Thursday, October 27, 2011

Noach 5772

This week's parsha tells the well known story of Noach (Noah), the great flood that destroyed the earth, and the ark Noach built to save his family and the animals. The parsha begins: "These are the generations of Noach. Noach was a righteous man. He was perfect in his generations. Noach walked with G-d."

The world Noach was born into was so corrupt that G-d decided to destroy it. How did Noach manage to become a righteous man in such an environment?

Rabbi Shimon Felix attributes Noach's character to his father Lemech's foresight. Near the end of last week's parsha, Lemech names Noach, saying "This one will give us rest/comfort from our work/actions and from the toil/sorrow of our hands, from the earth which G-d has cursed." The Hebrew word for comfort and rest is nach, spelled the same way (without vowels) as Noach.

Rashi, Radak and other commentators see Lemech as a prophet, foreseeing a special role for his newborn son. According to them, the prophecy contained in the naming of Noach was that Noach would invent ploughs and farming implements that would help man deal with G-d's curse on the earth and ease man's workload. Ibn Ezra, in a different approach, says that Lemech prophesized that the flood would soon destroy the sinful world and that Noach would be its salvation.

Other commentators see Lemech's naming Noach as prayer rather than prophecy. S'forno writes: "[Lemech] prayed that he would bring comfort [to the world] from its [evil] actions." Rashbam notes that Noach was the first child born after the death of Adam. Lemech prayed that this new life would somehow change the sorry state of the world.

An interesting midrash tells that Noach was the first person born with opposable thumbs. Until his birth, mankind had not evolved sufficiently to make, hold, and use tools and, instead, dug the earth with paw-like hands. Perhaps Lemech saw something special in his newborn son's thumbs and appreciated this difference as something that could transform and improve the world.

All of these interpretations of Noach's naming share an important insight into parenting and parental expectations. Writes Rabbi Felix: "Lemech saw in his newborn child the possibility of greatness…Lemech saw in this new life, the engine for change, for possibility, for evolution, for salvation. And, by naming him Noach - comfort - he passed his vision, his hope for a better world, and his appreciation of Noach's ability to effect this change, on to his son…It may be that Noach grew to greatness, to stand above the rest of his generation and, literally, save the world, because he was Lemech's son, because he
was the child of a parent who imagined, prayed for, and saw in Noach the possibility of greatness, and who told Noach, by naming him, how he felt about him, and what he saw in him. This, perhaps, is how parents can try to encourage greatness in their children: by imagining it, believing it, seeing and celebrating it when it is there, and naming it."

Excerpted from the writings of Rabbi Shimon Felix, Executive Director Emeritus, Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. Read the entire article at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bereishit 5772

In this week’s parsha, Adam and his wife eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. G-d calls to Adam and asks, “Where are you (Ayeka)?” Adam answers: “I was afraid…so I hidThe woman whom You gave [to be] with me gave me from the tree and I ate…The woman said [to G-d],‘The serpent misled me and I ate.’” 

If G-d is all-knowing, why does He ask where Adam is?  What is G-d really asking when He says ayeka?

This parsha teaches that we cannot hide from G-d.  G-d knows exactly where we are – not only what we are doing, but what we are thinking.  With His question ayeka, G-d challenges Adam to accept responsibility for his actions.  Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis note that the Hebrew word ayeka can be read another way, as eicha, meaning “how?”  G-d is asking Adam how he could have sinned, how he could have ignored the first and only commandment that G-d gave.  G-d is asking Adam to examine his life, his thoughts and his actions and to be accountable for them.

Instead, Adam shifts the blame to his wife, and his wife blames the serpent. Neither is willing to accept responsibility.  Neither one has the courage to say, “Forgive me, I was wrong. Let me redress this wrong."

"'Where are you?'" explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, "is G-d's perpetual call to every man. Where are you in the world? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days. Where are you? What have you attained?"

As parents, we must teach our children to take responsibility for their actions.  We cannot allow them to blame others for their mistakes.  We must teach them from the earliest ages that their actions have consequences, and they should not make excuses.  And when they admit their wrongdoings, we should emulate G-d -- embrace them and forgive them.      

V'zot HaBracha 5772

V’zot Habracha is the last parsha of the Torah and the only parsha not read on Shabbat.  It is always read on Simchat Torah, which will be observed this year (in the Diaspora outside of Israel) on Friday, October 21. (In Israel it is observed the previous day, this year on Thursday, October 20.) The parsha contains the verse that is the first one a parent teaches a child: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is a morasha (heritage) for the kehilla (congregation) of Yaakov (Jacob.)” 
Why does Torah use the Hebrew word morasha for heritage when it could have used the word nachala?  What is the significance of the word kehilla (congregation)?

Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis and Rabbi Osher Anshel Jungreis note that nachala is an inheritance that belongs solely to the heir to use as he sees fit.  By contrast, morasha is a legacy that has been given in trust and cannot be tampered with.  It must be preserved intact and passed from generation to generation.

They write: “It becomes obvious why our Sages chose this to be the first to be engraved upon a child’s heart.  Even as a parent has responsibility to pass on this heritage to his children, so the children should know that one day, they, too, will be charged with the same responsibility: to pass on the same heritage in the same manner in which they received it.”

The Rambam in Hilchot Talmud Torah (3:1) explains that morasha means that Torah belongs to and is accessible to every Jew, regardless of age, background or ability. "Israel was crowned with three crowns: The crown of Torah, the crown of the priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The crown of the priest went to Aharon and his sons… the crown of royalty was won by David…The Crown of Torah stands before all Israel, open and ready, as it states: Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov – anyone who wishes to take it may come along and take!"  Torah is for the entire kehilla -- young and old, rich and poor, learned and unschooled.

Rav Alex Israel writes: “And maybe this is precisely the reason that we dance together with the Torah on Simchat Torah. We dance in a circle. A circle never ends. Its end is its beginning, and then it starts again. With whom do we dance this unending circle? With other Jews, and with the Torah. This is a simple and concentrated image of our national identity card: morasha and kehilla. On Simchat Torah you know very simply that you are connected in an unending circle with Am Yisrael (the People of Israel) and with the Torah.”