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Parshat Noach (5771)

The Torah is a book of lessons in life. In fact the word "Torah" means "teaching"; every story, idea, word and even letter contains hidden treasures of practical meaning. But it's not easy to figure out what exactly this week's story about the flood is teaching us when it tells us that G-d drowned all the animals together with the world's population (7:21).

It can't be teaching us that G-d not only exists but actually punishes those who disobey Him. Because if that is the lesson then why did G-d drown all the animals (Except those animals that made it into the Ark)? Animals don't have commandments! There must be some other lesson here.

To understand this I want to bring three short stories about animals.

The first is about lions.

Over 2,500 years ago in Babylon a "Tzadik" (very holy Jew) called Daniel had so many enemies in high places that they convinced the King of Babylon to throw him into a pit of starve-crazed lions. The pit was sealed, he remained there for an entire night, and when it was opened in the morning there he was still there…. miraculously untouched.

The king had Daniel lifted from the pit and, to disprove the theory that perhaps the lions simply were not hungry, he ordered that those ministers who caused Daniel to be thrown there in the first place be thrown there instead. At which point they were totally devoured by the ravished beasts before their bones hit the ground thus disproving any doubts as to Daniel's miraculous salvation. (Daniel chapt. 6)

Interestingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, over 2,000 years later in the 24th chapter of his masterpiece "The Tanya", says that it really was NOT a miracle in the normal sense of the word!

Animals, he says, are NATURALLY afraid of anyone who bears the spiritual form of "man" i.e. Tzadikim. (See Rashi on Gen. 9:2; animals fear man)

So Daniel, because he was devoted to the Creator, was saved. But his enemies were not, and so they were devoured.

Lesson: Animals can be affected for good or the opposite by the people around them.

The second story is about an ox.

Some 1,800 years ago in Israel lived a Jew who, early one Friday afternoon, sold his ox to his gentile neighbor.

The ox was young, strong and healthy, so the Jew was surprised when early the next afternoon as he was sitting with his family enjoying his Shabbat meal, he heard an irate pounding on his door and when he opened it there stood his neighbor angrily demanding his money back.

"What happened?" asked the Jew.

"What happened!?" replied his fuming neighbor, "NOTHING HAPPENED! That's what happened! The ox refuses to work! He just sits in the barn and won't budge. I tried coaxing, prodding, yelling, beating, kicking… take him back!! You cheated me!!"

The Jew smiled, told the gentile not to worry, excused himself from his family, stood up from his meal, accompanied his neighbor to the barn where the ox was laying and when he saw that the beast really wouldn't move, bent down and said into its ear:

"Ox! Ox! Listen! You are no longer my property. True, all the time you were mine it was forbidden for you to work on Shabbat, but I sold you! Now you aren't mine any more, you belong to this non-Jew, and you must do what he says."

Before their eyes the ox dutifully rose and plodded over to the plow indicating he was ready to be harnessed.

When the neighbor saw this he began to think. "This ox does what it says in the Torah and I don't?! An ox that has no power of speech or mind of its own…. recognizes its creator and I, who was created in G-d's image, don't recognize my own Creator?!"

It wasn't long before he converted to Judaism and devoted his life to learning Torah. His name became Rabbi Yochanan ben Torta ("Tor" means "ox") (Psikta Rabasi 56b-57a)

The final story is about a donkey.

Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, a son-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai (The author of the Zohar), was a very holy man that was devoted totally to the service of G-d (also about 1,800 years ago).

The Talmud (Chulin 7a) tells us that once his donkey was stolen. This grieved him as he was not a man of means. To his great happiness several days later the thieves themselves shamefacedly returned the emaciated but living animal to Rabbi Pinchas in person.

It seems that the entire time the donkey was with them it refused to eat. They gave it the best grains possible, but he would just not open his mouth. Finally when the poor thing got so thin and weak that they were afraid that it would die and smell up their hiding place - they had no choice but to return it. But, knowing the forgiving attitude of the Rabbi and being very curious as to why the animal refused to eat the quality grain they gave him, they decided to ask the Rabbi in person.

"All of you are Jewish, right?" Rabbi Pinchas asked the thieves.

"Yes" they replied" In fact, not only are we Jewish… we once learned in your school when we were children."

"Then that explains it," he continued. "You probably fed him grain that had not been tithed according to Torah law. Right?" (Produce cannot be eaten without first separating off small percentages of it called "Truma and Maaser" to be given to the Priests and Levites). "If you are Jewish you had an obligation from the Torah to tithe it. That's why he didn't eat!

"Yes, Rabbi" they replied. "We know that! We might be thieves, but we aren't ignoramuses. We know it's forbidden to eat untithed produce and we would never eat such produce ourselves. But you taught us that it's permissible to give untithed grains to one's animals. Only people are forbidden to eat it."

"Yes" answered the Rabbi "That is true. But my donkey is very strict on himself."

From this comes the later saying of the Talmud:

"If the preceding generations were like angels, then we are men. But if they were men, then we are like donkeys. And not even the level of the donkey of Rav Pinchas ben Yair."

The common factor of all these stories is that animals can be affected to their very essence by people.

And that is the reason that the animals were wiped out in the flood.

The world was put into the hands of man.

The generation of the flood was so bad, that it actually affected the entire world for bad; even the animals. Animals have no free will; they cannot change themselves, and they cannot choose to serve G-d.

But how man acts does permanently affect them to the point that the Torah tells us that "All flesh has perverted their ways." (6:12). So when man was destroyed, so were they!

That is why Moshiach will be a man; because the fate of the world was given to man.

The job of Moshiach however will be to change the nature of all mankind; that they all should be like the above-mentioned Tzadikim, do the will of the Creator and not live selfishly as did the generation of the flood. (We pray for this thrice daily in the second paragraph of the Alenu prayer; "All the evil people will turn to G-d" etc.)

This is also why the prophet Isaiah (11:6) says that at the time of Moshiach the "Wolf will lie with the lamb" etc. Not that it is important to us what wolves will do, but to tell us that our good actions will affect the world, to the point that even the animals of prey will desire peace!

In fact this already happened……. in Noah's ark! Because the 'holiness' of the ark was akin to that of the 'Holy Temple" (a bit of that 'shines' in each Succa on the holiday of Succot as well) the animals lived in total harmony for one full year.

So we see that it is not bombs or philosophies or even religions that will transform the evil (as the Rambam points out in Laws of Kings Chapt. 12 that the transformed wolves refer to the enemies, spiritual and physical, of the Jewish people) but rather the good deeds, words, and even thoughts that we do now, because it is all in our hands to change the world, live according to the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and bring…

Moshiach NOW!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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