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Parashat Noach 5777 — 11/05/2016

Parashat Noach 5777 — 11/05/2016

Bereshit 6:9 – 11:32

Our parashah contains many symbols. The most obvious one is the rainbow, which Gd declares to be the symbol of His covenant with mankind that he will never again send a Flood. The birds that Noach sends out to determine whether the waters have abated off the earth, viz. the raven and the dove, are also symbolic. We have some sense of the symbolism – the rainbow appears after a rainstorm, with its implicit threat of flooding, and is supposed to reassure us that the threat will not be realized. Needless to say, Ramchal finds deeper significance in these symbols.

It was due to the many sins of the generation that Hashem allowed evil to spread over the entire world to the extent that it had to be destroyed. The Shechina, rather than chasing evil away, permits it to spread its destructive claws while the Divine Presence remains in its place saving whatever needs to be saved. … Following the destruction, evil retreated to its root in the depths of the earth.

The Ark which housed Noach, his family, and many animals, represents the Shechina protecting those worthy of salvation while permitting evil and destruction to spread on the outside. …

The Ark of the spiritual world is the rainbow. … The vision [of the rainbow in Yechezkel’s vision of the Holy Chariot (1:28)] was the Shechina in exile guarding the righteous.

This first statement is rather extraordinary. Ramchal appears to be saying that the more we sin – that is, the more negativity we put into the environment, the more Gd removes His positive influence and allows evil free reign. Perhaps it is not so astounding, as we saw in the rise of Nazism and its spread, and in the case of other evils that the world has known throughout history.

In terms of the Divine Attributes of din and chesed that we discussed last week, it appears that Gd suspends the aspect of din and lets events take their course until din cannot be suspended any more, and all the accumulated negativity bursts out in a terrible calamity. Why does Gd do this? The following is speculation on my part. Our Sages tell us: “There were 10 generations between Adam and Noach, to tell you how patient Gd is…” (Pirke Avot, V:1) The purpose of this patience is to allow people time to repent. Repentence, t’shuvah (lit. “return”) means returning to Gd, to the infinite source of life within us, and thereby to a course of action that will create a positive influence in the environment. This will alleviate the negative influences (wrong actions) that have been building up, making the calamity unnecessary. Of course, this requires that people actually do t’shuvah and correct their behavior. But Gd has left that decision in our hands.

I read that a contemporary Rabbi (and I’m sorry that I don’t remember who) commented that ideally there would be a perfect balance between the forces of good and evil, so that human beings would have perfect choice – that is, Gd would not put his thumb on the scale either way. However, since we see that “the inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21), a 50-50 split would just not work. Therefore Gd does tilt the playing field enough to give us a fighting chance. In Ramchal’s words, the Shechinah withdraws and lets evil spread, but it does save that which is worth saving – and this is the extra “tilt” in our favor that allows the world to exist.

Ideally, the world would run completely according to the attribute of din – that is, strictly according to the laws of nature. If human beings likewise were able to act completely in accord with Gd’s Will as expressed in the laws of nature, this would work OK. If we did, we wouldn’t have any choice in our actions, and they would cease to be either moral or immoral, and this apparently is a situation Gd did not want. Our Sages tell us that Gd created and destroyed many worlds before He got the “right” balance of din and chesed – and in the case of the Flood, it appears that this world was a close call as well!

Now there is another side to this tension between din and chesed. The purpose of our free choice is to perfect ourselves so that all our actions are in accord with Gd’s Will. When we reach that stage, we technically have free will, in the same sense that we can choose to put our hand in the fire, but would never actually consider doing so because the negative consequences are so obvious. In a sense, we use our free will to transcend our free will, and return to a state where all our action is natural, correct and automatically in accordance with Gd’s Will. In this state, din becomes predominant, because there is no need for chesed – Gd doesn’t need to give us a pass so that we can repent/return. There is no need to return, because we are already inextricably connected to Gd.

Perhaps this concept of transcending our free will and living according to the attribute of din is related to the image of the raven and the dove:

At the conclusion of forty days after seeing the tops of the mountains, Noach opened the window of the Ark and sent out the raven. Noach in his great wisdom reasoned as follows: just as the power of the attribute of judgment strengthened for forty days following the start of the rains, by the same token the attribute of chesed will be strengthened for forty days after its revelation, at which point waters will have totally subsided and land will have been revealed.

Upon noting the abundance of chesed, Noach understood that it was time to send out from the Ark the animal which represented the Attribute of Judgment … the Torah therefore states: vayishlach et ha’oreiv – He sent out the raven (8:7) … The Torah relates “it (the raven) kept going and returning until the waters dried from upon the earth (ibid). The continued presence of the raven informed Noach that din still remained. … This explains why the Torah simply writes “He sent out the raven” without stating for what purpose – his intent was purely to rid himself of the raven. [RAR: i.e. din]

The dove on the other hand represents the attribute of chesed. Noach sends it out knowing that only when the attribute of din was fully receded, back “to its roots in the depths of the earth,” would it no longer return to him. Human beings had been given the greatest gift Gd can bestow – free will and the power to grow to the point where they could thrive under the rule of din. Had we been able to reach that level, individually and collectively, we could have enjoyed the full value of Gd’s chesed – the abundance of all goodness would have been available to us. Unfortunately, we did not reach that state. Instead, we were overwhelmed with din, and only the barest remnant was saved. There were 10 generations from Adam to Noach, and the world ended in the Flood. There will be 10 more generations from Noach to Avraham. Unlike Noach, Avraham is able to save the world from another great calamity. In some ways however, he is like Noach – one man and his family who save themselves from the decadence around him. Next week’s parashah begins his, and our, story.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Noach

Parshat Noach in Hebrew:

Parshat Noach begins with confirmation that we can regain Oneness; Noah is described as righteous, perfect in his generations, walking with Gd. Since all but Noah’s family were destroyed in the Flood, we are all descendents of Noah and should therefore be perfect, but few would say this true.

Indeed, in this parsha, we see the generations of Noah, building a tower they hope would reach to the Heavens and thereby offending Gd so that Gd changes them from a world of a single language into a world of multiple languages so the people could not communicate with each other enough to continue building.

And. course, throughout history since then, continuing to our times, we have seen robberies and murders so we may wonder and do wonder, “What does this parsha mean by “perfect”? and, what does it mean that, as the parsha says later, “… in the image of Gd He made man. “ (Genesis 9:6)

Since there is nothing but Gd, to say that He made man in His own Image to me means that we have the potential to remember God is us, and to rise to a level where we are perfectly comfortable playing our roles in Gd’s play: especially by favoring those thoughts and actions that do the positive mitzvot Torah ordains and avoid the negative ones.

The parshah ends with Terah, taking his family, including Abraham and Sara toward Canaan — which will be the promised land — but not actually entering, only settling in Haran. Since Gd spoke with Abraham as he did with Noah, we see in the ending of this parsha a foretaste of the return of perfection to our world, to humanity.

Baruch HaShem!