Shabbat schedule - Friday - Shabbat, October 16 - 17, 2015

Halachic Times
Earliest Tefillin (latest of the week): 6:26
Latest Shma (earliest of the week): 9:50

Torah reading: Noach (Genesis 6:9 - 11:32)
Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 5:56 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:54 PM



Personification of Righteousness

Noach was the symbol of righteousness. No other person is described in the Torah as a “perfectly righteous” person. Righteousness is defined as one who does everything right; no deviation to the right or the left.

It turned out that his obsession with being righteous was both strength and weakness. Because he was so “straight” he did not know how to “go out” of his personality, seek out people of differing natures and speak to them with empathy to mend their ways so that the Flood could have been averted. Tellingly, the Zohar characterized the Flood as “Noah’s flood” because of his failure to prevent it.

Noach was a product of the natural world, where every creature is fixed in its mold with little wiggle room to expand and go out of its own nature. Noach was truly not at fault. In G‑d’s plan, the pre-Sinai dynamic did not allow one to break out of his or her boundaries.

Abraham, by contrast, was the first to break away from the constraints of his nature. As we will read in next week’s Torah portion, G‑d told Abraham to leave his “land, his birthplace and his father’s house.” Chassidic teaching interprets this as a need for Abraham to break away from his natural instincts and the mold from which he was cast by virtue of his upbringing and environment.

Although Abraham lived in the pre-Sinai era, his life was a necessary precursor to the Revelation at Sinai. His efforts paved the way for Sinai and for us to break out of our mold, particularly, the Galus prison to which we are still confined.

Abraham the First Jew; not Noach

We can now understand why, as Jews, we trace ourselves back to Abraham and not to Noach. Being Jewish requires us to break out of our own molds.

The question now arises. If Abraham is our preeminent role model, and we trace ourselves back to him rather than to Noach, why do we spend an entire week focused on Noach? True, he was a model of righteousness, but so were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Why do we need to study an apparently unsuccessful model of righteousness this entire week?

Singular or Plural?

The answer to this question can perhaps be found in the manner in which the Torah sums up his life:

“And all the days of Noach was nine hundred fifty years…” Although, referring to all of his days, the Hebrew original uses the term “vayehi-was,”­which is in the singular tense. Why is this?

The question is even more nuanced when we compare this verse to the way in which the Torah sums up the lives of others. We can see that Noach is a special case.

Take for example, the way the Torah sums up the life of Adam:

“All the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty, and he died.” Here the Torah uses the plural form “vayihyu-were.” Why would the Torah deviate from the correct grammatical rule concerning the days of Noach and use the singular form of vayehi?

Two Approaches

The answer, perhaps, lies in Noach’s unique contribution to our lives, which justifies the need for us to learn of, and place so much attention on, his life.

There are two valid ways we can live our lives within the framework of Judaism. But following only one of these approaches can leave us deficient in our role as Jews.

The first approach, which we will call the Noach approach, is singular. Every aspect of our lives is attuned to one overarching goal. It is like being on a journey with our minds focused solely on our destination and how we will get there. There is no time or room for sight-seeing. Going off the road, even momentarily, for some extra-curricular activities (meant in a positive vein) is out of the question. Every ounce of our strength, every faculty of our soul and limb of our body, every personality trait, has to be attuned to realizing our mission.

The second approach is the opposite. As we journey along the highway of life, we take advantage of every sight along the way. We welcome every opportunity to learn something from an experience no matter how tangential it may seem to our goal. As the Psalmist declares: “From G‑d a man’s steps are established.” If we get “lost” on a trip and veer off the beaten path, it is for a reason. There must be some challenge there for us to meet, even if it appears to keep us away from our destination.

A Jew is a paradox. He or she is a product of both heaven and earth; obsessed with the desire to serve G‑d with love and with awe. As Jews, we are expected to focus on our goal of bringing about the ultimate Redemption, even as we try to see the meaning in everything we experience along the way.

However, being involved in many diverse areas of endeavor can cause us to lose the focus on our goal. To prevent that, the Torah has given us the story of Noach’s singular life. His example helps us focus on, and conclude, our journey towards the ultimate Redemption.

To be more precise, the Rebbe told us that we have already reached our destination and entered the Messianic Age. Our objective now is to open our eyes wide enough to see the new reality that exists and to internalize the Messianic ideal and way of life. In the Rebbe’s words, our task today is to “greet or internalize Moshiach.”

Since we have reached our destination, the time has come to shift over to following the first, single-minded, approach. We now must bring all of our attention to bear on internalizing all that the Geulah-Redemption represents.

Noach’s Singular Life

This, we may suggest, is the eternal lesson we learn from Noach and which, therefore, justifies our spending time with him. The Noach approach is one of singularity. Noach’s life was dedicated to one, and only one, goal to save the world from extinction. Convincing other people to repent would have been an admirable thing for him, but in his world view that would have been a side-show and tangential to his mission of building the ark, gathering all of the species of animals and sheltering them so they could survive and start life anew in the aftermath of the devastating flood.

Changing the hearts of multitudes would have been a great accomplishment; but that was not Noach’s primary mission and he was not capable of doing both.

Noach’s Aberration

It is fascinating that after Noach leaves the Ark he plants a vineyard and finds oblivion in his wine. That is the moment when he is disgraced by his sonCham and grandson Cana’an.

Rashi comments that Noach profaned himself by planting a vineyard before planting other things.

Rashi seems to suggest that Noach’s mistake was in his priorities. If Noach’s claim to fame was his tenacious focus on the goal, he was faulted when he got sidetracked by desire to celebrate his salvation with wine. While that may have been motivated by a desire to thank G‑d, it would still have been a deviation from his singular goal of rebuilding a world.

The fact that Noach offered sacrifices along the way was not considered a deviation because G‑d intimated to him that he should bring those offerings as a way of securing the world in the future. Indeed, when G‑d told him to bring seven of the kosher animals (as opposed to two of the non-kosher ones) Noach understood that it was to bring offerings after the Flood. The offerings were not to be a gesture of gratitude, but rather part of G‑d’s formula for never bringing another flood and thereby securing the future of the world. That was Noach’s true mandate, as opposed to planting a vineyard, even if it was for the purpose of celebrating his salvation and praising G‑d.

This explains why the Torah sums up the life of Noach with the single expression, “his days was,” because all of his days were dedicated to this single overarching role of saving the world.

Two Singular Goals

The question that arises from this analysis is that with regard to Abraham and Isaac the Torah uses the plural form, whereas with respect to Jacob it also uses the singular.

The answer to this question lies in the different roles of Abraham and Isaac as compared to Jacob. Abraham and Isaac were not just the progenitors of the Jewish people. They were also the ancestors of many other nations. They therefore had a diversified role. Abraham’s relationship with Yishmael was different from his relationship with Isaac. Likewise, Isaac related differently to Jacob and Esav. To the former he gave all of his most powerful physical and spiritual blessings and to the latter he bequeathed physical power.

Jacob, by contrast, was exclusively the father of the Jewish people. He represents the singularity and immortality of Jewish existence. The Talmud states the Jacob never died. One way of understanding that statement is that Jacob is embodied in the entire Jewish people. Indeed, the Kabbalists say that all of the souls of all Jews for eternity were consolidated in the soul of Jacob. Just as the Jewish people are an eternal people so was Jacob. Jacob’s life and legacy is the continued existence of the Jewish people until the coming of Moshiach.

Whereas Noach’s singularity was designed to keep the world going, Jacob’s was designed for Jewish continuity, which leads the world inexorably to its intended goal-the coming of Moshiach.

We can now appreciate why we must live with Noach for an entire week. His example provides us with the power to maintain a single minded obsession with our goal. Before we learn about the multifarious avenues that we inherited from our Patriarchs and the twelve sons of Jacob, we must instill within ourselves the singular Noach-consciousness that will enable us to focus on the goal of Moshiach and Redemption.

Moshiach Matters

In this week's Haftora we read (Zech. 3:8): "For behold, I will bring My servant Tzemach (literally "branch") Why is Moshiach referred to by this name? To emphasize that even though it may seem as if the branches of the royal House of David have been cut off, the "root" still exists, and when the proper time arrives, Moshiach, a descendent of King David, will be revealed. In the same way that a root can lie dormant and concealed for many years, yet germinate and develop into an entire tree under the right conditions, so too will Moshiach arise to redeem the Jewish people when G‑d determines the right time has come.