We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parshas Noach/ Improving with Age
“And Hashem said to Noach, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen you asa righteous man before Me in this generation” (Bereishis 7:1).
Hashem decided to destroy the world, which had become hopelessly corrupt. Yet He spared Noach and his family on account of his righteousness.
Alas, Noach’s merits weren’t sufficient to prevent the flood altogether, but someone else’s almost did. Chazal (Avos DeRabbi Nasan 32, Sanhedrin 108b) take us behind the scenes:
After boarding the ark, Noach initially wondered why the promised deluge hadn’t yet materialized. Hashem then explained, “I can’t open the floodgates until the one completely righteous man left on earth lives out his final week. As it is written, ‘For in another seven days, I will make it rain upon the earth for forty days and forty nights’ (Bereishis 7:4).”
Who was this lone tzaddik? None other than Mesushelach, who lived to the ripe old age of 969 (ibid. 5:27).
From here we see that for the sake of one elderly man, Hashem withholds calamity from the world. Yet why wasn’t Noach’s righteousness sufficient to hold off the cataclysm?
A Good Sign
According to one view in Chazal, Noach was “righteous” only relative to his abysmal contemporaries. Had he lived in a different generation, he wouldn’t have been considered a tzaddik (Rashi on Bereishis 6:9, citing Sanhedrin 108a).
Furthermore, Noach lacked the merit of old age. The elderly bring goodness to the world, and their departure spells disaster. As the Midrash says, “An elder at home is a good sign for the home.”
No wonder we’re commanded to honor the elderly. By doing so, even evildoers become G-d-fearing. As the Torah tells us, “Arise in the presence of old age, and beautify the face of the elder, and you shall fear your G-d; I am Hashem” (Vayikra 19:32). This verse also teaches us that anyone who respects his elders is as if he honors Hashem Himself. In addition, says the Midrash, anyone who heeds their advice is saved from all tribulation.
Stay of Execution
We see the power of old age later in the Torah as well, in the tale of Sedom. Despite its notorious iniquity, Sedom wasn’t destroyed until Lot departed. As the angel of destruction told him, “Hurry, flee there [to the city of Tzoar], for I will not be able to do anything until you arrive there” (Bereishis 19:22).
Though Lot was no saint, he was up in years. As one of his daughters subsequently notes to the other, “Our father is old” (ibid. 19:31). In this merit alone, Sedom received a temporary reprieve from destruction (Otzar HaMidrashim, Alfa Beisa DeBen Sira, p. 40).
Older and Wiser
The great Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky was once traveling on a plane with his son and granddaughter. Next to him sat the secretary-general of Israel’s Histadrut trade federation. He was amazed at the dedication of the son and granddaughter to the elderly rabbi.
As related in Reb Yaakov (pp. 218–19), the official lamented to Reb Yaakov that he saw his own children and grandchildren only rarely. Reb Yaakov suggested a reason:
“You … believe in the Darwinian view of life as the result of random, purposeless events,” he told him, “so as far as your descendants are concerned, you’re just one generation closer to the apes.
“For us, on the other hand, the central event in history was the Revelation at Sinai. The generations immediately after that Revelation lived in awe of their parents, for G-d had actually spoken to them. And their children in turn venerated them for having known those who’d heard the voice of G-d.
“And so it is with each passing generation. My children and grandchildren honor me as one who had contact with spiritual giants and therefore possesses wisdom and spiritual sensitivity.”
Question for Discussion:
Please tell us about a special elderly person you know or knew. What makes him/her so special to you, and what have you learned from him/her?