By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Parshas Bereishis ends by stating that human behavior had degenerated to the point that Hashem reconsidered the creation of man. The parsha concludes by saying that Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. Parshas Noach continues this theme by describing Noach as a tzaddik tomim who walked with Hashem.
The Torah states that Noach was a tzaddik tomim in his generation. Rashi tells us that some interpret this posuk as laudatory of Noach and others interpret it in a critical vein. The detractors say that had Noach lived in the generation of Avrohom, he would not have counted for anything.
Since the Torah describes Noach as a tzaddik and a tomim, why must we pounce on him and minimize his greatness? Why can’t we take the posuk at face value? If the Torah states that the entire world except for Noach had become defiled, isn’t that enough to establish his spiritual grandeur? Does it really make a difference to us what level of greatness Noach would have attained had he lived in the generation of Avrohom?
The world was about to be destroyed, and the only people Hashem found worthy of being saved were Noach and his family. The future of mankind would be perpetuated through them. They must have been good and worthy people. If not, they would have been swept away by the flood along with the rest of humanity. Why does Rashi interject that some looked upon Noach unfavorably?
It is often noted that Noach was occupied with his own personal avodah and didn’t seek to improve people around him.
Noach apparently felt that since Hashem had already decided to bring the flood, it would be futile to chastise his generation. The entirety of mankind of the generation in which he lived was depraved and unredeemable. Why waste time ministering to them and trying to assist them in rectifying their lives? There was clearly no interest. They had developed theories and philosophies to rationalize their hedonistic behavior and were not amenable to change.
Noach’s existence was quite lonely. There were no people with whom he could carry on a conversation or take walks.
“Es ha’Elokim hishalech Noach.” The humble tzaddik walked with Hashem. It is commendable that Noach, who lived in a deplorable time without role models or teachers to learn from and follow, raised himself to such a degree that G-d would speak to him, quite a noteworthy achievement.
Yet, Rashi is quick to interject, “Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Had the tzaddik Noach lived in the time of Avrohom, he would not have been considered anything.
Noach’s self-contained, self-oriented avodah would not have been considered great in the time of Avrohom, because Avrohom showed that it is possible to be a tzaddik, live among wayward people, improve them, affect their behavior, and earn their respect. The posuk of “es hanefesh asher asu b’Choron” (Bereishis 12:5) attests that Avrom and Sorai had established a following of people whom they influenced and brought “tachas kanfei haShechinah” (Rashi, ibid.).
Additionally, Avrohom pleaded with Hashem not to destroy the city of Sedom and its evil inhabitants. He never gave up on anyone and never perceived any person as being beyond salvation.
There are various derochim in avodas Hashem. Noach’s was acceptable in his generation prior to the birth of the derech of Avrohom. However, once Avrohom showed that we are not to give up on anyone, that became the path for his progeny to follow.
This is why Rashi takes pains to tell us that although Noach was a tzaddik tomim, we should not learn from him. His way is not our way. As children of Avrohom, we must follow the path that Avrohom Avinu hewed for us. We have to accept responsibility for those around us who are confused and lost. We have to be able to rise above the moral dissolution in which society attempts to drown us. We have to find the skills and the intelligence to effectively reach out and touch people.
We have to care enough to find the right words at the right time to let people know what they mean to us. If we cared about G-dliness and goodness as much as Avrohom did, then we would try as hard as he did to spread it in our world. We wouldn’t justify our inaction by saying that the people we could sway are too far gone. Parents who suffer with a child who has fallen under bad influences and is struggling with addiction never give up. They never stop loving their child and desperately seek ways to convey that love.
“Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.” Although Noach was a tzaddik, found favor in Hashem’s eyes, and was chosen to have the world rebuilt through him, once Avrohom came on the scene, Noach’s greatness was eclipsed. It is now Avrohom’s path – his actions and example – that we must emulate.
In our own day, when we witness injustice and impropriety, we should not shirk the responsibility of intelligently addressing the source of these lapses. When we see bizayon haTorah, it should shake us to our core and we should not be too weak to express our indignation. Following Avrohom’s example, we must be engaged with others, not withdrawn from them.
When we see people wronged, we should not stand by apathetically. Rather, we should rise to the occasion. We should imagine that it is our family being wronged. We should imagine that the transgression took place in our teivah. We should raise our voices and use our abilities to attempt to right the wrongs.
We mustn’t content ourselves by only educating our children to follow in the path of the Torah and halacha. We have to at least attempt to enroll more children into religious schools. We mustn’t say that we are helpless to bring about change.
Why don’t we see full-fledged kiruv in this country as there is in Israel and other places? How can it be that there are millions of Jews being lost to our people and we don’t do anything about it?
Decades after Hitler diminished the world’s Jewish population by at least six million, we are witness to the loss of many more, yet we do nothing – or little – about it. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish kids who could be convinced to attend Jewish schools grow up oblivious to their heritage. We are glad when Reform temples close up shop and merge due to dwindling numbers, without realizing that their demise is an indication of more Jews being lost for eternity. Why the joy? At the very least, we should be pained and at least attempt to work to stem the awful tide.
There are remarkable groups and individuals who dedicate their lives to outreach and school placement, but despite their heroic efforts, they can barely make a dent in solving the problem. They need much wider communal support and concern in order to reach appreciable numbers. We have to genuinely care about our Jewish brothers and sisters and really want to save them from drifting from their heritage to points of no return.
Noach was a great man. Undoubtedly, it required superhuman strength to withstand the temptations of his period. Certainly, he was outstanding in that he remained moral and honest despite the corruption of his time. The posuk testifies that Noach found favor – chein – in the eyes of Hashem. And the Gemara in Sukkah (49b) states axiomatically that anyone who has chein also possesses yiras Shomayim.
Yet, while Noach had yiras Shomayim and all of mankind is his offspring, he is not referred to as av hamon goyim, the father of the nations, although, in fact, everyone alive is a descendent of his. That appellation is reserved for Avrohom Avinu, who treated all of mankind as his children, as dwellers of his own ark, whom he was responsible to care for and love. He didn’t mock them; he sought to raise them. He touched their hearts, reached their souls, affected their psyches, and improved them to the level that they joined his flock.
Avrohom went further than Noach. Not only did he have yiras Shomayim, but he was also the first to convert to Hashem’s service. The Gemara in Sukkah (ibid.) expounds on the posuk, “Am Elokei Avrohom – shehaya techilah l’goyim,” which Rashi explains to mean that he was the first person in the world to convert.
Noach never took that step. He didn’t go around trying to straighten out the people he lived with, and he wasn’t mispallel for their salvation as Avrohom was. Noach didn’t sit out in front of his tent waiting to bring them under the canopy of G-d as Avrohom did.
“Ilu haya bedoro shel Avrohom lo haya nechshav leklum.”
Let us not excuse inaction by contending that those around us are too far gone to merit our intervention. Let us not minimize our talents and abilities. Let us find the right words of reproach and outreach to express our love and determination, and may we merit for our actions to be judged favorably by G-d and man.
Rav Shlomo of Karlin told his students that following his passing, they should turn to the rebbe of Nishchiz for leadership and direction.
Rav Uri of Strilisk followed Rav Shlomo’s advice and made his way to Nishchiz. As he waited his turn, he watched as a wealthy man was warmly received and blessed by the rebbe. Rav Uri was able to see that the man had recently committed a serious sin. He was horrified that the man his rebbe had sent him to for guidance was so welcoming to an evil-doer.
The rebbe of Nishchiz perceived Rav Uri’s anger and told him to immediately leave the room. Quite embarrassed, he did as he was told and headed for the local bais medrash.
A short time later, the rebbe arrived at the bais medrash. He went over to Rav Uri and said to him, “I also know what you know. But do you know why Rav Shlomo Karliner sent you here? It is so that you should learn that a person without enough ahavas Yisroel to love a sinning Jew hasn’t reached the proper level of avodas Hashem, for if you would treat people like him with love, they can do teshuvah and return.”
The Jewish Week is happy this week, an indication that something is wrong. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, propagator of new roles for women in Orthodoxy, is preparing to hand off leadership of his Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, a YU executive and former pulpit rabbi.
The Jewish Week reports, “The fact that he plans to head the Ohr Torah Stone network could bolster the notion here that empowering women as decisors of halacha, or Jewish law, is more mainstream than fringe, and well within the bounds of Orthodoxy.”
The paper quotes Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who is ecstatic over Riskin’s chosen successor. She remarked, “It is significant and telling that one of the major rabbinic leaders of Yeshiva University, the flagship of Modern/centrist Orthodoxy, will be heading an institution that gives women semicha.”
She added, “If you choose to write off Rabbi Brander’s appointment” at Ohr Torah Stone as not applicable to American Orthodoxy, “you are blind to where Orthodoxy and amcha [the people] are. This is huge.”
The article mentions that the OU organization of Orthodox synagogues is soon to vote on whether to expel from its group shuls that employ women. Jonathan Sarna, an oft-quoted Jewish expert, is trotted out. He says that “this is a plastic moment for the Orthodox community in the U.S.” The Orthodox synagogue group can take what he calls “the inclusive, big tent approach” or it can vote to maintain “ideological purity, which could result in a split” within Orthodoxy.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he averred, “for the OU to explain why Israel accepts Orthodox women leaders” and the U.S. shouldn’t.
So now, the idea of Orthodox women rabbis is perceived as a given. The only question is whether the OU will face the facts or not.
We hate to say, “We told you so,” but when Avi Weiss began ordaining female clergy several years ago and the Yated undertook a lonely campaign against him and his practice, we were castigated for writing about topics that will never affect the majority of Orthodoxy. People said back then, and continue to contend when we write of the dangers of Open Orthodoxy, that it is a non-issue that does not and will not affect frum Jews.
We have proven that Open Orthodoxy’s leaders are, in fact, not Orthodox, and have called for the rescinding the semicha of Ysoscher Katz, Chair of the Talmud Department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and the director of the Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies.
We have written that the deviating actions of Open Orthodoxy will affect all of Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is coming to pass. An idea is born, then it is adopted, progressives swoon over it, people are loath to protest lest they be seen as unenlightened, and slowly it gains approval and becomes accepted. We see this with the moral climate of this country and others, and sadly the same is true with the innovations of Open Orthodoxy and people like Shlomo Riskin, who claims to be “Modern Orthodox.”
Sarna can say that in Israel women are accepted as “leaders,” and it is accepted as fact. Riskin tells the paper that women can be “spiritual leaders and have the right to give halachic directions and make halachic decisions.”
The Jewish Week says Riskin told them that “he has received no negative reactions from Israeli gedolim (Orthodox rabbinic sages) regarding his positions on women’s roles.” It is a ridiculous assertion, but one that he gets away with. He knows the universal position of gedolim and Orthodoxy on the topic, and he is well aware of the stated positions of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America, as well as the position of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the towering rabbinic figure of Modern Orthodoxy.
This issue is but one example of the result of adopting a position of not getting involved in issues affecting the larger community. There are many that come to mind. There is no one who is beyond reach and there is no one who is beyond reproach. We have a responsibility to be mochiach and set the record straight as to the proper path our people should follow. We have an obligation to other people. No one is ever that far gone that we give up on them.
Like Avrohom Avinu, we are to express concern for others, seek to return sinners to the tent of Torah, reach out to wayward folks with love and care, and teach anyone who will listen the ways of morality and goodness.
Never perceive any issue as hopeless. View every person with merciful kindness, knowing that “betzelem Elokim bara osam,” there is spirituality in every living soul.
May we be worthy inheritors of our grandfather, Avrohom.