the world population again by saving one family who was not corrupt (Noach’s). The same thing happens between Noach and Avraham – ten generations of corruption and Hashem waits. Yet, after ten generations, Avraham comes along and Hashem decides not to destroy the world. Rather, Hashem gives the world’s blessings over to the power of Avraham. What was the difference between Noach and Avraham that only Noach was saved and in Avraham’s times the whole world was saved? Noach was good for himself – he stuck to himself and his family and made sure to do the right thing. However, he gave up on everyone else and did not try to change them. Avraham, on the other hand, moved around from place to place, a nomad, in his attempts to get the world to change. Because of that, he merited to keep the world alive. G-d waits and waits. Sees corruption and holds back punishment. Allows thousands of humans to live and play in His world and use its blessings. And then, if even one person comes along who is righteous and tries to change others, well all those thousands of empty lives were worth it for G-d just for that one precious bloom.
The generation of the flood was corrupt in many ways. The underlying thought of each person, however, was the same: “les Din V’les Dayan”[there’s no judgment and no judge]. Each person did as he pleased, thinking there was no judgment from Hashem. They stole – and made sure not to get caught. Each person stole one grape – reasoning that no one would prosecute for one grape, but the grape seller was left with no grapes. They perverted marriages. They were the “me, me, me” generation – all about their own physicality, their own greed, and cared nothing about right and wrong. It was all about not getting caught and still getting anything they desired. Just because punishment doesn’t come right away, we should never err and think “les Din V’les Dayan.” G-d doesn’t punish on the spot. He waits. But there is a reckoning eventually.
Hashem tells Noach to build a Tayva [ark] publicly and spark folks’ curiosity. When asked what he was doing, Noach was to explain that Hashem would wipe out the world with the flood. Many, many years pass and folks poke fun at Noach. When we learn that Hashem will punish us for not keeping Mitzvos, we think it is automatic. A generation doesn’t keep Shabbos, boom, they’ll get punished then and there. Hashem is patient, though. Sometimes, He waits ten years, sometimes, twenty, sometimes 100. Don’t think because “Tov Lee” [things are going good for me] that there won’t be a punishment if we or our children don’t return to Hashem. In Noach’s generation they didn’t take his threats seriously because he spent so many years building that Tayva. A word for a ship can be Sefina (see Sefer Yonah). But the word for the vessel that Noach built is Tayva. Hashem tells Noach to put a Tzohar, some sort of light (the Meforshim [commentators] explain it was a brilliant gem that cast light) in the Tayva. Torah, as we know, is not a history book. Every word, if it was written and the way it was written is only done so to teach future generations how to live their lives properly. So the Sefas Emes explains that if you live in a generation that is so engrossed in gashmiyus, in the pursuit of greed and physicality, then you must do what Noach was instructed to do – use a Tayva. That is why the vessel is called a Tayve and not a Sefina, because Tayva has a few meanings, and one of its meanings is the Aron where we place the Torahs. So Noach’s instructions were to shine a light in his Tayva. What that means, according to the Sefas Emes, is that in a generation that’s corrupt, our instructions is to “shine a light” on the Torah scrolls – illuminate the words of Torah – look at them, learn them – and save yourself from the corruption around you.
I’ll end off this post with an old Yiddish story which explained why Moshiach hasn’t come yet. Here’s the story:
There was once a simple but good man who did the right thing in his service of G-d, but never had any luck with livelihood. One day, he walked through town, hungry and downcast. “How can I serve G-d with no dollar to my name? How can I continue being good with no way of keeping alive?” And that is when Heaven pitied him and off was dispatched Moshiach to save this poor man. Moshiach handed the man a little bag, telling him, “Because you were devout, I hope you will use this to good ends. Here is a magic sack. What you request of it, it will produce for you. And anyone or any trouble that comes to harm you, the sack will swallow, if you request it to do so.” The man was overjoyed. His troubles were over. He asked for money galore and the sack faithfully churned it out. He asked for any competitors to be swallowed by his sack, and the field was open to only him. But, like most, he became enamored with himself and his desires. Riches went to his head and soon all he could focus on was his needs, wants and whims. No longer cognizant of G-d’s will, all that mattered was what he wanted. Eventually, his time was up in this world, and the Malach Hamaves [Angel of Death] was sent to collect his soul. From his sick bed, he grabbed his bag and said, “oh, magic sack, swallow this angel”. And so it was. Up in Heavens, the courts awaited the Angel of Death’s return with the soul, but no one showed up. Angel Michoel were sent to investigate and, once again, the selfish man had the sack swallow the angel. Now Moshiach got involved as he was the one who had given the man the sack. Off to earth headed Moshiach, but, alas, when he arrived at the man’s home, the man said, “you too want to bother me – oh sack, swallow this one, too” And into that money-churning-money-producing sack slipped Moshiach, disappearing into it.
A tongue-in-cheek old Yiddish tale, to be sure, my friends. But how many of us act like that man, becoming so enamored with our desires and quest for riches and bodily pleasures that we allow all our spirituality and saving graces to disappear into our physicality? After the Holocaust, survivors rebuilt and G-d gave us a land and time of plenty to rest in. Kinda like the sack that churned out the money for the man, America has been a haven for our community. But, isn’t it also swallowing up our spiritual focus?
May we all, this week, shine a light on our Torah scrolls, lift our heads above the corruption and make all the decades that came before us be worthwhile to have existed for the good we create.