Torah Portion: Noach
October 13, 2018 | 4/Chesvan/5779
BETWEEN THE LINES
Channeling Negative into Positive by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg
This week’s Torah portion opens with the following statement: “Noah was an ISH (man) TZADDIK (righteous person) TAMIM (who was completely righteous (Genesis 6:9).” The word ISH is a compliment in its own right and the additional descriptions heap honor upon honor on Noah. No other personality is described with so many consecutive praises in one verse!
The first verse in the Book of Psalms teaches: “Fortunate is the man (ISH) who has not gone in the counsel of the wicked, and has not stood in the path of sinners, and has not sat in the company of scoffers.” The Midrash Socher Tov, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, comments that the phrase “Fortunate is the man (ISH),” refers to Noah, since Noah is called ISH, as in our parsha.
Why is Noah described as “fortunate”? According to the Midrash, Noah was fortunate in that he did not follow the ways of the three categories of people (wicked, sinners, scoffers) cited in Psalms. These three negative categories correspond to the three generations that arose in the world over the course of Noah’s lifetime: the generation of Enosh (Adam’s grandson, who initiated the practice of idolatry); the generation of the Flood (immersed in immoral behavior); and the generation of the dispersion (who built the Tower of Babel in order to wage war against God). It was Noah’s good fortune that he did not go in the path of any of these three generations.
The Midrash teaches us that Noah spent his entire life surrounded by evil and wickedness, yet he managed to make himself into one of the most righteous people who ever lived. This is a remarkable feat. How is it possible for a person to maintain such a high level of spirituality while surrounded by an environment of depravity and corruption?
A passage from the Talmud will help us resolve this question. Ben Zoma says, “Who is a wise person? One who learns from everyone” (Avot 4:1). This is a strange statement. It seems reasonable for us to want to learn from righteous people — but what is wise about learning from the wicked?
The Berditchiver Rebbe remarks that righteous people are able to perceive positive qualities in even the most negative situations. From everything they encounter, they learn how to serve God better.
For example, if a righteous person were to witness someone passionately engaged in sinning, he would recognize and appreciate the tremendous motivating power of passion. However, instead of taking that power and using it to accomplish negative goals, the righteous person would redirect it for a meaningful purpose. The correct channeling of passion has the potential to change rote, sterile performance of God’s mitzvot into mitzvah observance driven by enthusiasm and fire! (Kedushat Levi, end of Parshat Bereishit)
Noah epitomized this ability to channel negative forces toward a higher purpose. A hint to this idea is found in his name. The Torah tells us (Genesis 6:8) that Noah found chen (favor) in the eyes of God. The name NOAH (nun-chet), when reversed, spells CHEN (chet-nun)! Noah found favor in the eyes of God by mastering the art of reversal. He had the ability to redirect every energy from a negative goal to a positive one.
This is why a wise person learns from everyone. Instead of being corrupted by his evil generation, Noah used it as an opportunity for spiritual growth. He had the “best” teachers available! All Noah had to do was learn to take their ingenuity, arrogance, passion, jealousy and zeal, and use them in a productive, constructive way to get closer to God.
May we all learn how to transform the power of every energy and drive into positive action to become the best we can possibly be.
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Once, a long, long time ago, life was wonderful, and life was terrible. It was wonderful because people lived much longer and healthier lives than we do today. Everyone was strong and rich and the world was clean and beautiful. But it was terrible because people forgot all about God and were very cruel to each other. They robbed and killed and hurt each other in every possible way. In fact, there was only one good man left on the whole planet! His name was Noah.
God looked at the world and thought, “This has gone too far. I made this beautiful world to give people a good life, but they’ve really messed things up.” So, He told Noah, “Make a giant ark and fill it with every type of animal and bird, get in with your family and hold on. Soon I’m sending a flood that’s going to wipe everyone and everything off the face of the earth. Only you will survive, and from you the world will begin again.” Noah was sad when he heard this. But he made a mistake. He didn’t try to do anything to change the world around him, although he very much hoped that the people would stop being bad. But that didn’t happen.
So, Noah started building the giant boat. When he finished it, he loaded it up with animals, as God told him. Then the great flood came, and the ark set sail on its journey, to begin a new and better world.
By Rabbi Nesanel Yoel Safran
“OK, everyone, I mean everyone, stays after school today!” cried Mrs. Handler.
Mrs. Handler, the teacher, had gone out of the classroom for a minute to make copies of a homework assignment. When she came back, she saw that the kids had gone wild and turned the room upside-down. Even the papers from her desk were scattered everywhere.
“Don’t even think that any of you will get home today before 3:30!” she growled as she straightened her desk.
Amy, the teacher’s pet, raised her hand and walked smugly toward the teacher. “May I be excused from staying after school?” she asked. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I sat quietly at my desk the whole time,” she added proudly.
Mrs. Handler looked at Amy. “Did you try to stop them?” asked the teacher.
“Well, er…no,” said Amy. “Did you tell them it was wrong?” the teacher asked.
“Not really,” blushed Amy. “Did you even feel bad when you saw what they were doing?”
Amy was quiet. “No,” she finally whispered. “I was just happy that it wasn’t me.”
The teacher thought a moment and said, “Amy, you’re a good kid, and I know you would never do something like this. But it’s not enough. You can’t watch your friends acting like animals and just be quiet.
Maybe some of them would have listened if you had said something to stop them. At least you could have tried. I’m sorry Amy, but if you knew better and didn’t say anything, you’re also to blame, and you’ll also stay after school today.”
1) What did Amy’s teacher want her to learn by making her stay after also?
2) Can you think of a time when you saw someone doing something wrong? What did you do?
3) At that time, what feelings made you want to stand up for what was right? And what feelings made you want to just not get involved?
“A good book is like a beautiful garden which you can carry in your hand.” — Chananya Reichman
Rivky went to stay at her Bubbie’s house for a few weeks in the summer and Bubbie Sarah decided that she was going to teach Rivky how to sew. After Bubbie had gone through a lengthy explanation of how to thread the machine and sew a garment, Rivky stepped back, put her hands on her hips, and said in disbelief, “Bubbie, I don’t understand, you can do all that, but you can’t figure out how to use Skype?”
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