Torah Minute Noach Oct, 1998
I like to hold on to the spirit of the holiday season for as long as possible and certainly the portion of Noach, containing as it does, "the mother of all sea stories," helps by reminding us of the role that water plays during the Days of Awe and by offering a symbolic lesson as we approach the rainy season.
Rabbi Garner, in the concluding session of our PIRKEY AVOS class, related to us that the forty days from ROSH CHODESH ELUL until YOM KIPPUR, allude to the minimum 40 SEAH of water required for a Kosher MIKVEH. Water is necessary on ROSH HASHANA for the TASHLICH ceremony and is crucial to the AVODA on YOM KIPPUR which, of course, features MAPHTIR YONAH. [ Let’s not forget the Beth Shloime tradition of "annointing" the BAAL TEPHILA with a cup of water when he says UMORID HAGESHEM on SIMCHAS TORAH. ] The holidays conclude with the prayer for rain, the intricate poetry of Rabbi Elazar HaKallir and the moving NIGUNIM of the CHAZZANIM only hint at the splendor of the SIMCHAS BAIS HASHO’EVA, the Temple water festival, how we long to witness it in our lifetime.
As the Earth dries after the great flood, Noach emerges from the ark and is blessed by H’ who commands his descendants to repopulate the earth - which H' promises never to destroy again. From this blessing, nearly identical to that which H’ bestowed upon Adam, we derive the seven basic laws of Noach. Unlike other religions which deny OLAM HABAH, or even OLAM HAZEH to all but their adherents, Judaism teaches that non-Jews who abide by these seven basic rules of common decency will share in the World to Come. For us however, it’s a bit more complicated. For a Jew to attain the World to Come, we must do our best to observe 613 basic commandments along with countless permutations derived through two millennia of Rabbinical interpretation of Oral Tradition.
Inevitably, the complexity of HALACHA gives rise to conflict. Non Orthodox Jews bemoan Orthodox inflexibility, Orthodox Jews berate each other on the most arcane points of practice. Factions form, and soon the heat of argument erupts into the tragic flames of hatred. Once ignited, the wildfire of needless hatred between Jews burns unabated. Having destroyed the Second Temple it rages today, now fueling our Diaspora.
But the same tradition, whose ambiguity kindled the flame, can quench it. In the famous passage by R. Chanania ben Akashia, we are taught that H’ gave us this plethora of commandments because He loved us and wanted to us to have unlimited opportunities to build merit – not unlimited opportunities to hate each other. Since hatred is our creation, let us resolve to purge it from our midst. May H’ then, symbolically answer our daily prayers for rain by bringing down the life-giving rains to drown the wildfires of hatred amongst ourselves, thereby hastening the coming of the Moshiach, so that we might all witness the magnificent rejoicing of the SIMCHAS BAIS HASHO’EVA in the Third Temple in our time.
There is a vignette in Parshas Noach which has always had special meaning to me, particularly in recent times. We all know how Noach, after emerging from the Ark, plants a vineyard and then overindulges in its product. Ham discovers his father in an embarrassing state and informs his brothers who, with great respect, cover Noach, avoiding further embarrassment and are rewarded by fathering the great nations of the world. This is a superb illustration of the reward for the MITZVA of honoring one’s parents, a fundamental part of Judaism. I’ll return to this point momentarily.
Today's HAFTORAH may seem familiar to you because it comprises two of the six HAFTORAHS of Consolation, timeless messages of hope and comfort by the Prophet Isaiah which we read just weeks ago – and which I quoted in my last talk. The latter part of today's HAFTORAH contains a plea to forsake materialism, "Why spend money for that which is not bread?" The Prophet implores us to abandon the futile quest to indulge our physical cravings and "..Eat what is good.." partake of TORAH and MITVOS, the unbounded source of spiritual satisfaction and, "..Let your soul delight in abundance."
A funny thing happened to me last year during the week of PARSHAS NOACH. On a rainy day last November, I met a woman of abundance. Abundant intelligence, abundant culture, abundant caring, abundant insight, abundant spirituality. My soul delighted in these abundant qualities from the beginning.
But above all, like Noach’s sons Shem and Japheth, was her abundant RACHMUNIS and abundant love for my father – and abundant understanding of my responsibilities as caregiver. My greatest concern while dating was reconciling my position as caregiver with a potential relationship. Rachel’s acceptance of my situation was the proof I needed that she and I were BASHERT.
I am proud to announce that yesterday, over Shabbas dinner, Rachel formally consented to marriage. So let us welcome now, Willowbrook’s two newest residents, my fiancee, Rachel Bracha and her dear friend Gaucho, who has brought great joy to our home, and who will be leaving his mark on the streets of Willowbrook daily.
Some of you have here today have known me since we moved here in 1973 and I’m sure there is some amazement that, "He’s 46 - NOW he meets somebody – how, what…?" The answer is simple and obvious, we must recognize here, the perfect and glorious handiwork of H’ and thank and bless, ASHER BARA SASON VESIMCHA, CHASAN VEKALLAH.