(Hat tip BA)
Protecting Ourselves from the Destruction and Confusion of Our Times
Shiur on Parashas Noach by Adina Becker (based on the Nesivos Shalom)
During the last week, I was in the vicinity of two terrorist attacks, and experienced first-hand the gut-wrenching fear for my life, for my future, for my family. The fear of physical danger was accompanied by a feeling of confusion, as if the purpose of the world suddenly became cloudy and almost impeded my ability to function. I read the statements of the gedolim in Israel, exhorting us to increase Torah study and acts of chesed, and to take Shabbos in earlier. Nevertheless the feeling of confusion remained.
When preparing a shiur on Parshas Noach, I came across the Rashi that interprets the word mabul (flood) as either flood, destruction or confusion (bilbul).” Most of us in Israel have been living in a cauldron of destruction and confusion, and of course our friends and relatives overseas feel it as well.
Hashem saw fit to include the Noach and the Mabul narrative in great detail in the Torah, particularly regarding the building of the teivah (ark). This inclusion is not arbitrary. According to the Nesivos Sholom, the teivah was both a means of surviving the deluge and a tikkun (rectification) of the cause of the destruction, which would stop it spreading and enable future rebuilding. The concept of teivas Noach is more relevant than ever, particularly in these times.
The Nesivos Sholom (Rav Sholom Noach Berezowsky, zt”l, the previous Slonimer Rebbe) elucidates three aspects of teivas Noach as applied both to the individual and the world.
- Noach = Shabbos
According to the Zohar, Noach parallels or hints at the Shabbos. How are we to understand this? Firstly there is a clear connection between the name Noach, and the fundamental concept of “menuchah – resting” from productive work on Shabbos (Vayanach bayom hashevii).
Further, Noach’s essential nature parallels the idea of Shabbos. Chazal compares Noach’s tzidkus with that of Avraham Avinu. While Noach didn’t exhibit the drive to exceed his potential like Avraham Avinu and influence positively those around him, Noach stood firm whilst living in three highly corrupted generations and did not become sullied.
In fact the Midrash on Tehillim interprets the first few pesukim in Sefer Tehillim as referring to Noach.
“Ashrei ha’ish asher lo halach be’atzat reshaim -happy is the man who has not walked in the ways of the wicked)” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by dor Enosh (idolatrous generation of Enosh).
“Ubederech chataim lo amad – nor stood in the ways of the sinners” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by the dor hamabul (generation of the flood).
“Ubemoshav leitzim lo yashav – nor sat in the seat of the scornful” – this refers to Noach not being negatively influenced by the dor haflagah (generation of the dispersed builders of the tower of Bavel).
Noach represents stability, standing firm, not being corrupted by outside influences. He was a constant. The Zohar parallels Noach with Shabbos that is a constant in the world, a gift of kedushah fixed in time that comes every week and is incorruptible and accessible no matter what is going on around it.
Shabbos, according to the Nesivos Sholom, can be understood as a “teivah” that Hashem put into the world to both protect us from danger and reconnect us to Hashem in times of great spiritual confusion.
How does Shabbos protect and reconnect? As Chazal tell us (Gemara Shabbos daf 118), “Whoever keeps Shabbos properly, even if he worshipped idols like in Enosh’s generation, he will be forgiven.” This is astounding! The power of Shabbos is so great that it protects Jews even in the worst of times. As we sing in the Shabbos zemiros, “Ki eshmera Shabbos kel yishmeraini – since I keep (preserve) the Shabbos Hashem will watch over (preserve) me.” Or to paraphrase: more than the Jews have kept Shabbos, Shabbos has kept the Jews!
How does Shabbos reconnect us? According to Chazal, the root of the degenerate behavior of dor hamabul (that ultimately led to their destruction) which is also the root of all aveiros is bilbul hadaas – confused/scattered/upside down thinking. Since their thinking, and subsequently their actions was so upside down and inside out, the midah keneged midah consequence was that the whole world was turned upside down. If bilbul hadaas is the root of all aveiros, then the tikkun to stop destruction, reconnect to Hashem and rebuild the world is the opposite: yishuv hadaas – clarity of thinking and peace of mind.
How can one find yishuv hadaas while terrorist attacks and pernicious spiritual influences abound? If we think about the words we use to mekadesh the Shabbos on Friday night, we will have a glimpse of the answer. “Vayechulu Hashamayim vehaaretz vechol tzeva’am – and the Heavens and the earth were completed and all of their host.” According to the Midrash Rabba, while Hashem was still in the midst of creating, there was still the concept of tohu vavohu (pre-creation chaos and emptiness), and only after everything was completed and tohu vavohu erased, could the world actually be defined as “Shamayim veHaaretz”.
In other words, the point in time where the purpose of creation and its Creator became clear was on Shabbos. Shabbos, according to the Nesivos Sholom, is the root of the ultimate yishuv hadaas where we disconnect from all the outside influences and worries that cause bilbul hadaas and we can reconnect to the Creator and see clearly the purpose of Creation. To understand the power of this yishuv hadaas, ask any Jewish mother the difference in her composure two minutes before candlelighting and one minute after! Shabbos has arrived, and the stressful mundane matters of a moment ago are now irrelevant.
Teivas Noach had three levels: the upper level for people, the middle level for animals and the bottom level for waste matter. In Teivas Hashabbos, this is represented by three spiritual floors that we can gain access to, depending on our level of emunah. The bottom level is represented by keeping a halachic Shabbos or refraining from doing melachos.
The middle floor is for those for whom the Shabbos permeates their speech – “Let your speech on Shabbos be different to your speech during the week” (Gemara Shabbos 113). This could be manifest by not talking lashon hara, mundane matters or politics on Shabbos at the Shabbos table, or by being careful to compliment and not criticize those around us. In previous generations in the Diaspora, many families maintained the custom of only conversing in lashon hakodesh or Yiddish on Shabbos and not the language of the country in which they resided.
The upper level of Teivas Hashabbos is for those for whom Shabbos permeates their thoughts, which will lead to a true feeling of the pleasantness and sweetness of Shabbos. According to the Nesivos Sholom, the more we have clarity of emunah, the more accessible this level becomes to us. The three levels of Shabbos are also manifest in the three levels of the soul, the nefesh, ruach and neshamah. As we sing in Rav Aharon of Karlin’s Kah Echsof, “Hashabbos noam haneshamos vehashvii oneg haruchos veden hanefashos.”
- Torah = Teivas Noach
Like the Shabbos, the Torah also functions as a teivas Noach. Chazal tell us “barasi yetzer hara barasi torah tavlin – I created the yetzer hara and I created the Torah as the antidote for it” (Gemara Kiddushin daf 30). This means that the merit of learning and keeping the Torah protects from descending to the level of the dor hamabul. The Nesivos Sholom parallels the three floors in the teivah to three stages in a person’s life: youth, middle age and old age. Each stage has different nisyonos, distractions and obligations that require continuous mental adjustment. The Torah is a constant, a slice of kedushah and taharah that is incorruptible. When a person sets a fixed time for learning Torah, he is actually creating a safe place for kedushah to enter and ensure he doesn’t fall prey to impure influences. The only advice for surviving the different stages in life is to ensure one has a connection to Torah.
According to Chazal, Hashem set a condition for creating the world, that the Jewish people would keep the Torah. If not, He would return it to the state of tohu vavohu. Thus Torah also represents the power of maintaining the clarity of purpose of the world, the yishuv hadaas, and the tikkun for the tohu vavohu-like bilbul hadaas that causes physical destruction and spiritual confusion.
- Chesed = Teivas Noach
There was no shortage of options for the means of saving Noach, his family and the animals from the flood. Chazal tell us that Eretz Yisrael wasn’t destroyed in the flood. Hashem could have sent the Noach family and the animals to create the first biblical zoo in Yerushalayim and wait out the deluge in comfort. Instead he threw together the people and the animals in an enclosed space for a year. Noach’s family even had to share the upper floor with the birds. Just as there was no private space, there was also no private time. The family spent the entire time feeding and looking after the animals.
Why was keeping out of harm’s way not enough? As aforementioned, the teivah functioned as a tikkun to stop the spread of destruction and enable rebuilding. While the dor hamabul were idolatrous, adulterous and murderous, the point of no return occurred when the earth was full of robbery. In most criminal systems, robbery would not require a life sentence or a maximum security prison. Yet we learn out from Parshas Noach that if everyone is a thief, society cannot continue. A thieving society is no longer a society as the worldview of that society is totally self-centered. Each person is only for themselves, their needs, their desires. There is no room for others. Ultimately this leads to chaos and destruction.
Noach’s family needed to rebuild the world on different lines, a world of giving. Thus they were encapsulated in a crucible of achdus and chesed for 12 months, where they had to share space, accept everyone and live with them with all their foibles and give to others constantly. Avraham Avinu once asked Shem the son of Noach how they merited to survive the flood. The very question implies that even Noach’s tzidkus did not guarantee survival. In times of great destruction and hester panim, as we all know, the righteous are destroyed along with the wicked.
Shem answers Avraham Avinu: “We were worthy to survive by merit of constantly being involved in chesed!” Thus chesed not only protects from great destruction, it is also the ultimate tikkun to rebuild the world.
Through increasing Torah study, acts of chesed and shemiras Shabbos, we are building our own teivos to protect us from danger and confusion, and hopefully enable the ultimate tikkun of Moshiach to come. Bimheira beyameinu Amen.