VOLUME 68 NUMBER 1
October 4, 2013
TISHREI 30, 5774
Candle-lighting Time 6:18 PM
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of a granddaughter to Steve and Ellyn Hutt, and a daughter to Jason and Kaiya Fox. Mazel Tov!
Holy Life Raft
A friend was once telling me about an important conversation he had. It was with a 100 year-old man. He had asked the aged fellow for the secret of maintaining oneself and one’s sanity throughout the course of life. This person had lived through both World Wars, through the Great Depression, through thick and through thin. What was his secret?
The old man’s response? Do something for yourself, every day. Pick something and do it no matter what is happening around you. What had the old man done every single day of his century of life? Read the newspaper. Every morning without fail, he read the paper. It was his secret to life.
In Parshas Noach the Torah teaches us about Noach’s survival of the flood. G-d commanded him to build an ark, and inside the ark he would be saved. Outside the ark, the flood was ravaging the planet. All life was being destroyed—human, animal and even vegetable. The whole world was being violently rebooted in a sodden chaos. Only Noah and the other residents of the ark survived.
The Chassidic Masters ask, what is our ark today? In every generation there is a storm that must be weathered. It may not carry the power to erase all life on the planet, but it certainly is enough to drown us in depression and despair. How do we stay afloat? What’s the ark into which we run today?
They give many answers, although I don’t think one of them is reading the newspaper. (In fact, reading the paper is decidedly not a solution for angst of any kind.) They do, however, give one answer which sounds vaguely reminiscent of the old man’s advice.
Take one mitzvah, one aspect of avodas Hashem, the service of the Almighty, and cling to it. No matter what happens in life, no matter what distractions rain down upon us, we should have one thing that we really make our own, that we really emphasize and elevate and champion. For some people it’s hachnosas orchim, entertaining guests. For others, it’s daf yomi, the daily page of Talmud study. For still others it might be tzedaka, or prayer or visiting the sick. Whatever it is, we should have one thing in particular which is our lifeboat of sanctity and connection to G-dliness in the tempestuous waters of life.
And in that little ark of sanity and safety, may we live until 120, dry and connected to life!
CAN WE COUNT?
Rashi explains that the generation that was destroyed by the Flood was extremely corrupt. They served idols and were licentious. Nowadays such a society so steeped in immorality and denial of an absolute Creator would be denounced by the entire world and rejected as a member of the global community. Yet, their final judgement was not determined by that decadent behavior. Instead, since they were involved in theft and robbery, that secured their downfall. In terms of our philosophical definitions, worshipping idols and depraved conduct are considered cardinal sins whereas stealing, although abhorrent, is hardly comparable in its severity. Why were they meted such a brutal punishment, total and unconditional obliteration, due to thievery?
Perhaps we can suggest the following. Albeit that total and unequivocal dedication to serve Hashem is undoubtedly the objective of man, however that goal must be quantified. May we assume that if one observes the mitzvos which link him with his Creator but abandons his interpersonal obligations, he is thereby endeared to Hashem? Certainly this would be an irrational thought and not one that we would ascribe to Hashem. Of course the converse is true as well. If one only attends to his interpersonal relationships and assures that they are conducted appropriately, but ignores his commitments to Hashem, he is equally guilty and perhaps even more so due to the fact that he disregards Hashem to whom he owes everything! Indeed, the Ten Commandments embrace both facets, our need to respect our fellow man and also to pay homage to Hashem and fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah. In fact, the
Talmud states that the two tablets were of equal size in order to accentuate the parity of both pursuits.
It is now apparent why Hashem would totally annihilate mankind save for the few noble souls of Noach’s immediate family who were actually rescued in the merit of Noach’s piety. They indulged in immoral activities and despised Hashem, but the final straw was when they began to destroy their respect for each other. Each person is created in the image of Hashem and deserves to be treated as such. When the last vestige of Hashem’s image is dismissed, there is no way that man’s judgement can be reverted.
The devastation was so rampant, that even animals that do not possess intelligence also began to malfunction and mate with other animals that were not their type. It was as though the atmosphere of earth had become contaminated and even the environment needed to purge the germ that was corrupting the world. This was accomplished when Noach, detached from the society of vice and depravity, set forth in his miniature world of purity and caring for others, the incubator of a new world.
A Question for the Rabbis
The question of disinterring a body buried in the Diaspora for burial in the Land of Israel is one which has been discussed extensively from Talmudic times until the present day. One of the central sources of the discussion appears in our parsha. The verse states, “[A]nd His land will atone for His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The Code of Jewish Law allows the body to be disinterred in order to bury it in Israel (Yoreh Deah 363:1), and the commentaries cite as the reason that the “very earth of the Land of Israel atones” (Siftei Cohen ad loc.). This verse is also the source of the custom mentioned in the Code of Jewish Law (ibid.) to place earth from the Land of Israel in the coffin when someone is buried outside of Israel.
Joke of the Week
How did Noah see in the ark? Flood lights!
A BYTE FOR SHABBOS
The people that tried to build the Tower of Babel, dominate the earth and banish G-d from the planet followed in the footsteps of ‘those who gather NOT for the sake of Heaven.’ Therefore, as is always true of such assemblies, they were doomed to failure. Only those who strive to bring glory to G-d’s name can anticipate Divine assistance in accomplishing their goals.