The Torah states: “Noah was a completely righteous man in his generation” (Gen. 6:9).The Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 108a, is bothered by the seemingly superfluous words “in his generation.” What are these extra words coming to teach us? There are two opinions: 1) Praise of Noah. Even in an evil generation he was righteous. However, if he were in a righteous generation, he would have been even more righteous. 2) Denigration of Noah. In his own generation he was considered righteous, but had he lived in Avraham’s generation he would not have been considered righteous in comparison to Avraham. The Chasam Sofer, a great rabbi, explained that there really is no argument between the two opinions. If Noah would have stayed the way he was in his own generation, then in Avraham’s generation he would not have been considered that righteous. However, the reality is that Noah would have been influenced by Avraham and have reached even greater heights of righteousness.
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin comments that this teaches us that we are all affected by our environment. When we are close to people of good character, we are automatically influenced in positive directions. We must choose our friends and your community with care as they strongly impact our lives.
The Torah states: “And Noah, man of the earth, profaned himself and planted a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20). Previously the Torah called Noah “a righteous man.” What happened? Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz comments that by planting the vineyard first, Noah revealed his essence. He should have planted more essential produce first. His choice of priorities lowered his previous spiritual level. He concludes that we should learn that whenever you have a number of things to choose from, note what you choose first. This is a powerful tool to gain greater self-awareness. Regardless of your present level, strive to build up such a love for doing good that it will be first on your list of things to do!
The Torah states: “One who spills the blood of a person shall have his own blood spilled by man, for in the image of the Almighty He has made man.” (Genesis 9:6) This verse is also cited as a source that we must not embarrass another human being. What is the connection between murder and embarrassment? Rabbi Moshe Alshich explains that when a person is embarrassed, his blood flow changes – his face reddens. The Torah tells us in this verse that every person is created in the image of the Almighty. Therefore, every person must be shown great respect. An attack upon a human being – whether it be upon a person’s body or upon his sense of self – contains an aspect of an attack on the Almighty. When one is embarrassed, he is in great pain. The suffering can be even greater than from a physical wound. The harm, however, is much more than the present pain – the person suffers a loss of self-esteem. Humiliating someone can cause a person to fail to realize his true greatness. The ramifications of this are awesome.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
Male and female He created them (1:27)
Midrash Rabbah states that G d created the first man as a two-sided creature—one face male, and one face female. He then hewed him in two and made a back for each half. But If G d desired mankind to be comprised of both male and female, why did He not create them that way in the first place—as He did with the other animals? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains: “If they were to be originally and intrinsically two, each would be trapped in the exclusivity of his or her identity. Their encounter would be a relationship at best, a war at worst. Neither would have it in them to transcend the individuality into which they were born. The two would remain two, however integrated. But neither did G d desire man to be a singular being. As a single individual, man was without match, without challenge, and thus without potential for growth and creation. “It is not good that man be alone,” said the Creator; he requires a “helpmeet” and an “opposite.” So G d created them one, and then split them into two. Thus man searches for woman, and woman yearns for man. Thus each has it within their power to reach within their splintered self and uncover their primordial oneness. Thus man and woman cleave to each other and become one.”
And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (1:31) The six days of creation embody the whole of history, for the world shall exist six thousand years (Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 31a), which is why it is said that “G d’s day is a thousand years” (Midrash Rabbah).
The Ramban comments: “The first day of creation, which saw the creation of light, corresponds to the first millennium of history—the millennium of Adam, the light of the world, when the world was still saturated with knowledge of its Creator and was sustained by the indiscriminate benevolence of G d. The second day, on which the Creator distinguished between the spiritual and the physical elements of His creation, yielded a second millennium of judgment and discrimination—as reflected in the flood which wiped out a corrupt humanity and spared only the righteous Noah and his family. The third day, on which the land emerged from the sea and sprouted forth greenery and fruit-bearing trees, encapsulates the third millennium, in which Abraham began teaching the truth of the One G d, and the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. The fourth day, on which G d created the sun and the moon, the two great luminaries, the greater luminary and the lesser luminary, corresponds to the fourth millennium, during which the First Temple and the Second Temple in Jerusalem served as the divine abode from which light emanated to the entire world. The fifth day, the day of fish, birds and reptiles, represents the lawless and predatory Dark Ages of the fifth millennium. The sixth day, whose early hours saw the creation of the beasts of the land, followed by the creation of man, is our millennium—a millennium marked by strong, forceful empires, whose beastly rule will be followed by the emergence of Moshiach, the perfect man who brings to realization the divine purpose in creation and ushers in the seventh millennium—the world to come—a time of perfect peace and tranquility.”
‘And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat parts thereof; and G d paid heed to Abel and to his offering’ (4:4) By the same token, the Rambam explains, everything that is for the sake of G d should be of the best and most beautiful. When one builds a house of prayer, it should be more beautiful than his own dwelling. When one feeds the hungry, he should feed him of the best and sweetest of his table. When one clothes the naked, he should clothe him with the finest of his clothes. Whenever one designates something for a holy purpose, he should sanctify the finest of his possessions, as it is written (Leviticus 3:16), “All the fat is to G d.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
In this week’s portion, Hashem asks us to follow in His ways and assures us that “He will confirm you as his holy people – if you uphold His laws and go in His ways. “Then all the people of the earth will see that the name of Hashem is proclaimed over you and they will revere you” (Deuteronomy 28:4-5).
The Torah tells us that our association with Hashem’s name will improve our approval rating. Is it the fact that His blessing will make us successful and the success will bring reverence? Or is it simply stating that if one is righteous then his presence will inspire awe? Or perhaps the promise is greater. Hashem assures us that His guidance and His name, will stand behind our every action. And they will be touched with awe, reverence and immortality.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky relates the following: ‘In 1923, when Rabbi Meir Shapiro was but 37 years old, he had a revolutionary idea. If all Jews were to learn the same folio of the Talmud and follow a set calendar, not only would Jews complete the Talmud after seven years, but world Jewry would have one unifying thread to bind it together. Thus the concept of the Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud page) was formulated. Selling this idea was not easy. Many rabbinic leaders felt that a two-sided page a day was too quick a pace for complex Talmudic issues. It often took weeks to analyze even one side of a page! However, the idea was received warmly by the great sage and tzaddik, the Chafetz Chaim, who encouraged Rabbi Shapiro to present it at the first Knessiah (World Congress) of Agudath Israel held in Vienna, Austria in 1923. The Chafetz Chaim also understood that Rabbi Shapiro perhaps would be looked upon as too young to present such a revolutionary idea. He was worried that the relatively young iluy (genius) would not be able to garnish the respect from older, more conservative Rabbis, whose support was needed for his idea to be accepted. But the Chafetz Chaim had a plan. I’d like you to introduce your idea at the Knessiah,” he told him. “But walk in to the hall at least one hour late. I’d like you to arrive after the session is already in full swing.” abbi Meir did not understand what the Chafetz Chaim had in mind, but agreed to follow his directive. n the day of the main session, the room was packed. The Chafetz Chaim, as one of the elders of the generation and one of the most revered sages of the century, sat on the dais which faced the huge crowd. As planned, about an hour after the opening remarks, Rabbi Shapiro entered at the back of the hall. mmediately, the Chafetz Chaim noticed him and leaped to his feet. “Rabbi Shapiro has arrived!” he exclaimed as he rose from his chair in respect. Shocked at the Chafetz Chaim’s actions, the entire dais, too, arose. In a few moments, the entire assembly stood in honor of the man whom the Chafetz Chaim so honored. With an expression of disbelief, Rabbi Meir, his head bowed with humility and awe was led to the dais. The Chafetz Chaim turned to him in the presence of the entire assemblage and proclaimed. “Now the Rav will address us with a novel idea.” History tells us the rest of the story. More than seventy years later, on September 28th, 1997, more than 100,000 Jews, world over, attended the tenth siyum (completion) of the Daf Yomi. They filled Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum, and assembly halls and convention centers across the globe. They celebrated the tremendous feat inspired by one man’s idea and the almost-divine encouragement of a great sage that stood up to the challenge.
The Torah tells us this week that every idea needs a divine handler. Hashem’s blessing assures that the world will appreciate that seemingly mortal ideas are actually His ideas – and they will become eternal. In addition to the blessing of wisdom, Hashem gives the blessing that wise words and advice will be heard and revered. It is not only what you know, but Who you know. And when that someone is G-d Almighty, then the blessing is assured. As the Torah tells us that “the people of the earth will see that the name of Hashem is proclaimed over you – and they shall revere you.” Because when G-d’s name speaks – people listen.
The Israelites are warned against falling prey to “miracles” performed by false prophets. Says the Torah (Deut. 13:2-4)
“If there should rise up among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams and offer a sign or a miracle. And the (predicted) sign or miracle should then occur of which he has told you, and he says to you, ‘Let us go after other gods whom you do not know and worship them.’
Do not listen to the words of this prophet or dreamer of dreams because it is God who is testing you to know if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Rabbi Yehudah Appel explains: The Torah is warning us: Despite the seeming evidence that a magician may offer, if they contradict the Torah, then their ministrations are to be ignored. One who is loyal and whole with God will not be swayed by demonstrations that are contrary to God’s commands.
See I put before you today a blessing and a curse” (Deut. 11:26). This is a poignant phrase from a densely evocative section of the Torah. What is a curse? What is a blessing? Why is so much of life an enigmatic mixture of the two?
Rabbi Max Weiman shares the following insight: “When you have a pain in your elbow, you are in discomfort and want the pain to go away. But the pain is your body’s way of telling you there is a problem. Maybe there’s an inflammation, a cyst, or something worse. If you don’t experience any pain, you would not go to the doctor to find out what is wrong, and the problem could escalate or be fatal. So the next time you feel a pain, say “Thank God I feel pain!” Because if you didn’t feel the pain, you’d be in for a worse problem. Life has many situations that seem bad on the surface, but a deeper look reveals a true benefit. We can’t be short-sighted or superficial. We need to always be on the lookout for a benefit hidden within a problem. That’s part of being wise – looking past the surface. In some ways, the nature of the universe forces an illusion of God’s non-existence. He is hidden, though He permeates everything. This is the way He designed it. We don’t automatically recognize Him. However by looking for Him, we gain merit. By working out intellectually how there has to be an Infinite Creator, we develop a more personal and more powerful understanding of God than if it were given to us without any work.” Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
I beseeched G-d at that time (3:23)
Moses prayed 515 prayers—the numerical value (gematria) of va’etchanan, “and I beseeched”—to be allowed to enter the Land. The Yalkut Shemini explains: When Moses saw that the decree had been sealed against him, he went and drew a circle and sat inside it, and said: I am not moving from here until You nullify the decree! . . . He then wrapped himself in sackcloth and covered himself with ashes, and stood in prayer and supplication before G-d until the heaven and the earth and the very laws of creation began to tremble, and said: Perhaps the time has come for G-d to destroy the world? . . . What did G-d do at that moment? He announced at every gate of every heaven and at every gate of every court that Moses’ prayer should not be admitted . . . for the voice of Moses’ prayer was like a sword that slices and rips, and which nothing can stop . . . Said Moses to G-d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a beast of the field, which grazes on the grass and drinks water and sees the world that way—let my soul be as one of those!
Said G-d: “Enough!” Said Moses to G-d: If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to [enter] as a bird that flies in the air to all four corners of the earth to collect its feed, and in the evening returns to its nest—let my soul be as one of those! Said G-d: “Enough!”
There is none else beside Him (4:35)
Rabbi Binyamin Kletzker, a chassid of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a lumber merchant. One year, while he was adding up the annual accounts, he inadvertently filled in under a column of figures: “TOTAL: Ein od milvado (‘There is none else beside Him’).” A fellow chassid admonished him for his absentmindedness. “Don’t you know, Reb Binyamin, that everything has its time and place?” he admonished. “There’s a time for chassidic philosophizing, and a time to engage in worldly matters. A person’s business dealings are also an important part of his service of the Almighty, and must be properly attended to.” Said Rabbi Binyamin: “We consider it perfectly natural if, during prayer, one’s mind wanders off to the fair in Leipzig. So what’s so terrible if, when involved in business, an ‘alien thought’ regarding the oneness of G-d infiltrates the mind?”
You shall love the L-rd your G-d . . . (6:5) The Maggid of Mezeritch expounded on this verse, and asked: how can there be a commandment to love? Love is a feeling of the heart; one who has the feeling, loves. What can a person do if, G-d forbid, love is not embedded in his heart? How can the Torah instruct “you shall love” as if it were a matter of choice? But the commandment actually lies in the previous verse, “Hear O Israel . . .” Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch explains: The Hebrew word shema (“hear”) also means “comprehend.” The Torah is commanding a person to study, comprehend and reflect upon the oneness of G-d. Because it is the nature of the mind to rule the heart, such contemplation will inevitably lead to a love of G-d. If one contemplates deeply and yet is still not excited with a love of G-d, this is only because he has not sufficiently refined and purified himself of the things which stifle his capacity to sense and relate to the divine. Aside from this, such contemplation by the mind will always result in a feeling of love.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim
Moshe gives reproof to the Jewish people in the book of Devarim, including the following:
“And you complained in your tents, and you said, because the Almighty hated us He took us out of Egypt to hand us over to Amorites to destroy us.”
Is it truly possible that the Israelites thought that the Almighty hated them?
Rashi, the great commentator, elucidates this verse and gives us a profound insight into human nature. Says Rashi, that the Almighty really loved the Israelites, but because they felt hatred towards Him, they mistakenly felt that He hated them. As people say, “What you feel about someone else, you assume he feels about you.”
Rabbi Kalman Packouz explains: “There is a strong tendency for people to project their own feelings towards others. If you constantly think that other people should not be trusted, it could show that you feel that others should not really trust you. If you always think that others disapprove of you, it indicates that you don’t approve of others – or perhaps yourself. To use this positively, if you feel love and compassion for others, you will assume others feel that way towards you. Not only that, but your behavior and feelings will beget the same from the people you interact with. Try smiling at another person. You’ll feel better towards him and he’ll be more positive towards you.”
In recalling the story of the spies, the Torah states, “And they said, ‘The land which the Lord, our G-d, is giving us is good.” Rashi understands these to be the words of Joshua and Caleb, the good spies; the Chasam Sofer says that these could also be the words of the other spies who were against going up into the land. The other spies could have meant that since the land is so good, the inhabitants will fight for it and not let us win.
Our lesson, according to Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: ‘When one praises you, do not assume anything negative; when you praise others, be careful that your words cannot be taken negatively. It is important to communicate clearly and unequivocally.
The Torah states:
“And I commanded your judges at that time saying, ‘Listen among your brothers.’ “What does this mean and what lesson for life can we learn from it?
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin writes that some judges may see themselves as elevated people and the litigants who come to them as wicked. Therefore, the Torah states, “Listen among your brothers.” That is, consider anyone who comes to you as a brother and treat him accordingly. This concept applies to anyone in a position of authority. It is very easy to treat people as objects. However, our attitude towards others should be, “How would I feel, act and talk if this person were my brother?” This is especially important for anyone who is in a position where people in financial need or emotional pain come to him or her for assistance. The person you are talking with is suffering and often might feel embarrassed that he needs to come to someone for help. Be extremely sensitive to his feelings. If you are able to make him feel that you feel towards him as a close relative, it is a great kindness.
Prepared by Devorah Abenhaim