This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Noach (5765)
This week we read of a very strange story: about 4,000 years ago almost everyone in the world was sinning so G-d destroyed them with a flood.
But within this story there are also a few strange things.
One is that the Torah tells us that the flood came from two directions; G-d "broke the wellsprings of the great depths and the windows of heaven opened" (7:11). Why did G-d have to open the wellsprings from below? Wasn't the rain from above enough?
Another is; we see that Noach sent forth a raven then two doves to see if the land dried up. This was strange because 1) He was not commanded to do so and 2) He did not leave the ark until G-d told him to anyway. So why did he send birds?
To understand this here is a story I heard a few years ago from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Gurevitz about his brother; Shmuel who is the Lubavitcher Rebbe's representative in Leon France
One year Rabbi Shmuel Gurevitz made a large Chassidic gathering ('Farbringin') for over a hundred people in his Chabad House in Leon. Well into the evening, after everyone had made a few L'chiams, sang a few songs and were in good spirits, he called for silence and told the following story.
"About ten years ago a handsome young man from our area began coming to our Chabad House and said he was interested in getting back to his Jewish roots. He began putting on Tefillin and coming to classes and was on his way to becoming completely observant.
"One day, after the morning prayers, he announced joyously that he was in love with and engaged to be married to a beautiful girl from a very influential family in Leon. Everyone congratulated him but I suspected that maybe it wasn't so simple and, sure enough, when I asked him if the girl was Jewish he replied …… that she wasn't.
"I tried to explain to him that the Torah forbids such a thing, his children wouldn't be Jewish, he would be breaking the chain of Judaism etc. but it didn't help. He answered that the Torah can't subtract from his personal life.
"Then suddenly I had an idea. I asked him 'How can you get married without the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe? You have to go visit or at least write the Rebbe first.' And it worked!
'He not only agreed to travel to the Rebbe and ask his permission he even insisted that I come along.
"Early the next morning he bought the tickets and that night we flew to New York carrying all sorts of letters and notes that other people gave him to take to the Rebbe as well.
"When we arrived at the Rebbe's headquarters he deposited the letters in the office of the Rebbe's secretaries… except for one! His letter, he declared aloud, he would hand to the Rebbe personally when he came out of his room for one of the prayers.
(Despite the fact that this was never done, but he couldn't be stopped).
"What did he write In his letter to the Rebbe? He wrote two things. First, that he does not understand how the Torah has the right to enter his personal life; the Torah is there to benefit him not the other way around, and therefore he wants the Rebbe's blessing to marry the girl he loves although she is a gentile.
"Secondly he wrote that if the Rebbe does not want to bless him at least it shouldn't affect the blessings to the other people whose letters he brought.
"About an hour later one of the Rebbe's secretaries came running out of the Rebbe's office looking for us……. with the Rebbe's reply (which was unusual because often replies take even months)
"We sat down and read the Rebbe's words:
"'Regarding what you write in the end of your letter that 'perhaps I will not bless you or the other people', you need have no worry for this because there is no such thing as a Jew that does not deserve a blessing; Every Jew deserves to be blessed.
"Regarding what you write that, you love a non Jewish girl and want to get married, this is also not correct. If you loved her then you would NOT marry her as this is contrary to her purpose in life and would be a great injustice to her as well as yourself.'"
"The young man smiled. He appreciated the Rebbe's unique and positive approach and he said so. But it didn't affect his decision. He was resolved to marry no matter what.
"We returned to France. A few months later the invitations had been sent out and the day of the wedding arrived. It was to be in one of the biggest halls in Leon with the finest food, live music over a thousand guests; money was not an issue.
"In France, as you know, two ceremonies are necessary for each marriage: a colorful, ornate Catholic ritual in a large cathedral complete with organ music, priests and choirboys followed by a short formality in the city hall where each party mechanically declares three times 'I do' before the Mayor.
"The Church ceremony went smoothly. Our hero had no problem kneeling, bowing, saying and doing everything the priest asked him to.
"Then they all proceeded joyously to the City hall. On the way several toasts were made and by the time they got there everyone, especially the groom, was in very good spirits.
"They stood before the Mayor, beaming and smiling, impatient to get the thing over and begin the festivities.
"'Do you, Madam, agree to marry this man?' he asked the blushing bride for the first of three times. 'Oui oui'! She answered. 'Do you Madam agree to marry this man?' he asked again and then a third time. And after each time she laughed and answered yes.
"And you, Sir" he turned to the proud groom, "Do you agree to marry this woman?"
"Suddenly the groom's smile faded, his eyes opened wide as though he saw a ghost and he mumbled "'no!'
"Those standing there were shocked speechless! They could not believe their ears. Did he say no?! Perhaps he was joking?
The Mayor reminded him to be serious and again asked 'Do you want to marry this woman?' this time he yelled, "NO! NO!!"
"The family of the bride was furious! They began shouting and tried to tear him apart. The guards in the city hall rushed in and tried to make some sense out of the ruckus. And in all the confusion our hero snuck out, took a cab home, got his passport, sped to the airport, left France to an unknown destination and sent a check paying for the wedding and all the damages he caused.
"Years later after he heard that the girl was happily married to someone else and the furor had died down, they figured he was crazy and were happy she didn't marry him, he returned quietly to Leon.
Rabbi Gurevitz continued, "After a while, one evening when we were sitting together, I asked him to explain what happened. Why did he say 'no'? After all, he had no problem with bowing down in the church and he had been waiting for the wedding for months! What made him change his mind at the last minute?
"He told me the most amazing thing.
"He said that really he wanted to say yes. But as soon as the judge asked him if he wanted to marry, suddenly….. A vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe appeared before him! It wasn't just his imagination! It was so frightening that he just couldn't bring himself to say anything but 'NO' !!
"Well" concluded Rabbi Gurevitz to the crowd at the Farbringin. "That young man got married to a Jewish woman, now has a kosher home, his children even learn in our institutions and in fact….. he is sitting here tonight right here in this room! If he wants to stand up...
Everyone began looking around. Who could it be?
But no one stood. The Rabbi waited a few more seconds shrugged his shoulders, realized he had made a mistake by announcing it and changed the subject.
The next day he called the hero of the story on the phone and apologized for putting him on the spot. "Sorry if I embarrassed you" the Rabbi said"
"No Rabbi, you didn't embarrass me at all. The reason I didn't stand up wasn't because I was embarrassed. It's just that the experience I had back then ten years ago, when the Rebbe appeared to me was so real and frightening I could not bring myself to stand up.
"I simply did not want to even re-live it again."
This answers our questions: why waters from above and below and why did Noach send the birds.
The Torah is not just a history book, it also teaches us vital lessons in life.
The flood was a catastrophic physical punishment but its main purpose was spiritually positive; to make a new fresh world.
So today, often we experience 'floods' in our life that seem to be catastrophes.
Often they come from 'heaven' in the form of spiritual battles against lust, depression and emptiness or from below in the form of livelihood, health, family (as we saw in our story).
But we must not let these 'floods' confuse and overwhelm us. Rather we must remember the message of this week's portion; that both types of floods are really for the same purpose; to purify us and bring us to a 'new world'; a fresh, unselfish, way of looking at life….. from the Creator's point of view.
And that brings us to the lesson of the birds that Noach sent.
The purpose of this purification is not only for ourselves but also so we can be free to fulfill the goal of Judaism and the purpose of creation:
To do what we can to bring Moshiach. And each person has a unique contribution to make it happen sooner.
But on the other hand it is known that only G-d will decide when Moshiach will arrive and we will leave the exile.... Just like G-d deciding when Noach would leave the ark.
That is what Noach was teaching us: that although he had to wait for G-d to tell him the flood was over nevertheless he did ALL HE COULD to make it end earlier.
So too, we must do what we can. (see the last chapter of our Moshiach essay www.ohrtmimim.org/torah) to end the darkness and confusion. Even ONE more good deed, word or even thought can tip the scales and bring ......
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