VOLUME 68 NUMBER 1 October 24, 2014 TISHREI 30, 5775
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of a son to our Sunday Experience teacher Mrs. Karen Schweitzer and her husband Mordechai. Mazel Tov!
Noach, Boats and Billboards
By Rabbi Raphael Leban
These days you see billboards everywhere. When I was growing up, billboards were only found on the sides of long stretches of boring highways. Today, you can’t get from your house to the nearest gas station without passing a thirty-foot-wide ad for beer, jewelry or the latest hospital ward.
I recently saw a clever billboard. They took an actual ladder and a life-size manikin and hung the fellow from the ladder by his outstretched arms as if he were the person putting up the billboard who slipped and got stuck up there. Very lifelike. At least for the first few months.
I suspect they thought it was a new twist on an old trick, getting some attention for their message. But it’s really pretty old news.
In the second parsha of the Torah, we read about the flood. The only people who survive the flood are a man named Noach, his wife and their three married children with their wives. How did they survive? They lived through the year of sodden devastation in the ark, an enormous three-tiered edifice that housed them and representatives of the entire animal world along with them. Not to mention the year’s supply of petfood they must have taken also.
Noach was no spring chicken. In fact, he was five hundred years old when G-d told him to make the ark. (Don’t ask how he lived that long. You know the fountain of youth that we are always looking for? In Noach’s life they hadn’t lost it yet.) When the flood finally struck, he was six hundred years old. He spent one hundred years building the ark.
You might ask, ‘Why did G-d require him to spend a hundred years building an ark to be saved in?’ Why didn’t he just sprout gills or float miraculously above the waves or survive in some other less strenuous way?
Our Sages explain that Noach spent those hundred years building the first highly creative billboard. When people would walk by and see him building this big boat in the middle of a nice dry field, they would ask him, “Hey Noach, watcha doin’?” And having cleverly caught their attention, he would then go on to tell them his G-d given message, “I’m building a big boat, because unless we change our behavior for the better, G-d is going to flood the world.”
Granted today, if someone said that, he’d be locked up in a home of some sort or other, but back then, when the claim wasn’t so clichéd, people could have listened. Noach and his ark were the means by which a depraved, immoral world might have woken up and turned itself around.
In our lives there are billboards everywhere. Not the advertisements that appear on the sides of streets. The events of our lives that show us that there is more to life than meets the eye, that demonstrate that life has purpose and meaning if we’ll only seek it out. These are our billboards, and the Torah contains the message they are reminding us to listen to.
G-d may not send another flood, and no one is out there building an ark, but the message is still to be heard. Perhaps if we fail to hear it this time we’ll all be squashed under a throng of billboards.
The Sea of Stability
By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum
The world had gone awry in every sense of the word. Morality had disappeared and ethical behavior was a vague memory. Stealing was rampant and even the animal kingdom had become affected by man’s indecent conduct. For 120 years Noach tried to warn the planet of the impending disaster, but he was scorned and ignored.
Eventually, the day came and the downpour began. Everything was destroyed except for the inhabitants of the ship that Noach built. Noach and his family were tasked with feeding thousands of animals. They were overworked and exhausted, yet faithfully continued caring for the remnants of the world.
Finally, after 150 days it all came to an end. The Torah states that Hashem ‘remembered’ Noach and all the animals that were with him. Rashi comments that Hashem then displayed His attribute of mercy and kindness. Noach and his family were deserving of this treatment, due to his exceptional righteousness. However, what merit motivated Hashem’s compassion toward the animals? It cannot be that they deserved compassion on account of special behavior, because they have no temptation to sin as does man.
Nachmonides makes an astonishing observation. When Hashem created the world, He desired that it should have continuity. Although there was a need to destroy much of the creation due to its depravity and corruption, that did not contradict His original plan. There was still the anticipation and confidence that the global community could be reinstated and function according to the primary arrangement. Therefore, Hashem ‘remembered’ that His creation should have ongoing permanence and stability.
Today we live in an age of constant flux. The constancy and inflexibility that are so vital for society to remain steadfast in our ideals and resolution have all but disappeared. At the touch of a button we can delete hours of work and then retrieve it and seemingly magically make it reappear. Concepts once held as sure as the rising of the sun have been trashed, and new streams of thought have replaced them with shocking and novel outlooks which have altered the very fiber of our communities and our lives.
Zohar states that Hashem used the Torah as the blueprint for the world. The Torah is perpetual and ageless, so too, the world reflects that same intransigence of integrity and sincerity. Hashem’s ‘interest’ wasn’t simply that He had created myriads of creatures to roam the planet; rather His word must stand immutable against all probability. Certainly we are confronted with situations that assess our tenacity to our heritage and its importance. Our answers will dictate to ensuing generations their response as well. They will inspect our steadfastness and act according to our legacy.
We should not be deterred when we witness that other generations did not maintain the tempo of their forebears. As we view the ongoing narrative of the Torah we notice how the generation again deteriorated and veered away from the beliefs of their inherited system. Nonetheless, we must live with a vision rooted in the eternal words of the Torah and consistently strive to avoid compromise which usually spells failure.
Joke of the Week
Lessons from Noah’s Ark:
1. Don’t miss the boat.
2. Remember that we are all in the same boat.
3. Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark.
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
In the story of the Tower of Bavel, G-d punished the generation that built the tower in defiance to Him, by mixing up their language into many different tongues, so that no one could understand one another. Initially, they spoke Hebrew, the language with which God created the universe. Since Hebrew is the language of the soul, and they defiled their souls with their opposition to God, they lost the privilege of its use.