Effort in Avodas Hashem
שנים שנים באו אל נח אל התבה זכר ונקבה כאשר צוה אלקים את נח (ז:ט). מאליהן (רש”י).
מכל הבהמה הטהורה תיקח לך שבעה שבעה איש ואשתו ומן הבהמה אשר לא טהרה הוא שנים איש ואשתו (ז:ב).
“Two by two they came to Noach into the Ark, male and female…” (7:9). ‘on their own accord’ (Rashi).
“From every clean animal take for yourself seven pairs, a male with its mate, and of the animal that is not clean, two, a male with its mate” (7:2).
There is a blatant contradiction here! The first verse states that the animals came to Noach on their own accord in order to board the Ark, while the second verse commands Noach to go out and collect the animals and bring them into the ark himself. How do we explain this, did the animals come on their own or were they taken?
The Ramban resolves the difficulty with clarity and beauty. He explains that there were two separate reasons for taking the animals onto the Ark. The first and most obvious agenda was in order that they would be saved from the Flood and not become extinct. For this objective, two animals, one male and one female, were chosen from every single species, kosher and non-kosher alike. The second purpose, however, was totally different. Noach was to take additional kosher animals, beyond the two already chosen for preservation of the species, in order to offer the additional ones as sacrifices to Hashem after the Flood. With these two categories in mind, we are now prepared for the resolution.
The first verse when read carefully can be seen to be referring only to the set of two animals which were taken to safeguard the animal’s continuity. They had to come on their own because their presence was only for their personal benefit, kosher or not, alike. The second verse, however, speaks of the additional tahor, kosher animals, beyond the two required to prevent their extinction. About these Noach was commanded to gather them himself. Due to the mitzva which they were destined to be used for, they did not just arrive on their own.
Extending Our Efforts
The Torah is teaching us that when we do mitzvos we strive to serve Hashem with our full effort, without searching for shortcuts. Noach had to put in his own energy to bring the animals which he planned for the use of sacrifices to Hashem. Noach gathered them himself with great personal effort in order to invest himself into the mitzvah.
No Lost Time
ונח בן שש מאות שנה והמבול היה מים על הארץ (ז:ו).
“Noach was six hundred years old at the time of the Great Flood…” (7:6).
When calculating the lifespan of Noach, a noteworthy discrepancy emerges. The Torah tells us explicitly that he lived to the ripe old age of 950. He lived 600 years before the Flood and 350 after. There is one problem here. The flood itself took place during the course of one entire year (1656 [2104 B.C.E.]). Noach thus really lived for 951 years! Why does the Torah not count one entire year?!
There is an important lesson here. Hashem grants us life. We are entrusted to use life to its fullest. Part of that job is to study Torah and practice the Mitzvos and pursue that which brings us closer to Hashem. Another aspect of this world revolves around our interaction with other people. We have the ability to share with and care for others. We can give of our own time, energy and money to help them! This is called chessed, performing kindness.
Hashem states that anyone who cares for others, will be cared for by Hashem. Now, sometimes people extent much time and energy in their assistance of someone in need. The Torah’s outlook on this is that it should not be considered wasted time. When you give of your time to others, you are not losing!
Noach and his family spent an entire year reestablishing the foundations of the world. Hashem brought the Mabul (Flood) because the people were doing every sin known to mankind, with the climax being stealing and disregarding others. Noach spent an entire year caring for and nurturing the animals in the Ark. It was a year of supreme chessed!
Noach had an allotted 950 years to live. Instead of Hashem counting off from that the year in the Ark as part of Noach’s lifespan, He gave it to him for free! That year did not subtract from his portion. because it was lived only for others!
If you think that this explanation is an exaggeration or not accurate, I will bring two proofs to support it, one for the concept and one for this specific case.
1- See Bereishis Rabbah 32:6, “the year of the Flood does not count”!
2- The Gemara Rosh Hashana (18a) states that the descendants of Aeli HaCohen were cursed that as a punishment they would die before the age of 18! The only way to spare oneself was to learn Torah and do chessed. Rabbah excelled in Torah and lived to age 40; Abayeh excelled in Torah and performed tremendous amounts of chessed and thus lived to 60! I believe that the reason that Abayeh lived longer was because Hashem paid him back for all of his time spent doing kindness. (See Sifsey Chachom there.)
We now see that the great benefit of extended life can be gained by caring for others! Let us all merit long lives!
Protector of The Ark
The Torah tells us that Noach build an Ark of large proportion. The measurements of the Ark have always fascinated me. Why is it so crucial for us to know that it was 300 (height) by 50 (width) by 30 (height) Amos? What difference does that make?!
In order to answer this, we must first explore another question. What did the Ark accomplish? With sulfur and boiling water raging from heaven how could a mere wood structure survive?
The Yalkut Reuveni brings down an amazing answer to both of these questions. He explains that the essence of the Ark’s protection did not lie in the materials that formed it. Rather, it was the fact that you relied upon Hashem to save you! The mere wood did nothing! The belief in Hashem was what it was all about!
He then shows how the measurement hint to the name of Hashem (י-ה-ו-ה). Yud (10) multiplied by Hey (5) is 50 (the width). If you multiply that result by the letter Vav (6), you get 300 (the length). Vav (6) times Hey (5) equals 30 (the height)! See Mishley (18:10), “The Tzaddik (which hints to Noach!) runs to find refuge in Hashem”. The Ark’s very construction expressed its key to protection. An unwavering reliance in Hashem is a guarantee for salvation and success.
This also explains why the Mesoric note capturing the number of verses in the Parsha (153) is “בצלאל”. This word means, “in the protection of Hashem”!
Will The Real Noach Please Rise
It is clear why the Parsha is named ‘Noach.’ In fact, a reading of the first verse will leave one wondering why his name is mentioned three times in one verse?! “These are the offspring of Noach, Noach was a virtuous and righteous man… Noach followed Hashem (Bereishis 1:9).”
I believe that something very deep and special about Noach’s greatness is being expressed here. The Midrash (Tanchuma) states that each person has three names:
1- The name given to you at birth by your parents.
2- The name which your friends give you.
3- The name that you give yourself.
These three names represent personal integrity.
1- Chazal tell us that each person’s name has an effect on their individual tendencies and capabilities. One who utilizes the name which his parent’s gave him, is seen to be someone that uses life to bring out his strengths.
2- The name that one’s friends give him refers to how people perceive him in his friendships and relationships. Is he sincere, thoughtful, honest and considerate?
3- The name that one gives himself is the most vital. It is the inner essence that embodies all that one truly and deeply stands for and all of the goals which one intimately desires to achieve. (See Mikaleh Amukos that the three phrases in our verse refer to these exact three things. Tzaddik is between man and himself. Tamim is with others. Es HaElokim refers to his actions with Hashem.)
The verse stresses that Noach’s three “names” were congruent and expressed his greatness. Noach was a real person in every facet of his existence. The people of his generation were disconnected from Hashem and in their hearts and had no interest in growth. Noach stood apart from this and maintained his inner resolve.
The name (נח) Noach is comprised of the same letters as (חן) favor in reverse order. The verse tells us that Noach was spared from the flood because he found favor in Hashem’s eyes. Just as a mirror reflects the image inversely, so too Noach’s true essence was a direct reflection of his sterling character which was so favorable (חן) in the eyes of Hashem.
Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman zt”l stated this idea about his revered Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim. Normally, a country holds their King in high regard, but those that are within the King’s inner circle are more exposed to his weaknesses. Those closely guarding the King know very well about his anger, faults, desires and personal deficiencies. The closer one probes, the more one tends to lose respect. With the true kings, Torah Scholars, it is the exact opposite! Those that we revere from afar, we only know part of his greatness. Rabbi Wasserman stated that the more one knew the Chofetz Chaim, the more one had what to be in awe of. The true name and essence of a great person is their unrelenting internal dedication and truth. Indeed, Rebbetzin Kutler said about her illustrious husband, Rabbi Aharon Kutler (1891- 1962), that only she, who interacted with him in the privacy of his own home, was aware of his true humility and fear of heaven.
Parshas Noach inspires us to ask: What is my real name?
The Rainbow Approach
The rainbow is the epitome of peace and pleasantness. Hashem gave Noach a promise that He would never again destroy the world. The rainbow is the sign that even if the world is deserving of destruction, Hashem will not do so. The Chayei Adam writes that if you see a rainbow in the sky you should not tell other people because it is a very bad sign that really Hashem wants to destroy the world at this moment. One should not be the bearer of bad news. The Yerushalmi (Berachos 65a) tells us that throughout the generation of Rashbi a rainbow was never seen in the sky. The rainbow is mighty perplexing. Why is it that such a pleasant, colorful, and magical phenomenon represents the ultimate rebuke from Hashem?
Another question that always caught my attention is that Rashi tells us that when the flood happened it began with amazing rains of blessing that could have made all the crops grow and thrive. When the people did not repent, the rains became torrential and began to cause great damage and burning upon the earth. After they were warned for 120 years and did not repent, why did Hashem still give them this last chance?
One answer explains it all. The Shlah (Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, 1565 – March 24, 1630) provides a most beautiful interpretation of the verse (Mishlei 9:8) “Do not rebuke the scoffer for he will hate you; rebuke the wise man and he will love you.” He says that this is referring to one person. If you see that Reuven did something wrong, if you rebuke him by calling him a scoffer, sinner and bad person, he will not listen to you. Rather, the best way to help him is to talk to his higher self, tell him, “I know that you are a wise and good person, and I saw something that may have been out of character for you…” This way your words will be heard. When we talk to others, the best way to get our message across (even for rebuke) is in a most pleasant and patient manner. Speaking calmly and respectfully will go a long way.
This is the secret behind the rainbow. It is Hashem’s rebuke to the world; it is a message that really the world deserves to be destroyed because of the terrible sins being committed, but it is expressed in a most sweet and beautiful way, through a rainbow. This is a great lesson for us. This is the exact reason that Hashem sent the last warning for the Mabul by means of the most luscious rain, He wished to tell them softly that this was their last chance. When however after 120 years and all of the warnings they still did not heed, Hashem had to finally resort to their terrible punishment.
Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt”l explains the significance of the first three Parshios of the Torah. Bereishis establishes the creation of the world. Noach expresses the foundation of man. Lech Lecha establishes the foundation of the Jewish people beginning with Avraham Avienu. Let us bear in mind the powerful message of the rainbow which teaches us that the optimal way to communicate with people is through sweet and pleasant ways.
When one contemplates the size of the Ark (300 x 50 x 30 amos) versus the amount of space that was needed in order to house every species of animal in the world plus food, plants and Noach and his family, the requirements are colossal. Yet, somehow, miraculously, every animal type fit and was saved by means of the ark from the Flood. Rabbeinu Bechaya (Bereishis 7:15) states that according to the natural requirements it would have taken fifty or more arks to house all that fit into one by way of miracle. If this is the case then we must ask some significant questions.
How Do We Understand This?
Rabbeinu Bechaya asks that if the entire ark was a miracle then why did Hashem command Noach to make the ark out of specific wood and materials that would seem to be for the purpose of creating insulation and a form of water-proofing? (The waters and sulfur that made up the Great Flood were scalding hot and yet did not burn through the ark. This too was a miracle.) Hashem could have easily saved Naoch’s family without an ark by means of protection or by having them fly safely above the waters. So why did Hashem command Noach to build the ark?
Rabbeinu Bechaya quotes the famous Chazal (quoted by Rashi) which explains that Noach was commanded to spend 120 years building the ark so that he would attract attention. He would be questioned by his friends and fellow city mates about what he was doing. He would then explain to them that Hashem was not happy with their actions. This would allow them the time to contemplate their actions and to repent.
Secondly, Rabbeinu Bechaya quotes the Ramban’s explanation which is that Hashem always requires of man for him to do his part in the natural way first. After man has done all that he can do naturally, then Hashem finishes off the rest in a supernatural manner. This is a great foundation in Torah. Hashem wishes for man to work in this world and to accomplish things by means of a natural efforts. After putting in this effort then Hashem will help to complete the work for him. Noach was commanded to start off the process in a natural way. Hashem did the rest in order to maintain freewill for those whose ego would not allow them to believe what really happened.
Thirdly, the building of the ark was a method to teach Noach himself and his family to separate and isolate themselves from those who did not follow morals and truth. Noach and his family took a conscience stance in separating themselves from the immorality and selfishness which surrounded them. The ark was a place of great holiness in which kindness and care reigned supreme. There was no room for ego in the ark and thus it defied the rules of space. Noach and his family spent one year in the embrace and protection of Hashem because they chose to be holy and separate from the decadence of their generation. They chose to be kind and generous and so Hashem did the same for them via a miracle.
We specifically mention the ark of Noach on Rosh Hashanah in the section entitled zichronos, remembrances. It is not simply because the verse happens to use the phrase, “Hashem remembered Noach (Berishish 8:1)” that we therefore borrow it in our prayers. It is because the depth of the verse expresses the fact that in the merit of Noach’s trust in Hashem and his dedication to serve Him Noach found favor in Hashem’s eyes and merited to be the father of the new world. Noach would realign the universe with the great goals that Hashem had set for mankind since the beginning of creation, those of kindness and truth.