Noach 5778

RABBI YONAH DICK

ויהי כל הארץ שפה אחת ודברים אחדים (בראשית יא:א)

…and the entire world was of one language and one idea (Bereishis 11:1)

The simple reading of the episode of the Dor Haflaga, the generation of the Tower of Bavel, is perplexing. A unified people set out to accomplish a unified goal, only to have their plans thwarted by Hakodosh Baruch Hu for an unspecified reason. What was their sin? What concern provoked Hashem into dispersing them?
The Drashas HaRan provides an insightful understanding to this puzzling episode. The Dor Haflaga did not sin, nor was that their intention. The Pasuk states Hashem’s concern in plain language: ועתה לא יבצר מהם כל אשר יזמו לעשות (בראשית יא:ו), “Now, nothing will hold them back from what they plan to do” (Bereishis 11:6). A unified people with a unified cause will be able to overcome any challenge. All they set out to accomplish will be attainable and no one will be able to oppose them. Any individual who does not comply with their ideology will find himself defenseless, with no means of escape. There will be no “other side” in which to take refuge.
The Ran explains that their concern was the fear of an overly powerful government. If such a society turned away from Hashem, those who would oppose it would be crushed, finding nowhere to turn. Service of Hashem would become an impossibility. Therefore, Hashem disbanded them, creating multiple societies and kingdoms, in the process providing the refugee a haven to which he could flee. The division ensured that Avodas Hashem would continue. This is the Ran’s unveiling of the simple understanding of the otherwise vague incident of the Dor Haflaga.
Building on this idea, there is a powerful message in Parshas Noach as a whole.
Parshas Noach begins with the destruction of the Dor Hamabul, the Generation of the Flood. The Torah saysותמלא הארץ חמס (בראשית ו:יא) , as Rashi explains, thievery was rampant (Bereishis 6:11). Furthermore. כי השחית כל בשר את דרכו (בראשית ו:יב), they adopted an immoral lifestyle (Bereishis 6:12). Put simply, anarchy ruled. There was no law or order. Rather, each individual did as he pleased, morally and monetarily. It was the “society of the individual.” Such a society was condemned. It offered no hope. Destruction was the only possible course.
The end of the Parsha presents a different form of society, the Dor Haflaga. Not the society of the person but the society of the people. “One people, one cause” became the new vision. This, too, is fraught with concern. When the Cause becomes the focus, to the extent that is overshadows the individuals it encompasses, the Cause loses its value. Unity is important to serve the people it is comprised of, but when unity becomes self-serving, “the Cause for the sake of the Cause,” then unity has been misused. The only solution: the unity must be broken.
The Torah begins Sefer Bereishis with the focus on individuals. Man is born into the world. His downfalls and his developments comprise the entire discussion of Parshas Bereishis. This results in an understanding of the proper way to live as individuals, day to day.
In Parshas Noach, the narrative shifts. The Torah now focuses on society. The Dor Hamabul showcases a society in which everyone lives for himself, a perversion of man’s understanding of his own individuality. And the other end of the Parsha describes a situation in which man chooses to relinquish his own individuality to be absorbed in a Great Cause. Both societies are failures. The Torah desires that one recognize his qualities and strengths and uses them correctly within society. Not to disregard others nor to disregard himself, but to achieve a balance between himself and others.
Avraham Avinu arises from the ashes of Parshas Noach. No person was a greater individual than Avraham. He stood up to a world around him to the point of death. No higher individuality can be achieved than that. On the other hand, Avraham is the pillar of kindness, a selfless individual, a man of the people. The elusive balance of the prior generations was realized in the person of Avraham Avinu.


RABBI DOVID AARON GROSS

The Talmud lists five traits that are distinctive of the children of Canaan. These five traits are so distinct, it is as if the founding father of the Canaanite nation commanded them to act in this way. They are: Love one another, love theft, love promiscuity, hate your masters, and do not speak truth.
The latter four traits are all negative. However, to love one another certainly seems like a positive command. It is self-evident that the four negative traits are not complimentary.
Why then is there one seemingly positive trait? One of the distinctions that exists between man and animal is that in any given type of animal, there are no fundamental differences in their natural instincts and desires. Basically, they all behave alike. Cats behave like cats and dogs like dogs. One does not have to be familiar with a specific cat to anticipate its actions and reactions.
Humans, on the other hand, are different. Every person possesses individual inclinations and desires. The desires and character traits of any two individuals are never the same. Consequently, one could never be totally understood by another.
A bandit will steal to amass as much money as possible. His thieving is caused only by his desire for money. However, when he sees a drunkard swaggering through the streets, the bandit wonders how the drunk could sink so low. To the thief, stealing is okay, but another man’s drunkenness is inexcusable.
Eventually, the bandit will become so entrenched in sin that he will transgress not simply because he loves money, but for the sake of sin itself. At this point, the nature of the sin makes no difference. Sin is sin. Even the drunkenness that once repulsed him so can now be rationalized. The drunkard’s faults are no longer faults. Two wicked men, the bandit and the drunkard, once enemies, are now friends, with one common goal – sin.
The children of Canaan loved sin. They sinned not for physical pleasure, but for the sake of sin itself.
“Love theft,” cites the Talmud. They did not love to steal; they loved theft, just for the sake of stealing. If a Canaanite could acquire the same object honestly or through stealing, he would steal it. The goal was the act of theft, not obtaining the object.
“Love promiscuity” – not the pleasure involved, the sin itself.
“Do not speak truth.” The Talmud does not cite this command as, “Speak falsehood,” lie whenever necessary. Rather, the Talmud says, “Do not speak truth.” Under all circumstances, even when it was unnecessary, the Canaanites did not speak truthfully.
The Canaanites were bound by a single goal – to sin. They did not seek physical pleasure through sin; they sought sin itself. That is why they loved one another. They were steeped in sin, blind to the negative character traits of their friends. Loving one another was not an indication of their greatness, but of their lowliness.
The same concept applies in a positive sense. Even two people who are total opposites can join together for the same goal. If the ultimate goal is to fulfill the will of G-d, two people with conflicting traits and opposing desires can coexist.
The same is also true within a person himself. Without a higher goal, a person will inevitably follow the dictates of his nature. A natural fighter, an argumentative person, will always fight and argue. He will never fall into the trap of flattery because his heart tells him to fight.
If, however, a person’s goal is to fulfill the will of G-d, he will do whatever is necessary to accomplish this task. If he must be zealous, he will fight and argue zealously. If diplomacy is demanded, he will respond with peaceful, diplomatic behavior.
When one truthfully lives to satisfy the will of G-d, he can at times exhibit even opposite traits. Not only must we strive to eradicate the corrupt principles of the Canaanites, we must concentrate our efforts towards the single goal of serving G-d. This is the ultimate purpose in the creation of man.