Thursday, October 22, 2009

NOACH 5770

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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A young Rabbi, who was a student of the Telsher Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt’l, once approached Rabbi Gifter and said that he had been invited to be the guest lecturer in an out-of-town community. He wanted to know if his Rebbe had any suggestions about an appropriate message that he should relate to that particular community.

Rabbi Gifter replied by relating the following personal vignette:

Rabbi Gifter was born and raised in America, but decided to travel to Europe so that he could study in the prominent Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania. It was an arduous journey and it meant giving up many of the physical comforts of America. Still, he was willing to undertake the challenges so that he would have the opportunity to study in the shadow of the illustrious Torah luminaries of Telshe.

Rabbi Gifter’s parents struggled to raise the money necessary to procure a boat ticket. They were only able to afford a third-class ticket. He was assigned a room at the bottom of the ship, adjacent to a massive banquet hall.

A few days after they were out at sea there was a festive masquerade party in the banquet hall. Rabbi Gifter heard the sounds of raucous laughter and carrying on. He peered into the hall and was astounded by the sight that greeted him. He had never before seen adults carrying on and jumping around in costumes like callow children.

Suddenly, the ship slammed into an iceberg and the all of the electricity on the boat immediately went out. This took place not too many years after the sinking of the Titanic, and the catastrophic event was still relatively fresh on everyone’s mind. As soon as the power went out, everyone pulled off their masks and put down their glasses of wine. Sounds of fervent prayer and crying filled the hall.

Three minutes later the power returned and the lights came back to life. A collective cheer erupted as the masks were re-donned, the glasses lifted, and the festivities resumed as if nothing had transpired.

Rabbi Gifter concluded his story and turned to his student, “Tell the congregation that when the lights come back on, don’t immediately resume the party!”

Although they were physically protected from the raging flood, those inside the Ark of Noach endured a harrowing experience. The sounds of desolation and intense rains were drowned out by the myriad sounds of every animal and species in the world, whose existence depended on Noach and his family.

When the waters had finally sufficiently subsided those who emerged from the Ark had the daunting task of rebuilding the destroyed world. The verse states (9:18) “The sons of Noach who came out of the Ark were Shem, Cham, and Yafes.”

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt’l1 notes that when the Torah refers to the sons of Noach during the flood and immediately afterwards, they are merely referred to as “the sons of Noach”2, without listing their names.

He notes that one would have thought that life in the Ark, as well as living through the peril and destruction of the flood, would have influenced Noach’s sons to become perfectly righteous people. But sadly, that was not the case. Cham remained steeped in coarse materialism and ultimately received a curse from his father, while Yafes remained bound to the aesthetics and externalities of life. It was only Shem who retained the righteous path and committed himself to the tents of Torah and Divine Service.

Truthfully, while they were in the Ark they indeed reached levels of righteousness. Therefore, during the flood they were classified simply as, “the sons of Noach”. Noach was described as “a righteous man, perfect in his generation”, and - at that point - all three of his sons subjugated themselves to his path of life. But once the flood concluded, and life returned to some semblance of normalcy, they returned to their own divergent paths and ideas. At that point, the oldest son Yafes, was no longer listed first. Shem, the only son to maintain the level of piety, is listed first, symbolizing his superior spiritual rank.

It is noteworthy that Noach himself was not spared from the malady of ‘faded inspiration’. The Medrash3 notes that Noach was originally titled, “A righteous man”, but later was reduced to “A man of the earth”4. The Torah says that after he emerged from the Ark, “Noach, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard.” The great Noach, who was responsible for the survival and perpetuation of all of humanity, defiled himself by busying himself with making wine. One of the many lessons of Noach is that it’s one thing to be righteous when the world is depending on you, but it’s far more difficult to retain the same level of greatness when life has resumed its mundane course.

The month of Cheshvan is titled MarCheshvan. There are numerous reasons given for the added prefix. One of the well-known reasons is that after enjoying a month of unique holidays, each replete with its endemic mitzvos, the void of holidays in Cheshvan is glaring and painful. In that sense, the word “Mar” is to be translated as bitter.

However, the Chiddushei Harim offers a novel insight into the name “MarCheshvan”. He explains that the word MarCheshvan is based on the Aramaic/Talmudic expression, “Mirachasin b’sifasay – His lips are still moving.”5 Despite the fact that Tishrei’s Days of Awe and Joy are behind us, our lips are still moving with the prayers, tunes, lessons, and spiritual elevations that we enjoyed and merited throughout that time.

Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt’l noted that the Evil Inclination laughs and remarks, as it were, “I’ll give you the month of Elul and I’ll even give you the month of Tishrei. But as soon as Cheshvan and Kislev arrive, you’re mine!” In other words, our Evil Inclination allows us to feel the inspiration and spiritual bliss of the holidays, knowing that he will not be able to deter any good Jew from the hype of those elevated days. But he patiently waits, lurking in the shadows, for the holidays to end. Then as the succos are returned to their sheds and the esrogim begin to turn brown he sets out to work, dousing our flames of passion and inspiration. He plants seeds of dubious skepticism into our resolutions for the new year, and convinces us to throw in the towel, so that we can ‘come back to reality’. His nefarious message is that the lights have come back on and it’s time for the ‘party’ to resume.

One of the lessons of parshas Noach6 is that one must carry the inspiration of the flood beyond. If one ensures that his lips continue to repeat the lessons and prayers of Tishrei, his MarCheshvan will not be the “bitter” and empty Cheshvan, devoid of holidays, but rather the “Moving lips” Cheshvan, where he continues to ride the waves of Tishrei across the oceanic abyss of winter.

“The sons of Noach”

“His lips are still moving”


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