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Thursday
Oct112018

ALL JEWS ENTER THE ARK

Noach held his ground and maintained his virtue in the face of a wicked generation, avoiding their negative influence and remaining righteous. How much more virtuous would he have been had he lived in a more upright generation. Noach was an exception, a maverick, but regarding the average Jew, how can he be saved from mayim ha’zeidonim?

Translated by Boruch Merkur

4. The general lesson learned from the story of the Flood is – as the Alter Rebbe writes in Torah Ohr, in the Chassidishe sidra of the week – that one must “enter the teiva, the ark.” By going into teivos (ha’Torah v)ha’t’filla, delving into the words of (Torah and) prayer, we are rescued from the flood waters, saved from mayim ha’zeidonim (i.e., anxiety about making a livelihood and the like, discussed below).
As with all teachings of the Torah (which is eternal), this lesson has universal application; it is equally relevant in all times and places, and for each individual Jew, in any condition.

Now, a person must say, “the world was created for me.” Each individual must assume the perspective [the responsibility of acknowledging that] the entire world was created for him or her. Similarly, Torah and its lessons apply to each individual. Since the creation of the world is bishvil ha’Torah, for the sake of the Torah (especially when interpreting “bishvil” as “shvil,” meaning “pathway”), just as the world is particularized for each individual Jew, so is Torah, which is the intent and purpose of the world. And as discussed on several occasions, the source for this particularization is as the verse states, “I am G-d your L-rd, Who has taken you out of the Land of Egypt” – stated in the singular; G-d told each Jew, “I am G-d, your L-rd, etc.,” for the Torah was given to each individual Jew.

A Jew may make the case that he is exempt from the lesson of the Flood. After all, how can a Jew be expected to learn from Noach, to follow Noach’s lead and “enter the teiva,” etc.? Noach was a tzaddik tamim, righteous and earnest in his service of G-d. (In fact, he maintained his righteousness even “in his generation.” That is, Noach held his ground and kept his virtue in the face of a wicked generation, avoiding their negative influence and remaining righteous. How much more virtuous would he have been had he lived in a more upright generation.) Noach was an exception, a maverick (defying the natural tendency to conform, as above), but regarding the average Jew, how can he be saved from mayim ha’zeidonim?

Torah therefore states (l’ganai, as a slight) that this was “in his generation” (qualifying his praise by diminishing it), indicating that Noach’s being a tzaddik tamim was only “in his generation.” In the generation of Avrohom, however, he would have been utterly insignificant. This level of tzaddik is attainable to even the average Jew (as above); he too can learn from Noach.

5. The dual meanings of “in his generation,” which can be viewed as praise or as a slight, teaches that both interpretations are lessons in serving G-d. Rashi cites both interpretations, for as discussed above, Rashi’s commentary conveys the inner dimension of the Torah, which leads to “and serve Him wholeheartedly” [and both lessons are required to achieve that].

Here we have two opinions on a matter, two perspectives that are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they provide lessons for two different types of people (or for two conditions that could exists within the same person), as follows.

When speaking of a tzaddik, one can reason that the entire concept of “enter the ark” is not relevant to him, that mayim ha’zeidonim from the outset simply doesn’t exist for him. Indeed, the Gemara says that the fire of Gehinom is powerless over even a talmid chochom ­– the talmid, or disciple of a chochom, a sage (and this is a talmid who must go to Gehinom!). How much more so is it true to say that the fire of Gehinom has no effect on the chochom himself (who is not at all subject to purgatory in Gehinom, which proves that his actions were never compelled by a spirit of folly). [What purpose then would the tzaddik have in embracing the teaching of “enter the teiva,” when he has no need to vanquish from within him mayim ha’zeidonim?]

The interpretation of “in his generation” as praise of Noach is thus meant to teach that even Noach, who was a tzaddik tamim even in his generation [when it was a challenge to be righteous], had to “enter the ark” [and make an especial effort to apply himself in t’filla and Torah study]. This interpretation is the lesson for tzaddikim.

The lesson for the majority of humanity, however, is learned from the second interpretation – that the fact that Noach was a tzaddik is only relative to his generation, which is not the true concept of righteousness; such a person is only referred to as a tzaddik metaphorically. This level of tzaddik is attainable to the majority of people. […]

Even the average Jew must learn from Noach and follow his example of escaping the flood by “enter[ing] the ark.” In so doing he saves not only himself but the entire world, as it says in the verse, “(I will fulfil My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, you) and your sons and your wife, as well as the wives of your sons, with you.” He even saved animals, etc., as the Torah continues, “from all the living creatures, etc.”

Every Jew has the power to save himself along with the entire world from mayim ha’ziedonim, in accordance with the ruling of Rambam – that through a single good deed one brings himself, along with the entire world, to the side of favor.

Just as it says regarding Noach that “he saw a new world,” so does every Jew have the power to build a new world and make it into a home for G-d.

(From the address of Shabbos Parshas Noach 5725, Sichos Kodesh 5725, Vol. 1, pg. 56-57)

 

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