Torah thought forFriday 5 Cheshvan 5784 October 20 2023

Parashat Noah

ההלכה מוקדשת לעלוי נשמת
כל הנרצחים בפרעות שביצעו צוררי נפשינו
ארץ אל תכסה דמם, וכן לרפואת הפצועים, ולזכות השבויים האומללים, ולהצלחת חיילי ישראל בכל מקום שהם, ה' יתברך יעמוד לימין צדקם, וימגר את כל אויבינו, לא יותיר בהם נשמה, המה יאבדו ואנו נעמוד לעד לעולם עד ביאת משיח צדקינו במהרה בימינו אמן.

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

Keeping the Torah in all Environments

This Shabbat we read, “These are the chronicles of Noach, Noach was a righteous man, faultless in his generation, Noach walked with Hashem” (Bereishit 6:9).

Rashi HaKadosh z”l quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 108a) that there are those who explain this by way of a compliment and those who explain it by way of criticism. Rabbi Yochanan explained it by way of criticism he was righteous “in his generation”, specifically in his generation he was righteous, but wouldn’t have been considered so in other generations. So, if for example, he had lived at a time where there were other righteous people, he wouldn’t have been considered special. Resh Lakish on the other hand explained it by way of praise. If already in such a wicked generation he was righteous, then all the more so had he lived at a time when he would have been around other righteous people.

This appears startling, since according to all opinions he was righteous in his generation, so why should anyone wish to denigrate Noach as what would be if he lived amongst other righteous people? We have a principle that a judge only has to consider the facts of what is in front of him [Bava Batra 131a], and since we see that in this current generation he was righteous, we should only explain this in a praiseworthy manner and why try and speculate what would be in other generations!

This may be explained as follows. Our sages taught us here an important principle. The measure of a righteous person isn’t calibrated simply by the situation they find themself at that time and place, but rather based on the principles of the Torah - of halacha and mussar - as given at Sinai, without being influenced by the particular environment or peer pressure at any given time.

Sometimes a person knows that they only fulfil the mitzvot in a partial manner, or they only fulfil certain mitzvot that find favour in their eyes, or those they find easy, or from their personal perspective, or from their understanding of things, and as such, they know that they are incomplete. However, they console themself that this is due to the people that they live with now, be they family members or work colleagues. And so relative to them, they are a big tzaddik, since the other people keep nothing, and as such what they observe is perceived as considerable.

It wouldn’t be the first time, for even people who are considered G-d-fearing, that when they are at home and in their comfort zone, that they display fear of Hashem and are meticulous in observing that which is less severe, just like they observe the severest aspects of the Torah. However, when they arrive in a different environment, which is less spiritual, less strong, for example when they go on an outing, are at work, or travelling, they allow themselves to descend spiritually, albeit temporarily. This is because relative to the people around them they are still considered completely righteous.

It is this that [some of the] the sages came to denigrate and explained in a critical way and considered Noach a righteous person only relative to his generation, at that time, with those people in which he found himself, but not truly from an objective stance.

And so, it is incumbent upon each of us when fulfilling the 613 mitzvot, according to the Shulchan Aruch, the less severe like the most severe halachot, at all times, in all circumstances and places, and not simply relative to those around us. Indeed, from such a perspective our sages will only explain our actions in a praiseworthy way.

Shabbat Shalom!