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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Noach

Noach

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Noach was one of the people mentioned by Midrash as having seen the world built and functioning and then destroyed and then rebuilt once more. Surviving such a scenario in a normal fashion is an almost impossible task. And Noach is obviously a victim of what he witnessed. The new world that arises after the disastrous flood that engulfs all human life is a strange one to Noach. He keeps to himself in his vineyard, embittered by the behavior of his offspring and by the refusal of them and their descendants to learn the bitter lessons of the flood and its causes. Every new world that arises is different than the one that preceded it. Noach is doomed to be disappointed in the new world for he is full of sorrow and nostalgia regarding the old world that is permanently gone and will never again return. The survivors of the flood of our time - the Holocaust - never see in the world that was rebuilt after that disastrous event the equal of the world that was destroyed. This is true in all of the varying camps and factions of Jewish society. The new world always pales in comparison with the old world; the past is always brighter and shinier than the present. King Solomon in Kohelet warned us not to think that way "for it is not out of wisdom that you thus ask." Yet the unchangeable human nature continues to long for the good old days even if in reality they might not have really been that good.

Noach’s level of righteousness and holiness also seems to slip in the aftermath of the flood. The rabbis allow him to question the judgment of Heaven that inflicted such a tragedy upon so many souls. He somehow forfeits his titles of being righteous, innocent and holy that accompanied him before the deluge. I feel that it is not his faith in God that is shaken as much as his faith in himself. Why was he spared? What does God want him to do now in the newly emerging and troubled world? He was powerless to prevent the first flood so what can he now do to prevent a second debacle from engulfing humankind? Noach feels himself to be an archaic remnant of a past civilization and completely without influence in the new world arising before his eyes. To a certain extent therefore, he gives up on shaping the new world, letting the baser instincts of human beings again drag down human society. He does not exploit his status as the lone survivor of the flood, the person who knows better than anyone else what society needs. That is what the rabbis meant when they criticized Noach for planting a vineyard as his first project after the flood. He should have created a school of learning and taught a generation the path of holiness and divine inspiration. It is this failure of will and initiative, of misplaced priorities and of unwarranted pessimism that is held against him. He could have been the bridge between the old world and the new. Instead he ended up not being the force for good in either of the worlds. It will remain for Avraham to fill that role ten generations later.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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