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28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Change is a Must

by HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg

From the first volume of the newly published Nesivos Chaim: The Torah Way of Life.


Ten generations after Odom Horishon, Hashem singled out Noach as being special. The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) testifies, "Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d."

Rashi calls our attention to the phrase "in his generations." Rashi explains that there is a difference of opinions among Chazal over the meaning of this statement. "Some of our Rabbis interpret it as praise; saying he would have been more righteous had he lived in a generation of righteous people; and some interpret it to his discredit, saying that compared with his generation he was a tzaddik, but had he been in Avrohom's generation, he would not have been considered anything."

This last statement "he would not have been considered anything," requires clarification. If the Torah calls Noach both a tzaddik and perfect, how can it be said that Noach would be considered as nothing at all!

The gemora Avodoh Zora (6a) teaches us that Noach was, "Perfect in his ways; righteous in his actions." Rashi explains that he was a tzaddik in his actions, for Noach "did not rob." In a generation that was destroyed for being thieves and robbers, Noach refrained from such actions and was thus righteous.

Furthermore, Noach reached perfection "in his ways," that is, in his demeanor, which is a reflection of his personality. Rashi gives us an insight into Noach's character by explaining that Noach was "humble and unpretentious." Noach could have become haughty, for he was so honest in comparison to all the wicked, corrupt people of his time. Remarkably, Noach remained without conceit and pride.

Noach withstood both the temptations of theft and the influence of his peers. These were great accomplishments, particularly in the corrupt and decadent generations in which he lived. Therefore, it is easy to grasp how Chazal learn the phrase "in his generations" as praise of Noach.

Furthermore, Noach's accomplishment becomes even more remarkable in light of what the Rambam writes in Hilchos Dei'os (6:1), "A person is created in such a way that his opinions and actions are influenced by his friends and acquaintances, and are according to the behavior of his countrymen. Therefore, a person must always associate with tzaddikim and live with chachomim in order that he learn from their actions, and he must distance himself from the reshoim who walk in darkness, so that he does not learn from their actions."

HaKodosh Boruch Hu has created us in such a way that the people with whom we live, influence us. We accept their beliefs and philosophies, making them our own. Consequently, we will find ourselves acting like the people around us.

We have also been created to be sociable. We all need friends and companions in order to live properly. Our natural desire is to be drawn to other people, to want to live among them and to enjoy their company. We were not created to exist in isolation; all people want to be considered part of a group. Since we desire people's company and hope for their acceptance, we will be driven to become like them -- whomever and whatever they are.

To be unsociable is abnormal. The Rambam, in his Commentary on the Mishnah (Shabbos 2:5), writes that melancholy is a type of illness. When stricken by it, a person behaves contrary to his normal nature, which is to be friendly with people. Instead he withdraws, preferring to be alone.

Such is the strength of outside influences upon us. We are inevitably drawn to them, and if they are bad, we will become bad and if they are good, we will become good. It is a dangerous situation, but this is how HaKodosh Boruch Hu has made us. We are expected to use proper judgment in choosing our friends, neighbors and associates. We are obligated to choose proper acquaintances so as to benefit from their good influence. Tzaddikim can inspire us and we will improve and grow to be like them.

Noach, who lived among the wicked, contrary to expectations, became and remained good. Based on what the Rambam has taught us, had Noach lived in a generation of tzaddikim, he would have been more strongly influenced for the good, making him become a more righteous person than he was. This is the opinion of Rabbi Nechemia (Midrash Rabboh, Parshas Noach 30:9), who teaches "If he was a tzaddik in his generation, how much more righteous would he have been in the generation of Moshe or Shmuel." With the influence of great spiritual and moral examples, Noach would surely have become even more outstanding.

Rabbi Yehudah takes a different approach. "In his generation he was a tzaddik, but if he had lived in the generation of Moshe or Shmuel, he would not have been a tzaddik." This cannot be taken at face value. The possibility of Noach turning away the good and proper teachings of Moshe Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi is remote. Undoubtedly, Noach would have become a talmid of Moshe Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi. He would certainly have become great from their example and teachings.

Being for Ourselves

To clarify Rabbi Yehudah's opinion, we turn to Rabbeinu Yonah's insightful explanation of Hillel's well-known statement in the first perek of Pirkei Ovos "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"

In his commentary on the Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yonah explains, "If I do not give myself rebuke to become more motivated about doing mitzvos, who will rebuke and motivate me? Motivation from others is good only temporarily. However, if a person inspires himself daily to think of ways to serve Hashem, he will not forget them. For this is what his own heart desires. This is the right course for a person to follow." Hillel is teaching us that we are responsible for ourselves and we cannot be dependent upon or satisfied with external motivation.

Constant growth is best accomplished by self-motivation. Our mitzvos will consequently always be fresh and new. They will not become dry and routine. Rabbeinu Yonah, based on Hillel's statement, learns that external encouragement has only a limited chance of success since it is superficial and thus does not endure. After an initial burst of inspiration, we slip back to what we were before. In the long run, we unfortunately will remain unchanged and perhaps, if we are not cautious, we can even slip downward. True and lasting accomplishments require self-motivation.

There are greater and lesser degrees of righteousness and the greater the tzaddik, the greater is his influence in the world. In comparison to great tzaddikim of other generations, it is possible that Noach's accomplishments would not have been so impressive. Noach was certainly righteous enough to be worthy of Hashem saving him with miracles. However, Noach did not have a universal, lasting effect on his own generation that could have spurred the people to repent and thereby nullify Hashem's decree of destruction by the Flood. In contrast, Moshe Rabbenu and Shmuel Hanovi each transformed his generation. Thus, we can understand how Noach, had he lived in their times, would not have been called a tzaddik.

However, according to the Rambam, Noach, had he lived in the generations of Moshe Rabbenu and Shmuel Hanovi, would have become even more righteous, for he surely would have benefited from the influence of tzaddikim greater than he. How, then, is Rashi's original reference to the fact that Noach "would not have being considered as anything" to be understood? He might not have been such a great tzaddik as Moshe Rabbenu or Shmuel Hanovi, but how are we to understand that Noach would be considered as nothing at all?

The gemora Brochos (32b) teaches us that four essential aspects of our lives "Torah, good deeds, prayer and derech eretz" all share something in common: they all "require strengthening." The gemora learns that Torah and good deeds require fortification from Yehoshua, for Hashem cautions Yehoshua (Yehoshua 1:7), "Just be very strong and courageous to be vigilant and to do in accordance with the entire Torah."

The gemora reveals to us that "strong" refers to Torah, and courageous "refers to good deeds."

Of all people who would need to be warned about this, we would think that Yehoshua would be the last. He was the foremost talmid of Moshe Rabbenu. From his youth, he always accompanied Moshe Rabbenu, constantly learning as much as possible. He was a tremendous masmid, completely engrossed in Torah -- never leaving the Tent of Study. He became the leader of his generation and led Klal Yisroel into Eretz Yisroel. Does a person of such greatness need to be cautioned to bolster his resolve and strengthen himself?

The Torah teaches us -- yes!

Rashi elaborates on what the gemora means by "require strengthening." Rashi writes "A person should reinforce them constantly, with all his might." With all our might, with all the strength we can muster, Rashi is teaching us that this must be done on a continual, unrelenting basis. We can never become lax. Our obligation is to ensure that our efforts in Torah, good deeds, prayer and derech eretz never weaken.

This is just what Rabbeinu Yonah taught us when he wrote, "if a person inspires himself daily . . ." Clearly, success in Torah and mitzvos is the result of constant and extreme self- motivated efforts -- always and with all one's might. If Yehoshua is the prime example of this lesson, none of us are exempt from it.

One in a Thousand

A glimpse into exactly how demanding this task is can be had from understanding Shlomo HaMelech's statement in Koheles (7:28), "One man in a thousand I have found, and a woman among all of them I have not found."

The Chassid Yaavetz, in the third perek of Pirkei Ovos, clarifies this statement. "It does not seem proper to understand this statement superficially." In Shlomo HaMelech's generation there were many righteous men and women. Chazal say that the posuk [Melochim I 8:66] says of them, that they were all [destined] for life in Olom Habo. "How then, could the King [Shlomo] declare about them something that is to their disgrace? Rather the point of his words is: Only one man in a thousand can be found who is able to change his basic nature and rule over his natural tendencies completely . . ."

In other words, most of our behavior, throughout our lives, is in keeping with our basic, inborn nature. Our actions and reflexes remain instinctive and unchanged, and therefore undeveloped. Unfortunately, the tremendous wellspring of siyata deShmaya that is available to us -- an almost infinite potential for change -- often remains untapped. To find someone who actually corrects their nature and controls his instinctive feelings, who even in the most difficult situations soars above the norm of the expected, is very rare, even among the tzaddikim.

To vanquish natural feelings, break habitual trains of thought, and effect a transformation of character, to accomplish more than what the G-d-given abilities allow all of us to do -- this, Shlomo HaMelech found in only a few exceptional and refined individuals.

Change is difficult, and it requires continual effort. This effort can be sustained only by unceasing resolve and unwavering determination. It is a task so difficult, that it was beyond the achievement of all but one in a thousand men who lived in the splendorous spiritual period of Shlomo HaMelech's reign. His kingdom was crowned with the Divine Presence, the Shechina, residing within the Beis Hamikdosh in Yerushalayim -- tremendous sources of spiritual inspiration! Nonetheless, according to Shlomo HaMelech's testimony, very few people successfully changed beyond their innate tendencies.

Changing one's nature is greatness. Most of us continue as we were created, simply doing what we feel we were cut-out to do. There is nothing remarkable about this. However, to correct and improve our nature, to go beyond the norm -- this is greatness. Noach was a tzaddik, but was his righteousness natural or was it self-produced?

The Torah (Bereishis 6:9) testifies that, "Noach walked with G-d." Rashi teaches us that here we find the essential difference between Noach and Avrohom Ovinu. Regarding Avrohom, Rashi writes that the Torah (Bereishis 24:40) says, "G-d, before Whom I walked." Rashi comments that, "Noach needed help to support him, but Avrohom would strengthen himself and walk in his righteousness on his own."

With Avrohom, the stimulus was internal. He motivated himself ever onward to serve Hashem, and this self-made inspiration carried him on to greatness. Of course, it all came from Hashem, for we have nothing on our own, but because Avrohom Ovinu had the desire and resolution to achieve, Hashem blessed him with success, greatness and honor. Avrohom Ovinu's sacrifice and righteousness changed the world. Hashem chose Avrohom Ovinu to father Klal Yisroel -- and Avrohom Ovinu did this despite the fact that he lived in generations that were morally corrupt and steeped in idol worship.

Noach also rose above the depraved influences of his generation. However, the Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Noach 5) tells us an important fact about Noach, and with this we can understand why Noach did not reach the level of success that Avrohom Ovinu did. The Midrash states openly that Noach, as great as he was, needed extra help from HaKodosh Boruch Hu. "Noach walked with G-d, for HaKodosh Boruch Hu supported him so that he would not sink into the behavior of the Generation of the Flood." Noach required support, in order to compensate for a lack, small as it was, in his drive and initiative.

Noach was saved from corruption because Hashem blessed Noach with extra siyata deShmaya. Noach, however, did not rise above his surroundings through his own efforts. Both Avrohom and Noach had the same potential for greatness, but they differed in the way they realized and expressed their spiritual perfection. Whereas Noach had to be pushed to reach his potential, Avrohom Ovinu was able to inspire and motivate himself. This was the crucial difference between these two great tzaddikim.

This contrast will become even more apparent after we analyze the meaning of the prophet Malachi's enigmatic proclamation about the future. For seemingly, Malachi's prophesy (Malachi 3:18) is stating the obvious, "Then you will return and will see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between the one who serves G-d and the one who does not serve Him." In the future when we return from our golus, the difference between the righteous and the wicked will become clear, as well as the difference between those who are servants of Hashem and those who are not.

Obviously, a tzaddik serves Hashem and a rosho does not. Why, then, does the Prophet further qualify the definitions? In fact, this is the question that Bar Hei Hei asked of Hillel, "[Is it not true that] the one who is a tzaddik is the one who serves G-d. The one who is a rosho is the one who does not serve Him?" (Chagigah 9b).

Actually there is a fine distinction between the two. Malachi declares that in the future, the very slight difference between those who are tzaddikim and those who serve Hashem will become apparent. Likewise, the difference between those people who are wicked and those people who do not serve Hashem will become obvious. Now, however, in the darkness of golus, our perception is clouded and distorted.

Hillel, the great Torah leader of his generation, understood the Novi's message. Hillel clarifies the prophecy and gives this remarkable answer: "Those who serve Him and those who do not are both completely righteous and [but] there is no comparing one who reviews his learning one hundred times to one who reviews his learning one-hundred-and-one times."

Bar Hei Hei responded to Hillel, "And because of one time, he is called, `one who does not serve Him'?"

Hillel answered, "Yes! Go and learn from market where they hire out donkeys. [A trip of] ten parsas costs a zuz and [a trip of] eleven parsas costs two zuz."

Remarkably, but fair enough, the final haul of one more parsa doubles the cost! The haul of the first ten parsa'os is not so difficult and therefore costs only one zuz. The haul of one single parsa is certainly not worth another zuz by itself. However, with eleven together, the effort that is needed after the first ten to haul that last eleventh parsa, doubles the price -- a whole zuz more. The eleventh parsa costs the same as the ten previous ones! This combined, final effort adds a whole new dimension to the strain required to complete the journey, and this new dimension is what doubles the price for that one last parsa.

Hillel's illustration helps us understand how one may be a called a tzaddik and still not be considered a servant of Hashem. Learning one hundred times is not enough. There has to be an element of extra effort.

The one-hundred-and-one times, the resolve and stamina to make that one extra time is, so to speak, as difficult as splitting the Red Sea! At that time, HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded the waters to split. The waters of the Yam Suf were obligated to change their nature. Similarly, to go beyond the norm, even an extraordinary norm of one hundred times and even only one more time, requires changing one's nature. The effort of that one extra time produces the transformation, which reflects the true greatness of "those who serve Hashem."

A true servant has only the welfare of the one he serves in mind. Either his personal concerns do not exist at all, or they become secondary. The first hundred times we learn something, we have many logical reasons for doing so. We want deeper understanding and clarity. We wish to engrave what we have learned in our memory and feel satisfaction at the achievement. But what is the justification for the one last time? Only servitude! Bearing the yoke! The yoke only comes when there is difficulty, not when things are easy. A person will not change his nature under sheltered and ideal conditions.

When things are easy for us, we all succeed. With this, we can now understand Noach and, why there are those among Chazal who view this tzaddik as not amounting to anything at all.

After the Flood

The Torah (Bereishis 9:20) testifies that Noach changed dramatically after the Flood, "And Noach, the man of the earth, began and he planted a vineyard." This then led to his drinking the wine and becoming drunk.

Rashi explains that Noach's act of planting a vineyard was a mistake and that by doing so he lost his spiritual greatness. The Torah criticizes Noach for his momentous choice of planting a vineyard first: "He made himself profane, for he should have engaged first in another kind of planting" (Rashi).

We must be careful not to misjudge Noach. Without doubt, he did not intend to become intoxicated. Nonetheless, the Torah says that with his act of planting a vineyard, Noach debased himself. He lost his dignity and he became plain and ordinary, definitely not the tzaddik that he once was. Accordingly, we must properly understand Noach's motivations for planting a vineyard -- drink its wine -- immediately after leaving the Ark.

First, we must know that wine has remarkable dual properties. Wine can induce euphoria and wine can bring misery. It can raise and it can lower. Wine is given to someone who is sad in order to cheer him up, as we are taught in Mishlei (31:6), " . . . and wine for the embittered soul."

Based on this posuk, the gemora Sanhedrin (70a) in the name of Rav Chanan, teaches us an important fact about wine: "Wine was created for the world only in order to give comfort to mourners."

The world that Noach once knew was gone. The loss of just one relative or friend is a tremendous painful, saddening experience. Noach had to be consoled over the loss of a whole world!

The scene that Noach saw is hard for us to imagine. After the Flood, all of what he knew was gone. Not a trace was left of what had existed before. The entire landscape had been destroyed. Noach faced a world that was dismal and barren, a deserted and void wasteland. Noach understood that wine had the power to lift his spirits. Wine would enable him to gather the courage to go on. Surely, we have to view Noach in the best possible light and say that Noach's intentions were honest and good. Surely we should not judge Noach superficially and say that he was looking for an excuse to get drunk.

If Noach sensed that he was in danger of slipping into depression over the bleak and empty world awaiting him, then there certainly was enough justification to warrant planting a vineyard. Wine could definitely help Noach to bolster his spirits. Nevertheless, the Torah says that because of this choice Noach became ordinary. Noach became "a man of the earth." He lost his dignity and his status of being righteous. Why?

When Noach emerged from the Ark, his first act was to build an altar and offer korbonos to HaKodosh Boruch Hu. This was an act of thanksgiving. It was an act that any sensible person who was saved from death would be expected to do, for it is a basic human obligation to express gratitude, especially for life.

Next however, came the task of rebuilding the world. This was now a choice of what and how to build. Noach decided to plant the vineyard. This was his first step in the task which with Hashem had entrusted him: to build the new world. Naturally enough, but unfortunately so, Noach's choice was influenced by the darkness and void of his surroundings. That is why he fell and became ordinary, a "man of the earth."

This is what the Rambam (Hilchos Dei'os 6:1) taught us about our nature to be influenced by our surroundings. However, a tzaddik is expected to behave differently. A tzaddik must rise above this basic, inherently frail human tendency.

After the Flood, Noach was on his own. He was about to rebuild the world. This was his real test. It was a sensible choice to plant the vineyard. Noach could benefit from the help that the wine could give him. However, his first act of rebuilding the world was crucial, for everything to follow would stem from his first act of creation.

Noach was a tzaddik. Hashem chose to save Noach and to have him rebuild the world. In laying the cornerstone for the fresh new world, Noach's choice should have been entirely for the benefit of the world he was about to create. His first initial act of rebuilding should have been completely selfless and pure. As a tzaddik, Noach should have put his personal concerns aside and become, as the prophet Malachi declared, ". . . one who serves G-d."

The influences of our surroundings bear heavily on our ability to choose the right path. Even if we start out on the right path, we must always be vigilant to make the right decisions at each step of the way. Personal concerns are powerful motivations for our thoughts and actions, but true tzaddikim rise above them in order to serve Hashem with perfection.

In all of human experience, only Noach was faced with a bleak and empty world. Odom Horishon was placed in Gan Eden -- a world complete to perfection. Odom was created last, after the world was custom-made for him. Noach's test, in contrast, was unbelievable. He had to fill a void. Therefore, about Noach we see both praise and disgrace. Noach is considered by some of Chazal as nothing at all, because he remained as he was and did not change. Lacking sufficient self-motivation, he followed his nature and did not grow and rise above and beyond his natural potential. In the end he fell.

Of course Noach reached greatness, but when he was faced with a dark and empty world, his spirits were affected by the world he faced. He understood correctly that wine could help him. He needed the support wine could give him to strengthen himself. Those moments, however, were the crucial time to prove himself. He was expected to succeed and lift himself out of his dilemma on his own and to overcome his challenge. His moment of choice came when he was caught between the depraved world from which he was saved and a desolate but pure world that demanded a daunting task of rebuilding.

In his generation he was a tzaddik, but after the generation had been destroyed and he was on his own, he became base and of the earth. He needed to be a tzaddik also in the new generation -- the generation that he would lead, the generation that he could have influenced and led to righteousness. That was what Hashem expected of him. That was his test, his mission to fulfill.

One in a thousand can change himself. True it is hard, but that is the purpose of our life.

Moshe Rabbenu and Noach

Chazal (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas Noach 61) point out the tremendous contrast between Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu. "Moshe is more beloved [by Hashem] than Noach." Noach started out as a tzaddik and then fell. He disgraced himself and became like the earth. The Yalkut proves this from the pesukim: "Noach is called (Bereishis 6:9) -- [first] a righteous man [and later] (Bereishis 9:20) -- a man of the earth. However, Moshe is called (Shemos 2:19) -- [first] an Egyptian [and later] (Devorim 33:1) -- a man of G-d."

Unlike Noach, Moshe Rabbenu grew in stature and greatness; at first he was a "Egyptian," and then he elevated himself and reached the highest perfection, becoming "a man of G-d." Moshe was never content with himself. He always pushed himself further and further, perfecting himself to serve Hashem. He constantly motivated himself to reach greater heights so as to serve Hashem better and better.

This is how we too must serve Hashem. This will bring steady growth that will culminate in genuine perfection. In this way, we can become beloved to Hashem and we will be firmly attached to Hashem in all situations.

Hashem Himself calls Moshe Rabbenu (Bamidbar 12:7), "Moshe My servant." That is greatness; a transformation beyond one's nature. A true servant has only the master's benefit in mind; he has no personal concerns whatsoever.

The Yalkut Shimoni (Parshas Bereishis 23) relates that after Odom Horishon gave names to the animals, beasts and birds, Hashem asked him about himself, "And what is your name?" He answered, "It is fitting that I be called Odom because I was created from the earth." Our beginning, our original condition is from the earth but we are expected to move ever so steadily upward toward G-d.

We must inspire and motivate ourselves to aspire to, and therefore to grow towards, the highest perfection, for this is our purpose. If not, we will remain "from the earth," unchanged and, Heaven forbid, considered as nothing at all. Our mission in life will remain unfulfilled.

Thus, we learn an important lesson from Noach, for the Torah is teaching us this to help and to guide us. If we instill within ourselves an honest desire for perfection, Hashem will help every one of us to succeed in becoming both tzaddikim and true servants of HaKodosh Boruch Hu.

This article has been specially prepared for Yated Ne'eman, based closely on the chapter about parshas Noach from the first volume of the newly published Nesivos Chaim: The Torah Way of Life, a series on the parshas of the week by HaGaon HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Ore, Jerusalem. The inaugural volume on Sefer Bereishis, published by Jerusalem Publications and distributed by Feldheim, is now available worldwide. Other volumes will follow, be"H.

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