This week we are introduced once again to Noach, the grandfather of all of mankind. The Torah describes him as a “tzaddik tomim,” totally righteous in deed and thought. He lived in a time when all living beings had become corrupt and immoral.
It is interesting that the pesukim (6:11-12) that describe the depraved situation of the world at that time state, “Vatishocheis ha’aretz lifnei Ha’Elokim vatimolei ha’aretz chomos – The world became corrupt before Hashem and was full of thievery. Vayar Hashem es ha’aretz vehinei nishchosah – And Hashem saw the earth and behold it was corrupted.”
The Alter of Kelm points out that the pesukim seem to indicate that although the world had become an awfully sinful place and was totally corrupted, it was only Hashem who saw what was happening. What about all of mankind, who were themselves experiencing the heinous behavior? Were they not aware of what was happening in and to the world?
We can add that Rashi seems to support the idea that not every person at the time was evil, as he writes (6:13), citing the Medrash, that at a time of promiscuity, destruction is brought to the world and kills the righteous along with the wicked. If there were good people, where were they? Why is there no record in the Torah of people speaking up and attempting to fight the depraved? Why is there no record of anyone heeding Noach’s warning about the impending doom and destruction?
The Alter explained that since the people were living in the midst of the evil, they were not able to discern what was going on.
At first glance, the explanation seems a bit of a stretch, but after thinking about it, you will realize that so is the way of man, and apparently so it has been since the beginning of time. People who are part of a group, or society, or country, don’t grasp the situation around them.
So it was in the time of Noach, so it was in the time leading up to the Churban Bais Hamikdosh and the Holocaust, and so it is now. The nevi’im chastised the Bnei Yisroel and warned them that if they would not improve themselves and their actions, the Tochacha would be realized, the Bais Hamikdosh would be destroyed, and the people would be massacred and driven into exile. Yet, they thought it would never happen. They felt that they were so powerful that no nation would be able to take them down. They couldn’t fathom that the magnificent edifice of the Shechinah would be destroyed and taken from them. They thought that the novi was fantasizing when he told them what would transpire if they would not repent.
When Hitler became chancellor of Germany, he made his agenda known, yet as he advanced towards realizing his goal, and later, as he began swallowing up countries, many people in Europe and around the world did not realize how dangerous the situation was. Of course, we are not judging anyone. We are merely stating the fact that a person often cannot separate himself enough from what is going on around him to be able to perceive the seriousness of the situation.
Our period is no different. We see increasing anti-Semitism in the United States, in Western Europe, and around the world. We see the United States limping with failing leadership, with the forces of socialism and leftist thought on the ascent. We see Iran rapidly gaining influence and about to obtain a nuclear weapon, with nobody doing anything to stop them. We witnessed the disastrous retreat of the United States from Afghanistan. The dishonesty and incompetence of the president and his entire national security team were on full display, portraying for all a nation in decline.
Covid and vaccine mandates have become political weapons. Science plays a decreasing role in how the disease is fought. The American border is wide open, and hundreds of thousands are pouring in here without vetting, as the leftists continue their mad dash to change the makeup of the country. None of the illegal immigrants are checked for Covid or vaccinated, while the heroes battling the epidemic and keeping the country safe lose their jobs if they don’t vaccinate. The hypocrisy and insincerity are apparent, insulting to those who follow the law and take their health seriously.
In America, we see that free speech is no longer free, nor is it considered virtuous. Speech not consistent with the “woke” correctness is punished, curtailed, and cancelled. People are afraid to say and write what they really think, lest they lose their jobs and standing.
Immorality has seeped into virtually every segment of society. Time-honored values are sacrosanct no longer.
Last week, a student spoke before the vice president of the United States, accusing Israel of “ethnic genocide,” among other crimes. The vice president of this country, which has always been supportive of Israel, encouraged the young woman. She said, “I’m glad you [brought this up] … Your truth cannot be suppressed, and it must be heard.”
Nowadays, everyone is entitled to their truth. There is no absolute truth. Whatever you choose to believe is seemingly as valid as what is real and true. And so, all types of movements are springing up, led by liars and charlatans, but it’s their truth, and they are given the same legitimacy as what has been known to be true, proper and effective for thousands of years.
I know that for many, the very thought of climate change and global warming as being promoted by leftists is sacrilegious, but I hope you will forgive me for quoting from the Seforno in this week’s parsha.
The posuk (6:13) states that Hashem said, “Hineni mashchisom es ha’aretz – Behold I will destroy all creatures from the earth.” We know that man and animal, save those that were in the teivah (and Og), were destroyed, but where do we find that the earth was destroyed? Rashi (ibid.) offers an explanation, but listen to what a Rishon, the Seforno, writes on this posuk:
“[What Hashem was telling Noach was that He would destroy every living thing together with the earth.] I will destroy the weather and the air by deviating the axis of the sun, which has been changed ever since the Mabul, as Hashem told Iyov. And therefore, the length of man’s life was shortened immediately following the Mabul, because the weather and the fruits are no longer in their complete state in which they were created…”
Hashem punished mankind by changing the weather pattern. We must hope and pray that the weather is not being changed again now as punishment for the world’s corruption. The way to stop global warming and climate change – if it exists – is not through legislation banning plastic bags and private vehicles, but by returning a moral compass to the world. The very talk about these issues should serve to spur us to do our part to right the world.
When historians trace the downfall of this country, they will point to exactly this time period and record how it began. What is happening is plainly obvious, yet very few take the situation to heart enough to do anything about it.
Following the uplifting days of Elul and Tishrei, we enter the placid month of Mar Cheshvan, uninterrupted by Yomim Tovim and the rise they brought us day after day. The leaves will soon drop from the trees, the air will become cold, and when we wake up to go daven, our path will be covered with slippery frost, literally and figuratively. We are ushered into that period by Noach, who persevered following Hashem’s word. Despite the mocking of the entire world and the chilly reception his message received, he carried on with his mission, undaunted by all the negativity and disapproval of the masses.
Imagine being Noach. For 120 years, he worked on a project to save the world and no one was interested. Instead of accolades, he was mocked and vilified. He was the ultimate cancel culture victim. He couldn’t even get one person to sign up for his life-saving boat ride. How long could we have kept at it, a lone lonely man of faith preaching to the entire world and not even one person paying any serious attention to us?
Yet, the Medrash tells us that Noach never thought of throwing in the towel. In fact, he asked for more time to try to save those very people who were laughing at him and ignoring his message of fidelity and honesty.
No wonder Noach found favor in the eyes of Hashem. He wasn’t a quitter. He didn’t care what anyone said about him. He showed the way for those in later generations who wanted to accomplish something. He demonstrated to never be deterred, never pay attention to the pessimists, never get down, and, most importantly, never give up.
When it feels as if the world is closing in on us, it is easy to raise our hands in defeat and give up. We say, “It’s too hard. It’s impossible. I can’t do it. I can’t afford it. I don’t have the strength. It’s too lonely. I’m not a quitter, but I simply can’t go on.”
But then Elul comes, and as we prepare for the Yomim Noraim, we restore our faith in ourselves and in Hashem. And then the Yomim Tovim arrive, reinforcing the message of hope with overwhelming joy. We start again, a new beginning. We learn Bereishis, about beginning anew, bishvil Yisroel shenikreu reishis. Am Yisroel is all about new beginnings and regeneration. A week passes, and no longer ensconced in the cocoon of the beautiful days of Sukkos and Simchas Torah, we are back in the world, faced once again by the mounting pile of bills and issues we are forced to confront and deal with.
Hashem told Noach to build a “tzohar” in the teivah. Some interpret this as a command to place a window in the teivah to provide light. Others say that it was a light-emitting diamond.
Perhaps we can say that there was a subliminal message in the tzohar: No matter how bleak everything appears, no matter how dark it is outside, never give up hope, for there is always a glimmer of light. Despite all the destruction, life existed and would regenerate and repopulate the world. Despite overwhelming darkness, there is always light.
The Chofetz Chaim would often quote the Gemara that describes the posuk in Eicha (3:6) which states, “Bemachashakim hoshivani kemeisei olam – He thrust me into the darkness as the dead,” as a reference to Talmud Bavli. The Talmud we all study, the Talmud that is the foundation of our lives, is an achievement that emerged in the darkness and gloom of the exile.
It is easy to get pulled down, to stand on the sidelines and shrug our shoulders, agreeing that nothing can be done. We can excuse our inaction by convincing ourselves that even if we were to act, nothing would be accomplished. Noach stands by his teivah and proclaims that this is not true. He reminds us that we must do what we can. Standing up for what is correct, proper and moral is itself an accomplishment. Defending the righteous is the correct course of action, whether or not you prevail.
Thus, the Torah testifies, “Noach ish tzaddik tomim hayah bedorosav.” Although his generation was depraved, Noach stood out as a tzaddik because he wasn’t deterred from his lonesome mission..
Our job is not necessarily to win every battle, but rather to do our best to succeed. We do what we can. We work as hard as we can, to the best of our abilities, in the pursuit of justice and propriety and fulfilling Hashem’s will. The rest is up to Hashem.
We must become astute enough to sense that the world around us is sinking in a morass of immorality, deceit, hate, impropriety and dishonesty. Nothing much is real; everything is a façade, a mirage. But we can’t permit ourselves to be swept along with the times. We can’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Everyone does it, so I will join the stream.” We mustn’t view ourselves as too weak to withstand the many ever-present temptations. We have to remember and teach our children and anyone who will listen that we are an am kadosh. We are meant to be a holy people, and our lives should be about bringing kedusha into our lives and the world, as well as jettisoning things that cause us to lose kedusha.
Each one of us is a little Noach, fighting to keep our families together in our little teivos, separated from the swamp that seeks to engulf and sink us.
As the world descends increasingly deeper, we each have an obligation and a calling to do what we can to make the world a better place. We can each make a difference if we take our mission seriously. Everything we do affects the world in a spiritual way and also in a physical way. The big things and the little ones. The way we vote really does make a difference. That should be obvious by now to all the good people who thought they had to get Trump out of the way. So does what we read and what we give our children to read. So does the way we drive and the way we treat people – all people. The way we conduct our lives in public and in private matters.
It’s not too late. We can still be like Noach. With a hammer and some nails, we can set out to build and change the world. Let’s get to work.