Torah Minute – Noach October 1999
The portion of Noach has great significance for Rachel and myself, as we met on a rainy Sunday after SHABBAS NOACH in 1997. Shortly after meeting, the sun came out – and it’s been shining for me ever since.
The SEFER HACHINUCH has no chapter on the PARSHA, indicating there are no MITZVOT derived directly from the text, but there are many lessons we can learn homiletically. I’ll confine my remarks to one sentence, (Genesis, 7:3) in which H-Shem commands Noach to bring to the Ark, seven pairs of animals eligible for sacrifice and 1 pair of each remaining species. There is a great lesson we all can learn from this PASUK (sentence).
In his charge to Noach, H-Shem begins with the words, "MECOL HABIHEMA HAT’HORA…" Of all the animals that are TAHOR, take 7 pairs. The word, TAHOR is normally translated as "clean", however in this context, "eligible for sacrifice" is perhaps a better term. H-Shem continues, "UMIN HABIHEMA ASHER LO T’HORA," of all the animals that are not TAHOR, take a single pair. Why does the Torah use extra words to describe the animals that we may not offer? The single word, TAMEIM, normally translated as "unclean" or in this case, "ineligible for sacrifice," would certainly have been sufficient.
The answer given by the sages is that H-Shem is taking great care to avoid insulting any of his creations through untoward speech. Of the animals listed in the Torah as being allowable for sacrifice, no reason is offered as to why they are permissible, nor is any reason offered as to why others are not. The Torah does not imply that any species is lower in stature just because it is not eligible for sacrifice, yet our own judgmental nature frequently causes us arrive at just this deduction. Thus, the clear lesson of this PASUK (sentence) is for each of us to attempt to emulate H-Shem by suppressing our judgmental nature and choosing our words with the utmost care in order to avoid insulting others.
How incredibly presumptuous we are when we employ judgmental language. When we use a debasing phrase to describe a person as less of a Jew because he belongs to a sect other than our own, are we really qualified to make that judgment? When we regularly employ racial slurs, are we qualified to label a fellow human being as an inferior? When we use snide remarks to refer to someone who develops a heath problem that impedes his or her ability to see or hear or think clearly, are we truly qualified to judge this person no longer deserving of our respect?
A moment ago I said that there were no MITZVOT arising directly from the text of Noach. However, our sages of blessed memory saw in the PARSHA, an opportunity to provide us with an additional MITZVAH, a special blessing every time we see a rainbow. In the text of the BERACHA we acknowledge the rainbow as the everlasting OS (sign) confirming the promise made by H-Shem, that never again would the world be inundated and all humanity destroyed.
In the modern world, this blessing presents somewhat of a challenge. Even the youngest school child in our midst knows the science behind a rainbow. So, is the rainbow simply an atmospheric phenomenon caused by the refraction of sunlight filtered through water droplets? - Or is it an OS proving what we learn from AVOS that above us all is "an ear that hears and an eye that sees?" Our answer to that question, as guided by our faith, will determine whether in our references to others, we emulate the respectful LASHON (wording) of H-Shem or reach out to the "other side" for insulting and judgmental phrases.