The passuk testifies that Noach was a איש צדיק בדורותיו a tzaddik in his generations. Yet there are those of the opinion that only in his generation he was deemed a tzaddik but not so had he lived in the generation of Avraham. From where did these chachamim sense the negative spirit of condemnation of Noach in this passuk even though outwardly it possesses the nature of praise?
Another question that one must ask is how did Noach who was previously described as an eesh tsaddik tamim suddenly decline after the Flood to such a nadir that the Torah calls himאיש האדמה a man of the earth?
Rav Efrayim one of the Baalei Hatosfos writes that the gematria ofאיש צדיק is the same as תפלה. It is therefore quite perplexing that if Noach’s entire essence was tefillah, yet our Chazal criticize him for not davening to save his generation?
We can answer all this with a story. There were two business partners who came before their newly appointed Rav of their small town with a monetary dispute. This was the first time that the new Rav was addressed with his first big sheailah and he was a little nervous. Although the Rav was sincere and righteous he was not the most learned talmid chacham. The sheailah was very deep and complex and these two baalei battim were the richest people in town. After they finished their sheailah he asked them for an hour of privacy in order to concentrate and come up with the teshuvah. He went into his study and immediately opened up a sefer Tehillim and began crying as he recited their holy words. He was pleading Hashem for help to send him the solution to their inquiry. For if he fails to come up with the teshuvah they might deem him inadequate for the Rav position and fire him leaving him destitute with his wife and eleven children. After crying for some time he fell asleep and in his sleep his Rebbi who was niftar came to him and explained to him the teshuvah for this most difficult shailah. He awoke as his sixty minutes just terminated. He called into his office the two baalei denim and he gave his psak with his explanation. They seemed satisfied and they left.
A month later when these same partners attended a merchandise fair, together they visited a well known talmid chacham and possek. During their conversation with him they mentioned passingly their shaailah that they had a few months prior coming to the trade fair. The possek was fascinated by the sheailah and said he wants a few days to think about it since it was very complex. After three days they came back to the possek and he told them that this was the most difficult shailah that he had during his lifetime. After three days of arduous toil over this matter he arrived at the psak. He then went on to tell them the exact decision and explanation that their own Rav came up with only after one hour. They were totally taken aback with amazement. The well known possek saw the look on their faces and immediately questioned them with what is wrong? They then told him that what he took three days to accomplish their own Rav did it in one hour. Upon hearing this, the possek was flabbergasted and jumped up from his seat exclaiming what an iluy and talmid chacham you have as your Rav. Just imagine a gadol like him serving a small shtetl and no one knows who he really is. I must meet this gadol myself and talk with him in learning.
The famous possek travelled to the small town and had an audience with the Rav. He told the Rav how excited he was to meet him after hearing his psak on the same shailah. Immediately the Rav stopped the posek in his tracks and said “I don’t want to waste your time. I arrived at the psak by putting every fiber of my being into tefillah and Hashem sent me the answer during my dream”. “What with tefillah”, remarked the posek. “Even I could have done that as well. I thought you came to the teshuvah from deep amailus – from toiling in learning”.
So what is the all the commotion about? What is the difference anyway whether the teshuva came from tefillah or toiling as long as the answer is the same? The difference is what the toiling in learning can do to the learner. Its effect and release of spiritual energy can bring about real changes in one’s life, bringing light where there is darkness, bringing emes where sheker resides, replacing hate, anger, and begrudging with love, peace and harmony.
Tefillah is very important but it must be coupled with renewed inspiration to rise above one’s spiritual status quo and comfort ability. This can be seen from the actual word used for tefillah – mispallell which connotes reflectiveness back on oneself. Instead of lefallel which means to perform an act of tefillah, the purpose of tefillah is to be “Tefillerized”.
When Hashem revealed to Moshe the Thirteen Middos of Rachamim after the sin of the Aigel, He told Moshe
אמר רבי יוחנן אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאומרו מלמד שנתעטף הקדוש ברוך הוא כשליח צבור והראה לו למשה סדר תפלה אמר לו כל זמן שישראל חוטאין יעשו לפני כסדר הזה ואני מוחל
The Meforshim explain that Hashem did not merely say to Moshe that whenever they recite the 13 Middos I will forgive them but rather whenever they fulfill the 13 Middos I will forgive them. As the Yalkut Shimoni (Vayikrah 8) brings that tefillah alone accomplishes only half the request. What then is missing for a full response? That tefillah must bring one to upgrade his Torah and Yiddishkeit.
When one mentions today I found a new segulah for …… the first thing that comes to mind is the excitement that a shortcut has been invented and that will save me a trip to the spiritual gym of exertion. In last week’s parsha the Nachash told Chava about the new segulah he discovered that could make them both become like Hashem. It is so simple and even enjoyable. All one has to do is to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and Bingo you like Hashem can create worlds. How many times have we heard the word on the street that if a deal sounds too good to be true then you can be sure it’s a scam. We have so many segulahs today that even davening has taken on the nature of a segulah. Once that happens then one has transformed his davening into an act of lefallel instead of mispallel.
After all what is a segulah? Let us look at the first time the word is mentioned in the Torah. The passuk says והייתם לי סגולה (Shmos 19,5) you should become to Me a segulah. The passuk is telling us that becoming closer to Hashem is one’s greatest segulah. Becoming and evolving into a better human being and eved Hashem is what makes a true segulah. It is not just about saying the special words or middos but incorporating them into part of one’s character that evokes the rachmanus we want from Hashem.
Noach was a tsaddik but he arrived to that destination by davening alone without he himself working and struggling on changing his middos. Presents from Hashem don’t last for they are not a product of toiling and a journey that leaves a trail of setbacks, failures, and comeback heroes. Avraham Avinu struggled and searched until he found the emes he was seeking. He gave up his life to be thrown into a furnace for his beliefs even though he as yet had no revelation from the G-d who he unconditionally believed in. Avraham’s essence changed to which his new name testified to אברהם the gematriah of 248 corresponding to the 248 limbs which he sanctified to Hashem.
Both Noach and Avraham had a bris with Hashem. The rainbow is the symbol of bris with Noach. The symbol is external from Noach’s body since Noach himself did not make any changes in his character through toil but rather through tefillah. Avraham’s bris with Hahsem is circumcision a change in one’s body since Avraham himself made changes in his middos and character and did not rely solely on tefillah.
Noach after the Flood sunk to a spiritual low of being called an eesh adamah. For any madraiga that was not self earned at all but rather came in the form of a present from Hashem even though one davened for it doesn’t have a lasting power. Avraham in contrast brought himself higher and higher test after test even with the tenth most difficult test of them all the Akaidah.
True Noach davened, but he davened for himself and his spiritual success. It takes toiling on one’s middos and pursuing character development with sacrifices in order to think about others the same way one focuses on himself. Tefillah alone did not raise Noach to that level. You can be a tsaddik for a time and then all of a sudden lose those madraigos if tefillah is used as a shortcut. The difference between Noach and Avraham can be compared to the difference between a micro wave and an oven. A microwave is a shortcut in a fraction of the time. If left out of its environment for a very short period the food will dehydrate, stiffen, become cold, and tasteless. Heating food in an oven will take longer, however when taken out of its environment it will retain its original character for a much longer period of time. Which Yiddishkeit do you think is more worthwhile to invest in. Toil, segulah, or the combination of both where the segulah does not detract from your toil?