This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Noach (5768)
This week we learn the strange story of how G-d destroyed the world with a flood just because His creations disappointed Him.
Although this may seem to be a bit severe, with a bit of thought we can see that it really is very understandable.
After all, G-d creates everything, and according to Judaism He creates it all constantly… every instant anew from nothing.
It's all His… so He can do with it what He wants.
But what is not clear is what this story is doing in the Torah; the Jewish Bible and why an entire chapter is devoted to it.
First of all, the Torah is a practical teaching of life and the flood is not really relevant; G-d swore He would never do it again.
Secondly, Noach was not a Jew. The first Jew was Abraham who lived years after Noach. (Adam, the first man, was the prototype of a Jew… which is why he is buried in Chevron with Abraham Isaac and Jacob. So it's understood why he has a place in the Torah).
But on the other hand why wasn't Noach the first Jew? The Torah even calls him a Tzadik (completely righteous man) and says that he found favor in G-d's eyes (6:8) so why not begin Judaism with him?
To understand this here is a story I read recently in Bait Moshiach Magazine.
Rabbi Shabtai Slavtitzki is the Rebbe's Shilach in Antwerp Belgium.
He has a large congregation and is well respected by even non-religious Jews.
One Sunday he received a phone call from an older fellow, a successful diamond merchant, who said he had to talk to him urgently.
Rabbi Slavtitzki, himself a very busy man, stopped everything and told the man to come over immediately.
A half-hour later he entered the Rabbi's office with a wild look on his sweating face as though he was about to burst out in tears. He was a heavy-set fellow, perhaps in his sixties, dressed in an expensive suit with an open collar and a new, black yarmulke on his head.
He asked if he could close the door, closed it, sat down, took out a handkerchief, wiped his forehead and began.
"Rabbi, about three months ago I decided to get more serious about Judaism and begin doing what it says in the Torah. Perhaps it was a bit too much to bite off at once but I took on myself Tefillin, eating kosher and keeping the Shabbat.
"Putting on Tefillin every morning wasn't that difficult, I had done it as a young man and it only took a few minutes of my time each day. Not only that but I actually enjoy putting them on and talking with HaShem every morning.
"And keeping kosher also was also no major problem … I could afford it and I never really enjoyed not-kosher food anyway.
"But Shabbat was not so easy. First of all it was an entire day. Second, keeping the store closed was expensive. But the worst thing is I love working and I don't enjoy resting. So it wasn't easy.
"But I did it… and even started getting used to it. You know, there is a pride to being Jewish and.. well… it's just good to do the right thing. So for three months I kept Shabbos.
"But then, yesterday it happened. I was walking home in the morning from the Synagogue and I happened to pass by the street where my store is and I see the street is full of people… packed!!
"Long lines of important-looking people were standing in front of all the stores…. except for mine and suddenly I remembered! It was a special international gem day in Antwerp and all the diamond dealers, the biggest and the richest from the entire world came here to buy. It happens every year and this year it was yesterday… Shabbat!!
"But I said to myself… 'Shabbat is Shabbat… I'm not opening the store and that's it!!' And I started walking home. It would have worked but suddenly I heard someone yelling my name! It was the owner of the store next to mine. What he was doing in the street I don't know but he was there and he came running up yelling like a madman. 'What happened?' he asks me, 'Are you feeling all right? Did something happen in your family? Where are you going?!!" he says "Its diamond day! Look at those lines!!"
"I told him that, thank G-d, everything was fine and started walking but he wouldn't let me go.
'Fine? Every thing is fine!? Are you crazy or something! Today is Gem Day! Look!! Look!! You can make more today than in a month! Where are you going??!"
I tried to explain to him that I'm a Jew and today is Shabbat and… you know what he said? He said, 'Listen, give all the other Shabbats to G-d. This one is for YOU!!'
"I told him I had to go. Rushed home and tried to put the whole thing out of my mind. But I couldn't. I wanted to work! I wanted to sell gems! That's what I love doing, what I was brought up doing!! I took the Kiddush cup in my hand but I couldn't think straight.
"So I told my wife and guests that I didn't feel good, that I had a headache. I went to my room, took a bottle of vodka, drank five cups until I was so drunk I couldn't stand up and then flopped unconscious on my bed and slept for the entire Shabbat."
Rabbi Slavtitski listened patiently but didn't understand what the man wanted.
"I understand" he said, "But what can I do? What would you like me to do?"
"Rabbi," he said almost crying "I want to know what sort of repentance I have to make for such a terrible Shabbat! Can I give charity? Or maybe I should fast? Or maybe something else? Rabbi, what does it say in the books? "
Rabbi Slavtitski saw the simple sincerity of this Jew and couldn't hold himself back. His eyes filled with tears and he began to weep silently not being able to believe his ears, suddenly tears were running down his cheeks.
But when the man saw this he too began to weep. His eyes opened in horror and, shaking his head in disbelief said, "Rabbi, is it so bad? Is there no forgiveness for my sin? Is there nothing I can do?"
"You don't understand" The Rabbi replied. "Exactly the opposite!
"You know what I did yesterday for Shabbat? I sat at my Shabbat table with my family and guests, sang Shabbat songs, said words of Torah talked to my children and really enjoyed myself. I did everything that G-d wants a Jew to do.
"But you made a sacrifice! You sacrificed your money and your pleasure, you changed your nature. Whose Shabbat do you think is more pleasing to G-d; yours or mine? Yours for sure!!"
This answers our question.
Noach did everything that G-d wanted. He didn't sin, he built an ark, he invited all the animals in just as G-d said.
But he didn't sacrifice anything… he didn't really change himself.
He was naturally a righteous man. He didn't enjoy sinning or going against G-d's will, even if it meant being separated from the crowd. Something like the Rabbi in our story.
That's why he wasn't the first Jew.
Judaism isn't based on miracle workers, charismatic leaders, great warriors or spiritual gurus who save themselves and those who join them as Noach did.
These are basically following human nature.
(Even though they aren't really to be compared; the Torah tells us that the Creator really did speak to Noach, while the other religions neither make nor could verify such a claim regarding their founders).
Rather Judaism is based on being willing to sacrifice everything, including heaven, in order to 'please' the Creator of the universe; for the truth.
That was Abraham.
And that is the purpose of Moshiach. Moshiach will bring mankind to the awareness and service of the Creator through the Noahide Commandments (see http://ohrtmimim.org/Torah_Default.asp?id=939)
and the Jews to the observance of all the Torah.
Then, unlike our story, gems and riches will be in plenty.
Indeed the world will be filled with health, peace and knowledge and all mankind will rejoice.
It's up to us to do just one more good deed in order to bring…
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