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AHNoach - The Importance of Gratitude
Rabbi Yehonasan GefenRabbi for Keter HaTorah
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Bereishis, 11:5-6: Hashem descended to see the city and tower which the sons of Adam built; and HaShem said, Behold, one people, and there is one language for all of them, and this they begin to do!
Rashi: Bereishis, 11:5: The sons of Adam: But then, the sons of whom perhaps the sons of donkeys and camels?! Rather, they [showed that they were] the sons of Adam Harishon, who was ungrateful and said, the woman whom You gave to be with me. So too, these were ungrateful but rebelling against He who bestowed good upon them and rescued them from the Flood.
In the midst of the account of the Tower of Babel, the Torah alludes to an additional flaw that the nations expressed in their efforts to build a Tower in order to fight G-d. Rashi, quoting the Midrash, tells us that Hashem compared them to their ancestor, Adam, who was ungrateful; when he sinned by eating from the fruit, he blamed Hashem for creating the woman who caused him to sin. In truth, Hashem had bestowed a great kindness on him by providing him with a partner. So too, Hashem saved Noach from the Flood and instead of appreciating His kindness in saving them, Noachs descendants attempted to fight Him.
One may point out that the issue of ingratitude seems quite trivial compared to the seemingly far greater sin in and of itself of kefirah1 and attempting to somehow wage war with the Almighty; why then, does the Torah allude to this seemingly insignificant flaw? The answer to this question can be found in the Torah prohibition to marry male converts from the nations of Ammon
1 Kefirah is the denial of the basic tenets of belief in G-d.
and Moav or their descendants.2 One of the reasons the Torah offers as to why it is forbidden to marry them is that they did not offer bread and water to the Jewish nation when they were in the desert. The commentaries query this, saying that whilst their inaction shows that they were not kind-hearted, why is it so severe that their descendants can never marry into the Jewish people? They explain that their sin was greatly magnified by the fact that they owed a great debt to the Jewish people; Avraham Avinu saved Lot, the Patriarch of Ammon and Moav, when he rescued him from the four Kings. The ingratitude that his descendants expressed by refusing to help the Jewish people reflected such a great character flaw that it meant that they could never marry into the Jewish people.3
So too, the ingratitude that the people demonstrated by not only not thanking G-d for saving Noach, but by actually having the audacity to fight Him, significantly magnified the severity of their actions. We learn from here the fundamental importance of the trait of hakaras hatov (gratitude) and the contemptible nature of its opposite: ingratitude. It seems that the reason why ingratitude is such a serious flaw is that it contradicts the very foundations of emunah and Torah observance that Hashem bestowed upon us
- an unparalleled kindness by giving us life and the opportunity to connect with Him. This alone is a highly compelling reason to observe the mitzvos; to demonstrate our appreciation for what Hashem did and constantly does for us by trying to fulfill His will4.
2 Devarim, 23:4-5.3 See Ramban 23:5.4 Of course Hashem does not need us to fulfill the Torah for His sake, rather it is for our
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AHNoach - the Madness of Silence
Rabbi Daniel FineMaggid Shiur, Aish Gesher and author of Journey through Nach
There is an art which is gradually becoming lost: the art of silence. In a world full of noise, exacerbated by social media noise, there exists a (for once unspoken) understanding that assertiveness, dominance and expression are the social currency.
Yet as much as Judaism values a correctly placed word (and rejects a misplaced word) we also value silence tremendously - the Rambam underlines that the way of Torah scholars is to cherish silence and count their words in a placed and meticulous fashion. After all, silence is the key to maintaining a strong inner world: empty vessels make the loudest noise. Those who have no inner world or confidence tend to project their lives outwards in a bid to offset their inner disharmony via external popularity and attention. Yet the balance between silence and speech is a most delicate one: being silent when it is inappropriate to do so is also a tragic error. Many examples of this spring to mind (Talmudic too), but one of recent history is especially interesting, noteworthy and memorable.
One of the perks of teaching in yeshivah is that one gets to visit interesting sites with the students - to build a relationship with the students, of course. A month or so ago we visited the Ayalon Institute, a secret underground Haganah factory which produced bullets under the noses of the British in the 1930s. This factory, no bigger than a tennis court, was hidden on a kibbutz underneath a laundry room (and next to a bakery to conceal the smell and noise) yet produced over two million bullets which were instrumental in the War of Independence.
The 45 people who worked in there were ordered to keep their work an absolute secret - even from the other workers on that kibbutz, who they nick-named giraffes (for they were unaware of what was going on under their noses) and even from their spouses. They would pretend to set off early each morning to a nearby kibbutz, only to perform a u-turn and sneak back into the kibbutz to the laundry room. So conscious of their secret were they that they had to sit under a radiation sun lamp for a prescribed amount of time each day to make sure they had a healthy colour so as to avoid any suspicion. In fact, the place was so secret that nobody found out about it until 1975! Furthermore, when a single giraffe did find out about the operation accidentally, the group thought about killing her, only to instead offer for her to join them.
The part of this story relevant to our discussion about silence (dont worry, the parshah will come in at some point too), is that at one point one of the workers returned home to her giraffe husband with copper clippings in her hair (she had forgotten to remove them before leaving the factory). Her husband was irate, accusing his wife of having an affair with a neighbour who worked at a nearby metal factory. Instead of simply explaining what was really going on and breaking the silence, the lady instead broke her marriage: she did not reveal anything to her giraffe husband and they indeed got divorced - the (former) husband did not find out the true story until a few decades later! This is one example of silence going too far.
We have a relatively famous one in our parshah too...
The Haftarah of Noach dubs the flood the waters of Noach (mei Noach), which the Midrash explains to mean that Noach was responsible for the deluge, for he did not pray for the worlds salvation. Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explores and analyses this idea...
There is another Midrash (Tanchuma) in relation to Avrahams prayers for Sedom. After his lowest bid of ten righteous individuals had been turned down, Avraham desisted from davening any further: why? The Midrash writes that he learned this from none other than Noach - just as Noach knew that it would not work to daven for the eight worthy people at the time of the flood, so too did Avraham do the same. This Midrash would seem to vindicate Noachs actions! How do the two midrashim work together?
Rav Chaim Shmulevitz explained via one further Midrash and incident in Nach. Chazal note that Pharaoh had three advisors in Egypt: Bilam, Iyov, and Yisro. When Pharaoh (at the behest of Bilam) suggested throwing all the Jewish male babies into the river, there were mixed reactions from these advisors. Yisro ran away, since one could not disagree with Pharaoh to his face, Iyov remained silent, and Bilam was happy that his plan had been accepted by Pharaoh. Chazal continue that Hashem treated these three according to their reactions. For his absconding, Yisro was rewarded with a great son-in-law and the merit of joining the Jewish People. Because Bilam approved of killing the Jewish babies, he was himself killed by the Bnei Yisrael. On the other hand, for his silence (as opposed to deserting) Iyov was punished with tremendous pains and suffering. The Brisker Rav explained the middah kenegged middah element of these punishments, writing that Iyov was punished with pains as a result of his silence. For Iyovs silence was born out of desperation in assuming the situation could not be solved - yet if one really cares for the subject and event in question then one cries out regardless of whether ones crie