Parshat Noach: Lessons of Proper Speech and Helping Others

7 10 2010

Parshat Noach – Wonderful Words
Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

“V’Noach matza chen b’einei Hashem. Noach found grace in the eyes of Hashem.” What grace did Noach posses? In addition, Hashem could have saved Noach in any number of ways. Why was it necessary for him to build an ark and live among the animals?

The core sin of the Generation of the Floodwas in the area of speech. They did not keep their word. Once the floodgates of dishonesty are opened, it flows down to all areas of life. In Tehilim 45 we read, “The beauty of man is when grace is on the lips.” Hashem made two covenants with the Jewish people: brit halashon – a covenant of the mouth, and brit milah – a covenant to act morally. The two are interconnected. This is the grace that Noach found in Hashem’s eyes. He mastered the art of refined speech.

The Sefat Emet notes that if a person learns silence, he can be careful when he does speak to communicate in a modest way. Indeed we see in this parsha that
although the Torah measures every word, two extra words are used to describe the non kosher animals of the ark. “Umin habeheima asher lo tehora” instead of “temeiah,” to emphasize how far one must go to speak in a sanctified way.

In Breishit, when Hashem created man, the Torah writes, “Vayipach b’apo nishmas chaim.” Targum translates this as, “ruach memalelah” – the power of speech. When a person abuses this power, he casts away the part of him that makes him human. A coarse manner of speech corrupts his divine image. Therefore, we understand why Hashem wanted to destroy the world. His plan was to recreate it with individuals who would appreciate the divine spark within them. When a person misuses his speech he destroys his human essence and becomes almost animalistic. This is why Noach spent the year with animals. It was a constant reminder of what makes a human being elevated and different from animals, namely his power of speech.

Rebbetzin Feldbrand, in Towards Meaningful Prayer, writes that “teiva” can be translated interchangeably to mean word or ark. He was saved by the power of words.

When we wallow in the superficial aspects of this world we are no better than animals. Noach was punished and sentenced to live with animals for a year. This was to teach him that his generation had stayed at the level of animals because he did not reach out to inspire them.

On some level we are all responsible for each other and are enjoined to pray when troubles come. If one does not daven, it shows a lack of appreciation for prayer and insensitivity to the pain of others. This needs cultivation. If you hear bad news, pray. If a friend confides in you, try to help him. If you cannot assist him, at least daven for him. Understand that if Hashem made you aware of this trouble, you have a responsibility to do something.

Why did Hashem show Noach the covenant of the rainbow after the Flood? The Sforno answers that in a sense Hashem is hinting to us that every person has a responsibility as part of Klal Yisrael to pray in a time of need. The rainbow signifies a time of judgment. It is our wakeup call to beseech Hashem to turn it into mercy.

As we begin the new year, let us rededicate ourselves to prayer, proper speech, and helping people in need with fresh vigor and hope for a year of growth and self improvement.

Parshat Nitzavim: Chassidut on the Parsha

1 09 2010

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Nitzavim begins with, “Atem nitzavim hayom, You, the Jewish people are standing before Hashem.” Rashi writes that the Jewish nation renewed their commitment to the Torah by making a special covenant with Hashem. Why was this covenant needed now? To answer this, Rashi asks another question. What is the connection between the parshiyot of Ki Tavo and Nitzavim? He explains that after the Jews heard the 98 curses they recoiled in fear. Therefore, Moshe immediately comforted them by reminding them, “You have sinned in the past and yet, “Atem nitzavim,” you are still standing.

The Shem MiShmuel explains this idea further. In Parshat Vayeilech, we read how the Jewish people will sin and suffering will come upon them. They will say, “Ein Elokai b’kirbi. Hashem has left us.” Hashem will then say, “V’anochi haster astir panei, I will hide my face.” The Shem Mishmuel emphasizes that the most fundamental reason that leads a person to sin is “Ein Elokai,” he forgets that Hashem is constantly before him. In a sense, he experiences temporary spiritual amnesia. If the Jewish people have recognized this and have begun the process of teshuva, why does Hashem then say he will hide His face?

Rav Bunim MiPeshischa answers that stating that one’s misdeeds drove Hashem away is a terrible sin. Hashem never leaves the Jewish people. Our sins may create a certain distance but He is still there with us. Hashem says, “Anochi haster, I will hide.” But even in the worst concealment, my great hidden light, “panai,” remains with you.

After the Jewish people heard the 98 curses, they were worried that their faith would not remain intact after these awful punishments would be meted out. Therefore, Moshe deemed it necessary to make a new covenant, assuring the Jewish people that Hashem would never leave them come what may and that they too would remain bound to Hashem. This is the power of “Nitzavim,” the steadfast faith that every Jew carries in his heart, through myriad tragedy and suffering.

Nitzavim comes from the root word, matzeiva, meaning solid rock. Our foundation is as strong as rock and this is the legacy we bequeath to our children. The Midrash in Shemot Rabbah writes, “The Jewish people are compared to angels, of angels it is written, they stand on high and of the Jews it is written, behold you are standing.” We read in the book of Zecharya, “V’natati lecha makom ben ha’omdim haelah, you will walk through these standing angels.” Angels do not have free choice. Therefore they are referred to as “standing” – they will neither fall nor rise. In contrast, the prophet Zecharya is told, “You will move between these angels.” Man has the power to ascend to a level higher than the angels. On the one hand, we are meant to be similar to angels, nitzavim – firm in our faith, never descending to the depths of sin. Yet on the other hand, we are meant to be greater than them, always striving to reach further levels in avodat Hashem.

The Midrash says that Yaakov gave us the evening Maariv prayer because his life was filled with darkness and baffling challenges. Through it all he never wavered and remained strong and steadfast in his faith. Sometimes, life may hand us the “raw deal.” It is specifically at those times that we must bolster our trust in Hashem and tap into the hidden reservoirs of strength contained in Nitzavim.