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 (5762)
The Torah is a book of lessons. In fact the word "Torah" means "teaching", but this week's Torah story about the flood seems to pose a big question:
The obvious lesson that the Torah is teaching us here, is that G-d rewards whoever fulfills, and punishes whoever disregards His commandments (613 for the Jews and seven for the rest of the world).
So why did G-d drown all the animals? (Except the ones which Noach took into his Ark)
What can we learn from that? Animals don't have commandments!
To understand this I want to bring three short stories about animals.
The first story is about lions.
Over 2,500 years ago in Babylon a "Tzadik" (very holy man) called Daniel was thrown into a pit of hungry lions by the king of Babylon. The pit was sealed, he remained there for an entire night, and when it was opened in the morning there he was miraculously untouched.
When Daniel's enemies suggested that perhaps the lions were simply not hungry and it was no miracle at all, the wise king disproved their theory, by the simple method of throwing them into the same pit and observing them being totally devoured by the ravished beasts.
Interestingly enough Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, over 2,000 years later in his masterpiece "The Tanya", says that it really was NOT a miracle!
Animals, he says, are NATURALLY afraid of anyone who bears the spiritual form of "man" i.e. Tzadikim.
Daniel, because he was devoted to the Creator, was such a person. But his enemies were not, and so they were devoured.
Lesson: Animals are changed by the people around them.
The second story is about an ox.
Once there was a Jew, who, 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, and he heard an irate pounding on his door. Upon opening it he saw 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."
The Jew 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, he bent down and said into its ear:
"Ox! Listen! You are no longer my property. All the time you were mine it was forbidden for you to work on Shabbat, but 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 walked 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?!"
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") and he is mentioned in the Talmud.
Lesson: Animals are changed by people even when the people are not around them.
The final story is about Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair's donkey about 1, 800 years ago.
Rabbi Pinchas, a father-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai (The author of the Zohar), was a very holy man, and devoted totally to the service of G-d.
The Talmud tells us that once his donkey was stolen, and it was returned several days later by the thieves themselves.
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 thinner and weaker and they were afraid that it would die and smell up their hiding place, they had no choice but to return it.
"You are Jewish, right?" Rabbi Pinchas asked the thieves.
"Not only are we Jewish" they replied "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 to tithe it.
"Yes," they replied. "We know that! We might be thieves, we aren't ignoramuses Rabbi. 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 compared to angels, then we are men. But if they were men, then we are like donkeys. But not 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 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, because THE WORLD WAS PUT INTO THE HANDS OF MAN.
That is why Moshiach will be a man. And why his job will be to change the nature of all mankind; that they all should be more like the above-mentioned Tzadikim, and less like the generation of the flood. (As we say in detail thrice daily in the second paragraph of the Alenu prayer "All the evil will turn to HaShem" 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; something like it was in Noah's ark.
So we see that in the long run, it is not bombs or weapons that will transform the evil (as the Rambam points out in Laws of Kings Chapt. 12 that the transformed wolves refer to the enemies of the Jewish people) but rather our good deeds, words, and even thoughts that we do now, because it is all in our hands to change the world and bring…
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.