Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim

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Noach
Rabbi Jablinowitz

There is a Medrash Rabbah (36, 3) in this week’s parsha which contrasts Noach with Moshe Rabbeinu. Noach is described in the first pasuk in the parsha as Ish Tzadik, a righteous man. Yet towards the end of the parsha Noach plants a vineyard, becomes drunk, and is disgraced by his son Cham. In that context (Chapter 9, Pasuk 20), Noach is referred to as Ish Ha’adamah, a man of the earth. This illustrates Noach’s downfall from the prestigious position of Ish Tzadik to the lowly, disgraced state of Ish Ha’adamah.

Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, starts off from the undignified position of being referred to by the daughters of Yisro as Ish Mitzri (Shmos, Chapter 2, Pasuk 19). Ultimately, however, he reaches the status in the end of the Torah of Ish Ha’Elokim (Devarim, Chapter 33, Pasuk 1). Moshe’s life presents an upward trajectory, as opposed to that of Noach. What is the reason for the difference between the direction followed by Noach rather than that of Moshe Rabbeinu?

The Meshech Chachmah explains that there are two different paths that one might take in relation to their service of Hashem. There are those who maintain separateness between themselves and others. Their Avodas Hashem is based on a path of isolation, of Hisbodedus, and involve themselves minimally with the people around them. On the other hand, there are those who are fully engaged with the world and the society within which they live. They get involved with their community and are Oseik B’Tzarchei Tzibur. One would assume that the path of deep involvement with the needs of community would inhibit spiritual growth. And conversely, one who separates himself off from the rest of the world would seem to be in a better situation for spiritual growth. He is not distracted by worrying about the needs of others and focuses exclusively on himself and his spiritual development.

Yet we see this was not the case with Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu. Despite the fact that Noach kept to himself and was able to maintain a form of spiritual isolation, he ended up as an Ish Ha’adamah. And despite the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu accepted upon himself the burden of being the leader of Bnei Yisrael, he nevertheless was able to grow to become Ish Ha’Elokim. How was it that this was the direction that their lives ultimately took?

The Meshech Chachmah explains that the difference was that Noach was not willing to endanger himself and put himself out in order to save the Clal. Though the Gemarah in Sanhedrin 108A describes Noach warning the people of his generation of the impending disaster, he was afraid to go beyond that and kept apart from them. Moshe Rabbeinu, on the other hand, was Moser Nefesh for Hashem and for Clal Yisrael. He put himself out for the Clal and after his initial refusal, was willing to accept the initiative of leading Clal Yisrael and being the ultimate Oseik B’Tzarchei Tzibur. It was in reward for this devotion that he was able to be the Ish Elokim at the end of the Torah.

The Sfas Emes presents a similar idea in explaining the contrast Rashi brings on the first pasuk between Noach and Avraham Avinu. Rashi explains that Noach needed support from Gd, es Ha’Elokim Hishalech Noach, while Avraham was a bolder, more independent person, Asher Hishalachti Lefanav. Avraham Avinu was willing to endanger himself to spread the word of Gd’s existence. This boldness and initiative is what made Avraham great. Noach was afraid to take on the world, and since he wanted to be isolated, Hashem responded in kind and hid him away in the Teivah. This lack of initiative and unwillingness to be bold did not allow him to maintain his level of Ish Tzadik.

This distinction is also expressed in the fact that Chazal teach that Noach was born Mahul, with a Bris Milah. Avraham Avinu, though, was the one commanded to give himself a Bris. Noach had the inherent holiness of the Bris which connected him to Hashem, but Avraham Avinu actually took the step to establish the Bris between him and Hashem.

Chazal compare Noach to Shabbos, the name Noach carrying with it the idea of Menuchah, rest on Shabbos. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, was given the first mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon and establishing the festivals. Shabbos is constant and automatic, while the establishment of the Chagim represents the greatness of Am Yisrael in being involved in the process of sanctifying time. The upshot from both these distinctions between Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu, and Noach and Avraham Avinu, is to show that to maintain a life of greatness there must be boldness and willingness to take risks in order to lead Clal Yisrael and spread Kavod Shamayim.

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